Jean Michel Basquiat, Kanye West, & Michael Jackson: What Does It Mean To Be King?
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
What does it mean to be a King? Google defined a King as “the male ruler of an independent state, especially one who inherits the position by right of birth” but Google can’t explain the historic reality of that term whatsoever. To ask what it means to be a King is to ask what it means to be Great. Great does not always mean moral, but Great does mean surpassing all of the temporal, spacial and institutional limitations of your potential, to the point where men rally around you to form an organization with you as its leader because you are able to create the conditions of success, stability, harmony and prosperity.
A King had to be able to defeat all those that stand in his way, but he also had to be wise, fair and just or else he would be ousted, he had to be smart and careful because there would always be someone coming for his position, he had to be able to organize, speak, and inspire, a King had to protect his Kingdom and be the best possible leader or else his empire would crumble.
So what makes someone great? What are the characteristics of a great person? What are the ingredients to create someone that is capable of producing undeniable & prolific results in any domain: creatively, artistically, scientifically, physically, athletically, philosophically, politically, charismatically, what makes someone above average at a field they pursue? What makes someone a great leader, or a great teacher, or musician, writer, designer, businessman or athlete? What are the ingredients that led to the creation of a Steph Curry? Can anyone become Steph Curry by working hard or is he so idiosyncratically genetically gifted to become the greatest shooter in human history? Is it a little bit of both? Is it just Destiny?
Greatness is defined as "a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object in a particular place or area. Greatness can also be attributed to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others." In my view greatness transcends time and space, greatness transcends language and race, greatness transcends culture and age, greatness transcends the products we place, greatness is qualitative, greatness is very material and foundational, it’s not at all an ethereal concept. Greatness is the thing that kept Jordan and Kobe in the gym until the lights were off, it's an instinct you're born with.
There was an Ethiopian slave sold to Arab merchants as a child in the 1500s and grew up to end up a king by building a mercenary force in India, his name was Malik Ambar. For a slave to revolt against his master is a revolutionary act, the likes of which most modern humans couldn’t imagine, but to become a king within the same lifetime is unfathomable to any human at any point in history, it almost sounds like science fiction. All of his aspirations would have been deemed blasphemy by everyone in this man's life, even the ones who loved and cared for him. Everyone would have called him insane, they would have tortured him, and they even attempted to murder him multiple times, but Malik Ambar surpassed all of the limitations of his conditions and became a King.
Greatness has the ability to organize, greatness has the ability to inspire, greatness has the ability to rile people up, greatness is a persons compass of priorities.
Michael Jackson would be up for multiple nights, studying James Brown, Fred Astaire and all the greatest entertainers that ever lived, to the point where it made him ill, but he was driven and obsessed, from when he was a child. There are stories of 6 year old Michael sneaking up behind artists just to absorb everything they were doing in the studio. He was born with the curiosity, drive and ambition necessary to create the greatest entertainer that ever lived, and he was the greatest that ever lived because he acted on that propensity. Becoming the highest selling artist of all time wasn't an accident, he worked towards it from the day he was born. He put the work in to fan the spark that nature gifted him with into the roaring blaze he became. Michael was business savvy and caclulated. This kid from Gary Indiana became one of the most powerful human beings alive on planet Earth by singing.
What is that drive in a human being that allows them to exceed beyond the wildest conceptions of their circumstances, systems, institutions, temporal limitations & above all their peers? Who does this person think they are to think they can tamper with the fabrics of the world they were born into, and how are they able to bend the world to their will within their time alive on this planet?
We tend to think of Kings as a thing of the past but where do all those human characteristics go if not in men? Humans still have those characteristics and propensity and we can see it.
Being on your last dime, against a wall in a crumbling society that is out to get you & only having your natural talent to make it out of a hellish environment has historically bred the most excellent talent the world has ever seen, because the alternative is demise. The ones who rise up are the cream of the crop. A person who has nothing to lose and everything to gain is the most dangerous type of person, and if that energy is directed at the right cause, there’s no telling what a human being's potential is and the greatest people are the ones who rise up in those circumstances.
“Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” The quote, from a postapocalyptic novel by the author G. Michael Hopf, sums up a stunningly pervasive cyclical vision of history. There’s something so true about that quote, even though conflict should never be the goal, conflict or disharmony can serve as a catalyst and motivation to force you to better your circumstances, or die trying, that's how Kings are created.
That’s why Hip Hop is so fascinating to me. New York in the 70s, the birthplace of Hip Hop, is heavily documented as one of the most eroded places on planet earth at that point, but it has created multiple literal Kings. The infrastructure had given up literally and metaphorically, the institution did not care about the poor residents of the impoverished boroughs, they were left to die, by killing each other, being murdered by the police, or arrested for drug crimes after drugs were purposefully funneled into the community. It's an unimaginable set of circumstances for most that those kids had to face, but it ultimately led to some of the greatest success stories in modern history. This was the way many people lived across the world which is why the genre blew up the way it did, because it resonated with the human condition on this planet and showed everyone that struggle could be overcome.
There’s a rags to riches culture built into Hip Hop because it started as a way to make struggling youth some money as well as give them a voice. This makes Hip Hop different from any other genre of music. Hip Hop blends music, poetry, fashion, language, dance, film and culture of the historically disenfranchised, it’s the voice of dissent as well as the vehicle towards progress.
This culture created Tupac Shakur, Mike Tyson, Jean Michel Basquiat, Kanye West, Jay Z, Michael Jordan and Spike Lee. What’s hip hop though? It’s bravado, it’s machismo, it’s ego, it’s self belief, self aggrandizement and self promotion. What’s the role of ego in success? What's the role of ego in greatness? What’s the role of ego in life?
