John-Michel Basquait: The Afro-Futuristic and His Art

Part I - Cosmic Slop and George Clinton's Afro-Futurism


While attending college in the early 1970s, the “message in the music” was important. Socially-conscious black music introduced a new black vernacular, innovative technology, and inspired visual iconography. Message music and stunning album covers belong to the Black Arts Movement (1968-1978). My aesthetic tastes expanded beyond the rhythmic sounds of Motown (Temptations, Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Jackson Five) and the throbbing beats of Polydor Records (James Brown).

Well, sort of. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Brown continued to crank out the hits. They conjured enchantment. His extended album songs—beginning with 45s covering both A & B sides—set the stage for future musicians, including Hip-Hop artists.Record companies exploited black cultural production and mass-marketed Brown’s songs to young people who seemingly wanted to dance forever (I am not unaware that aficionados credit the Jamaican artist Lee “Scratch” Perry with inventing long play records).  

Not unlike Brown’s live album “Sex Machine” (1970), his studio produced albums (“The Payback,” 1973, featuring “The Payback,” and “Hell,” 1974, featuring “Poppa Don’t take No Mess”) kept us dancing, whooping, hollering, and channeling lyrics through improvised call and response chants while we worked up a sweat. By 1985, films like Jamie Lee Curtis’s “Perfect” transformed his syncopated beats and set them to aerobics dance music. Brown’s album cover illustrations weren’t bad either. His creative legacy is undeniable.