BlackBook Premiere: Jamaican-Born Dru Barnes Tributes Basquiat with ‘Jean-Michel’

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Photography: Alberto Milazzo

“I’m an artist, that’s all I’ve ever done,” proclaims Brooklyn-based, Jamaican-born force of nature Dru Barnes. From painter to sound artist and now musician, he’s been a fixture on the New York scene for close to a decade. He’s shown at the Whitney, coined a new music genre he calls, “Reggaetron,” and has been described as an “Intellectual Black Buddhist.”

Through it all, one of his most significant inspirations has been the tragic icon Jean-Michel Basquiat, who, of course, rose to dizzying heights of fame in ’80s New York, while veritably inventing the contemporary Downtown art star before OD’ing in 1988. It’s fitting, then, that as an introduction to Barnes’ debut album Silent Light, which comes out in May, he’s releasing a song and video titled, “Jean-Michel”—not only a tribute to his muse, but also a reflection of his own artistic journey, which includes a particularly violent tragedy.

Indeed, in the summer of 2013, Barnes was viciously attacked on the streets of Brooklyn by a hammer-wielding assailant, and was left disfigured and partially blind. “My intention is to bring across a space where healing can be found,” Barnes said. And with Basquiat, “A Christ-like figure and a pure part of my journey.” Listen, below: