Emoji Major No. 2: Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby”

This week, long-form emoji master Zoe Mendelson adds a new layer of art (so many animals!) to the track.

Jay Z changed the game this summer by releasing Magna Carta Holy Grail via a free app only available to the Samsung set. The company had pre-purchased so many copies that the album went platinum before a single person opened their iTunes or went anywhere else to buy it. As Jay says: “#newrules.”


Then he took it high art with “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film,” (watch below) directed by Mark Romenek–in which Jay turned the single into a six-hour performance piece. Live at New York’s Pace Gallery, it was a hip-hop iteration of Marina Abramović‘s “The Artist is Present,” for an audience of A-list artists, critics, actors, Alan Cumming, Judd Apatow and the like.

Wish I could say that for all the effort, behind it all is a great album. I want to root for Jay, really want to. But aside from a few solid beats (Timbaland on his game as always), Magna Carta is not particularly inspired.

It does, however, contain an emoji gold mine. I couldn’t help but see them when I heard “Picasso Baby.” All the artist references presented a puzzle too much fun to pass up (the most difficult: Basquiat). And oh the abundance of animal references! They clean up even the dirty lines into pastoral picture book adorableness, uh, roosters and donkeys and such. Consider the lyrics here, made sweet:

Discovered in the process: emoji lack a black guy. In fact, there’s only one person of color-besides-yellow (or rage-red or devil-purple) in the whole lot, and he’s wearing a turban. Emoji get PC cred for the gay couples but still have a very long way to go.

Onto the Emoji Major, full slide show above, and a few decoder assists here:
1. All artist references are in brackets (skip to the end of the slide show if you’d like the key up front).
2. Probably the most confusing of these is Jay’s “Condos in my condos/I wanna row of.” He’s talking about painter George Condo.
3. In the first verse, “hassa” refers to Scarface’s mispronunciation of chazer, the Yiddish word/insult for pig, today turned slang for something stronger, a dirty person.

And if you want to listen, here’s the audio to go with your emoji:


May the accompaniment bring the new fans, because as Jay tells it: “Even my old fans like ‘old man just stop’/I could if I would but I can’t, I’m hot.”

About the author

Zoe Mendelson is a mushroom salesperson in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a weekly map column for UntappedCities.