I. Eyes Wide Shut
“He wanted the film to hit the audience in their hearts, minds, and stomachs, unlike all any other film, primarily concentrated on the story and economic, practical ways of telling it to the viewers. 2001: A Space Odyssey, therefore, has more in common with the art of music or painting, as many experts pointed out long before we did.” —‘2001: A Space Odyssey’: Kubrick’s Pioneering Achievement As One of the Most Significant Films Ever Made
Nicole Kidman’s sultry whisper sits beneath the theatrical keys and noir songwriting of Frank Ocean’s “Love Crimes.” As the music fades, the sample of Alice Hartford, who Kidman plays in the 1999 erotic-psychological drama Eyes Wide Shut, becomes more audible. Her voice emerges and fills the last, empty seconds with an inferno of frustration that runs just long enough to engrave, “And why haven't you ever been jealous about me!?” as words you hope to never hear from a lover.
At the age of 70, six days after screening Eyes Wide Shut with Warner Bros. execs and his lead actors, Stanley Kubrick suffered a fatal heart attack. Frank Ocean was no older than 11 years old when the iconic film director entered an eternal slumber. Kubrick left the living unaware of an adolescent black child in New Orleans, Louisiana, who, 12 years after his passing, would sample the Women vs Men scene from his final work for a free mixtape or how on his breakthrough single “Novacane” would sing, “I'm feelin' like Stanley Kubrick, this is some visionary shit, been tryna film pleasure with my eyes wide shut.”
As a songwriter who creates like a filmmaker, Ocean would reasonably be enamored by an auteur who moves pictures the way musicians move sound.
Stanley Kubrick produced three short films and 13 feature films during his legendary 48-year career as a filmmaker. Steven Spielberg praised Kubrick after his passing, citing how every picture had a different risk, different story, different genre. To some, Kubrick is an exceptional genius of cinema, others remember a man of great myths and mystery, and then there are those who see in his art a questionable visionary who was as disturbing as he was fascinating.
“Crazy like a movie by that nigga Stanley Kubrick,” J. Cole rapped last year on J.I.D’s popular single “Off Deez.” The late, great Mac Miller rhymed a similar lyric, “Weird ass Stanley Kubrick flow, don't go to church, a sanctuary in my studio” a few years prior. It isn't hard to believe the gruesome violence found in A Clockwork Orange or a film as thrilling and frightening as The Shining could have inspired these name drops.
In death, much like during his formative years in film, Kubrick’s name is a layered reference point. He’s a reminder that legacy isn’t linear; influence is able to appear in many forms as a new generation engages with what was left behind.
II. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
“A film is—or should be—more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” —"Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick at Somerset House: Bastille frontman Dan Smith on a film icon”
"They’re shooting my wife’s show, and I keep on, like, asking them to shoot it like it’s Stanley Kubrick,” Kanye West told an instructor while visiting Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in 2015. West made the suggestion during a rare appearance on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, pointing toward one of his idols as the standard to strive toward.
Throughout his storied career, the Chicago superstar has repeatedly cited Kubrick as a model of inspiration. Fans have even begun to theorize how West channeled Kubrick's influence and the film Eyes Wide Shut on his 2016 album The Life of Pablo. It wouldn't be the first time that their art crossed over. James Montgomery, a former writer for MTV News, included the late director and three of his movies in a list of inspirations found throughout West's 2010 short film Runaway. There’s a cinematic consideration in the opening scenes and throughout the film that attempts to translate the visual language of an old master into a new medium.
It’s no coincidence that the opening piano melody vibrating through the album version of “Runaway” is sonically similar to notes found in György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, II, a piano movement made famous for how it appears in the score for Eyes Wide Shut.
