MOCAtv has begun to roll out a new series of artist lyric videos. The videos, conceived by curator/filmmaker Aaron Rose fuse original pieces of music by modern recording artists with famous texts by contemporary artists. The texts are then animated to create a modern take on the artist’s words and work. The music and visuals have been created specifically for this project.
The first video in this series explores the work of SAMO, a graffiti tag developed as collaboration between artists Jean Michel-Basquiat and Al Diaz. The tags were seen on the streets of downtown Manhattan from 1977 to early 1980. The tag, written with a copyright symbol as “SAMO©”, and pronounced “Same-Oh”, was first developed in a stoned conversation between Basquiat and Diaz, calling the marijuana they smoked “the same old shit,” then shortening the phrase to “Same Old”, then “SAMO”. The phrases painted on walls differed greatly from the common graffiti style of the time, favoring social commentary over strictly ego-based tagging. The implication was that SAMO© was a drug that could solve all problems. In 1980, Basquiat stopped doing the graffiti, immortalizing this fact with a series of tags around Manhattan announcing, “SAMO© is Dead.”
For this film, rather than making a direct homage to Basquiat’s work, the filmmakers decided instead to try to re-create the world, which spawned SAMO. Los Angeles musician, Sam Spiegel (aka Squeak E. Clean), who is known for his work with Kanye West, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Crystal Castles, came together with Brazilian-American producer Kool Kojak to record the track under the group name NASA (Spiegel’s solo project). Legendary New York impresario Fab Five Freddy was recruited to do a spoken word track for the bridge, and the music was complete. A search for archival footage of New York from the era was undergone, then coupled with organic elements to add a sense of hand-made to the film. Animator Maya Erdelyi painstakingly painted and scratched hundreds of feet of vintage 16mm stock, which has been used as a visual bed for the film. Erdelyi and artist Alexis Ross did the SAMO/Fab Five Freddy texts and lettering by hand. Aaron Rose and filmmaker/animator Thomas McMahan then assembled of the final piece together in the edit.