Jay-Z and The Power of Art

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jay z

INT. – A Columbia University classroom – MIDAFTERNOON

A stuffy room with stark, unadorned walls is peppered by tiny college chair/desk combos, the kind that are too small to actually write on. The desks are collected in a lazy, angular circle, and students start to file in. The clock on the wall strikes 1:17pm with a staggered click. There are thirteen freshman in the room, all staring down at their phones, making not a sound and wearing grim, dissatisfied expressions. It is September 4th. One ginger-haired student addresses the room from her seat.


She’s met by silence, though a few around her look up from their phones, and blithely shrug.

GINGER-HAIRED STUDENT: I mean, I don’t even have to take this class. I was supposed to be at the Showpaper meeting right now. This is so fucking annoying.

More silence. An aggrieved grunt.

GINGER-HAIRED STUDENT: If he doesn’t come in the next ten minutes, I say we all just walk—

The creak of a wooden door alarms the student, and in comes a thin, male sophomore with a lisp, pulling a strapped-in TV behind him. His scuffed Converses squeak on the linoleum floor as he bends down to plug in the rustic 32-inch box, inserting a VHS into the slot beneath the screen.

LISPED STUDENT: This is your teacher now.

GINGER-HAIRED STUDENT: UM, where is our real professor?

Lisped Student shrugs, presses play, flips off the lights, and leaves the room.

The screen is black, and then a flash of white font: WELCOME TO ART HISTORY 101. The video cuts to the undercabin of what looks like a yacht, or some sort of seafaring vessel, as is made obvious by the dizzying undulating of the camera as it films. The room is bare and claustrophobic—it appears to be a room in a servants’ quarters. Starched white sheets on a 5-foot cot and The Holy Bible on a bedside table are the only visible items in the room, whose ceiling is too low for even a person of average height to stand up in.

(Off screen):

(Muffled voice #1): Go, go in there. Just sit in there. On the bed.

(Muffled voice #2): But Mr. Carter, I can’t. I’ve told you. I don’t have my notes.

(Muffled voice #1): Just tell them what you told me. Don’t be shy. You got this.

A deep, dejected sigh comes from Muffled Voice #2, and a door opens off-screen, and into the white servants’ cabin shuffles Simon Schama, professor emeritus of Art History at Columbia University. He is worn, ragged, and wearing an ill-fitting Brooklyn Nets jersey. Schama sits down on the flat cot and addresses the camera. He is unshaven.

SIMON SCHAMA: Hello, class. Welcome to Art History 101. I am Simon Schama.

(Off-camera, whispers interrupt): Tell those kids about Rothko, man!

SIMON SCHAMA: (throws a sidelong glare toward the whispers) Today, we are going to talk about abstract impressionist post-modern painter Mark Rothko.

(Off-camera, more whispers): Yo, and don’t forget my homeboy Picasso, baby!

SIMON SCHAMA: (sarcastic) In a similar style, time period, and classification, we will also address the work of Pablo Picasso.

(Off-camera, whispers, urgent): Basquiat, too. That’s the jam.

SIMON SCHAMA: And Jean-Michel Basquiat. A vagrant New York graffiti artist who became the protégé of Andy Warhol, and who eventually evolved into one of the '80s most exciting neo-expressionist painters. I apologize that I can’t be in class with you today, our first day of the term, but something came up and now I am on a multibillion-dollar yacht floating in the seas of Saint Tropez. I don’t know how I ended up here—

(Off-camera whispers): Pipe down, Schama. Don't forget, we had a deal.

SIMON SCHAMA: (Appearing desperate, moves in closer toward the camera) I believe I’ve been drugged and desperately need your—

Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z enters the small room and sits beside Schama, cheery and fresh-faced from a massage and a facial. He is wearing cruisewear and a bucket hat embroidered with the Samsung logo.

SHAWN CARTER: Welcome to class, eager students. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jay-Z, you may have heard of me from that platinum deal that I just signed, and also, from Vine. My friend Simon and I are going to teach you about Art History today. And for the coming days until I feel like getting off this yacht. Simon, as you were saying.

SIMON SCHAMA: As I was saying, Mark Rothko emigrated to the United States with his family when his father feared that the Imperial Russian Army—

SHAWN CARTER: (yawns) Yo, that is boring. I’ve got a better idea. (Yelling) Bey, hey, BEY, ma—cue the music.

From above deck, the sound of Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” begins to blast through every room on the yacht, suffocating the vessel in sound, and tossing a beat out into the Mediterranean sea.

SHAWN CARTER: Schama, you stay right here.

Jay-Z begins to rap along with “Picasso Baby”, and doesn’t stop for six hours. At the close of the marathon rapping session, a dominating silence fills the room and Jay-Z beams at the camera, then winks. Schama is unconscious and unresponsive, slumped in a heap on the cot. Jay-Z feels his pulse, then shrugs. A splash is heard above deck.

(Yells from above) BEYONCÉ KNOWLES: Baby, I think you better come up here. That nun you hired just jumped overboard.

SHAWN CARTER: Aw, shiiit. My girl Wendy!!!

(The tape abruptly cuts off. Return to the classroom, where the 13 freshman sit, completely rapt. Their phones have been put away, and there is light in their eyes for the first time in years. They are all smiling, engrossed in a blissful mania.)

STUDENT #1: That was the greatest class of my life.

STUDENT #2: Jay-Z is BACK, y'all!

STUDENT #3: Definitely copping that album from Samsung.com. Wow. A master. THE master. Some might call him—