“Sometimes you need your ego gotta remind these fools” This was a quote by Jay Z that I believe represents the entire ethos of Hip Hop that created all of those men, and something that all great men have known throughout history, consciously and unconsciously.
Greatness requires delusion because you’re trying to create a reality that doesn’t exist to other people yet. Muhammad Ali had to scream about being the greatest for decades before the world could acknowledge it, but he was great from the beginning.
Muhammad Ali wasn’t just Great because he said he was the greatest, it’s because he would run to the gym while everyone else would drive, it’s because he would cut down trees as part of his training, it’s because he would study boxers day and night, it’s because he was born genetically gifted and superior, and its because he had more Heart than anyone else around him. When it was time for him to be Great outside the ring he showed how great he was and took a stand. Mike Tyson famously said Ali would die before he quit and that’s ultimately why he was Ali and nobody else was. He had the qualitative distinction that made him the King we view him as, with more influence and power than many presidents.
Muhammad Ali was a modern day King, he was even richer than many countries, he was greeted like a diplomat around the world. The media turned him into a King and he got everything that comes with having an empire. That’s what becoming successful does, it makes you a King, with everything that comes with it. That means everything that comes with it. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Toussaint Louverture was a Haitian general and the most prominent leader of the Haitian Revolution. During his life, Louverture first fought against the French, then for them, and then finally against France again for the cause of Haitian independence. The Haitians defeated multiple superpowers with more ammunition and technology because Greatness can not be constrained.
"People who see this throughout the world will realize that even in the 20th century with faith, courage and a just cause David will still beat Goliath." This was said by Emperor Haile Selassie when he defeated Italy and defeated Colonial forces with heavier artillery and more technology. To think you’re going to be some small African country named Ethiopia battling Italy and all of western colonialism, and still come out victorious over superior technology and machinery, that takes abrasive delusion. It requires putting your head down and plowing through with a belief in yourself that can’t be eroded.
In the modern day we might not have actual Kings, but Jean Michel Basquiat did the exact same thing Toussaint Louverture did, he just didn’t have weapons involved. Jean Michel was a homeless kid in Brooklyn New York that ended up world famous and one of the richest human beings alive as a child, and he got everything that comes with getting the crown to the point that it killed him. Basquiat himself said "Most young Kings get their heads cut off" and was famous for his crown, because he knew the skillset it takes to even get to where he got is the characteristics of a General, its the characteristics of a King.
Tupac Shakur is a person who was acutely aware of this. Tupac actively studied Kings, war generals, he studied warriors, conquerors and imperialism because he knew it was all a subset of the same game this civilization plays. Tupac and Mike Tyson both studied warriors and generals, they ascended to the top of their field, they had more influence than most human beings could even dream of, and the government literally told them they weren’t allowed to see each other. Because unlike us, the government is aware that there are really Kings, and the government is aware that if Kings and Generals get to talking there’s going to be some serious changes occurring.
So what does it mean to be King? There's a place you get to where influence, power, notoriety, politics and wealth all come into play. Michael Jackson was just trying to sing, and that made him one of the most powerful men in the world to the point where the KGB had to hide him because the United States Government was stalking him. Michael was treated like a diplomat around the world, he was wealthier than many nations, millions of people around the planet would do whatever he said, and he also had Gang ties. Same with Tupac Shakur and same with Mike Tyson.
It's all that Godfather stuff of the underworld, the political world, the media, and society, and how there is a status quo that someone is always trying to maintain, and once you get to a certain level of influence, everyone wants to have a say.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were Kings. Malcolm was a General. He was able to organize and fire up young men in the streets, which is a population of human beings that is neglected by every facet of society, but as a former hustler and self proclaimed field nigga Malcolm, much like Tupac, knew that all of that was just misdirected energy. Where do soldiers go when there is no battlefield? Where does the hunting instinct go when there is no prey? Where does the King go when there is no kingdom? Rich People send their kids to prep schools and Harvard business school, poor people end up hustlers in the street, and sometimes those instincts can lead you to becoming Jay Z.
Jay Z said “Put me anywhere on Gods Green Earth and I’ll triple my worth” he means that fundamentally, Jay Z was going to be successful regardless of what he did, Rap just caught on. We are born with our skillsets, we can just misuse our superpowers. Malcolm X was born with the power of the spoken word, but in a world that corrupts the just, he was swayed to use his superpowers to become a pimp, until he was literally touched by God in jail.
Being Kings and using their superpowers for good ultimately got Martin Luther King and Malcolm X killed.
Elon Musk thinks he might die of mysterious circumstances because the Russian Government is after him. Kanye West is constantly talking about how people in his camp are sabotaging him because he has problems with various political entities and corporations. Michael Jackson was actually killed and everyone in the world knows that various corporate entities had a vested interest in him dead rather than alive.
Kanye is in Times Magazine for being the most influential person of the last 100 years, his ex Wife is probably the second most influential person in the world, why wouldn't corporations, the government and various entities have a vested interest in controlling them? Barack Obama personally called Jay Z, a former drug dealer, to ask for his endorsement, because they understand how powerful true influence is.
People call Kanye crazy now, but it was his same alleged craziness that kept him in the studio obsessively chopping beats, studying the greats and pursuing his dreams. Its the same craziness that made him one of the richest men alive today.
So what does it mean to be a King? Nobody said it was easy, but it’s definitely not just a thing of the past. We are all Kings and Queens, we all have our Courts and our empires, and our own little nations, it just depends on the levels we ascend to, aspire towards or are destined for.
To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.
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