After reading a recent article in The New Yorker titled Empire – TV’s Contemporary Art Gallery, I was very present to how much hip hop has evolved. With over forty years in the game hip hop has now proliferated through our culture and its tentacles has touched lives beyond the urban area where it originated. The fact that hip hop inspired art is collected and hung on the walls of the Lyons family, is evidence that hip hop is evolving from the street life to mainstream.

Screenshot. Image from :

Hip Hop has had a piecemeal introduction to TV with shows like MTV Jams, 106 & Park and Rap City, which focused on the musical culture. However, there was never a true crossover into TV shows and sitcoms until recently with Empire. Sure, you can say that shows like In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were hip hop inspired, but according to Kathy Iandoli these shows were more about using humor as a vessel to express hip hop and drive a larger story line, than about showcasing the culture itself. Although, there were elements that defined classic hip hop in the clothes and appearance of major cultural icons such as Heavy D, Public Enemy and Will Smith; these shows were devoid of a focus on contemporary art that defined the culture.

The cast of “In Living Color.”Fox

One of the reasons I love the show Empire is that it gives viewers a 360 degree perspective of hip hop culture. Empire centers around a hip hop Entertainment Company, and the drama among the Lyon’s family. Rarely do we see artwork by black artists given a strong focus on TV series. The show has made a conscious effort to give lesser known and more established black artists a platform to showcase their work. Some of the featured artists have been Jean Michel Basquiat, Jamea Richmond Edwards and Kehinde Riley who was recently commissioned by Barack Obama to paint his official portrait. This move by a mainstream show to feature black artists allows a broader audience to be exposed to black art which pushes the boundaries and encourages new thought for collectors. Hip hop has always been a space for visual art to prevail – from the color, fashion to hair and now more traditional art on the walls.

Prince Albert, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria , 2013 Oil on Canvas. Image from

MUCE is honoring hip hop, a genre that influenced a generation. Check out the exhibit Ode to Hip Hop during Art Basel weekend. Our sister festival, South Florida Webfest is also chiming in on the theme at its live awards ceremony, In living Color. Come check out some of the best web series and short films from around the world while you’re out art-loving everything during Art Basel!


Written by: Natasha Wright (Festival Admin) – lover of all things art, fashion and empowerment.