Brandishing Brush for Basel, Nas Paints $14,000 Painting On Stage

Artist Rashid Johnson won the canvas, outbidding Luis Gispert

Near the end of his set last night at midtown Miami’s Ricochet Bar & Lounge, Nas acknowledged that he was in town during Art Basel, and announced that he was going to make an artwork on stage.

A white board was delivered, along with washable markers and a small set of paints. “Is this real paint?” the Queens-born rapper asked. “Water paints? I can do that shit too.” He picked up a paintbrush and made a red mark on the board. Then a gunshot tore through the speakers, and he launched into his 2002 hit “Made You Look.”

“They shooting, aw made you look,” he growled, shots cracked behind him. “You a slave to a page in my rhyme book.” As he rapped, he worked the canvas, gently—a dab here, a dab there—taking his time, and then switched to marker.

“My shit looks really fucking stupid right now,” he declared as the song ended, examining his spare, abstract work.

The evening’s host suddenly suggested an auction, to benefit a children’s cancer charity. He explained that the artist Rashid Johnson, who was perched on a banquette to the right of the stage, was willing to pay $5,000 for “the Nas original.” Who would pay more?

A hand shot up in the audience. “$6,000!”

Photographer and filmmaker Luis Gispert, sitting next to Mr. Johnson, wearing a sleek vest, threw his hand up, offering $10,000. Another bidder went in for $12,000. Mr. Johnson, who had been rapping along with Nas for most of the night, had some fight in him. He grinned, offered $14,000 and won.

One could not have made up that sight. But it had been that kind of evening.

Before Nas’s set, women in white Big Mac T-shirts had circulated, offering the burgers, apparently because McDonald’s had been involved in sponsoring the event. Before that, R&B phenom Theophilus London had played as opener, plowing through his tracks, and then announcing he wanted to hear Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Paris.” He danced with his band on stage, lip-synching the lyrics as the crowd of about 200 sang with him. Then he played one final song.

Mr. London had told the audience that he liked online music service Spotify (one of the evening’s sponsors) because it helped in those moments when he just had to hear a song, as happened recently with Sisqo’s “Thong Song.” He was wearing a bathing suit under his outfit, he insisted. If we wanted to play him at NBA 2K12, he would take our money.

Accompanied by congo drummer Leon Mobley, Nas had sung “N.Y. State of Mind,” “If I Ruled the World,” “You Can Hate Me Now,”  “Got Yourself a Gun,” and half a dozen other Nas hits. The crowd was in the palm of his hand. But he still seemed genuinely moved by Mr. Johnson’s gesture, pausing to thank him in front of the crowd.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever sold art in my life,” Nas said. “That shit made me feel good.”

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