At the New York release party for Graduation, scenes from the visual masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey were reportedly played as the intro track, “Good Morning,” was premiered. The display quietly foreshadowed the visual direction Graduation would be known for on the road. Jim Harrington, in his 2008 review of West’s Glow In The Dark Tour, made the connection between Kubrick’s stunning masterpiece and the otherworldly story told on stage:
“The genre has never delivered anything else quite like Glow in the Dark, a production that’s so daringly conceptual and highly theatrical that proper comparisons can only be found in the classic rock world. Following short sets by the three fine opening acts Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D., and Rihanna, the lights dimmed and the headliner flipped the switch on what would be an 80-minute musical play set in space. The storyline, one that was about as believable as “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” unfolded aboard a spaceship named Jane, which spoke like a female HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” —"Kanye West Delivers Curious Space Odyssey"
Harrington critiqued the ambitious display of cinema-meets-performance-art for its inability to sustain a compelling story in conjunction with West’s music. Other reviews have championed the Glow In The Dark Tour for its forward-thinking approach to multi-sensory arena performance. Merging narrative storytelling and music to form the score was a juxtaposition that West would later perfect while touring his most contentious album, Yeezus.
"Langston Hughes mixed in with some Stanley Kubrick" —Black Thought
Kanye West isn’t the only prominent hip-hop artist who saw in 2001: A Space Odyssey as a story that could be translated from the big screen. In the music video for “Mamacita,” Travis Scott is tied to a large black structure resembling the mysterious Monolith that appears four times in Kubrick’s film.
In Kubrick's opus, the appearance of the Monolith precedes an evolutionary jump for man. Scott, through the imagery, found a way of referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey while implying that he’s at the center of rap’s next big advancement. Last year, TMZ reported that Travis Scott filed paperwork to trademark S.P.A.C.E., S.P.A.C.E. 1991, and S.P.A.C.E. 2001 for a purpose that has yet to be announced.
“We always go back to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s such a good reference point for a lot of the imagery that we like,” Flying Lotus explained in the 2013 documentary Layer3. Anyone who attended a stop on Lotus' tour for his fourth studio album, Until The Quiet, Comes, witnessed what happens when an electronic producer has the vision, visual artists like Strangeloop and Timeboy, and resources to bring cinematic imagery like the Stargate Sequence scene to a concert setting.
Instead of going narrative, trying to create a story around the music, the veteran producer saw a method of creating an experience around sound. Layer3 was Flying Lotus searching for the visual language to translate through sight the universe his soundscape could exist within. Levi Watson did the same thing when he used clips from 2001: A Space Odyssey in his music video for "Vertigo 11" to achieve the middle between his spacey, Neptune-inspired single and the intergalactic imagery.
Forty-eight years separate the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flatbush Zombie’s debut album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey. Instead of rapping over scenes from the movie as Frank Ocean did on “Love Crimes,” the Zombies created an entire soundtrack intended to be played alongside the movie.
There’s a fan-made version that layers the 12-track, hour-long album over the innovative film to create a seamless crossover between the futuristic movie and the immersive music inspired by its creation. The duality of their crafts shows the communication between art and artists that transcends both gravestones and genre. Before their debut, the Flatbush Zombies teamed up with fellow New York rap crew The Underachievers to release an EP under the name Clockwork Indigo.
“I always like to find a way to incorporate our influences into our music, into our art, even if it’s a movie title, we’ll flip it and turn it into something to do with our lifestyle. I’m running out of Stanley Kubrick movies to flip though.” —"Meechy Darko talks new album, Biggie Smalls, Spike Lee's bad attitude & tripping off Kubrick films"
IV. The Shining
"16, I was shinin' just like a Stanley Kubrick scene" —Vic Mensa
The late, great J. Dilla’s posthumous album, The Shining, was said to have clips from the 1980 horror film of the same name included in the advance version in case of a leak. In retrospect, Dilla chopping up scenes from Jack Nicholson’s acclaimed performance would have been the perfect conversion about the two notable craftsmen.
Nicholson’s work as Jack Torrance is referenced by Lupe Fiasco on the song "Super Cold" (“Better dress warm or you might end up like The Shining, not that boy or that lady, but that nigga gone crazy”). There’s a brief sample from The Shining found in Big Daddy Kane’s “How U Get a Record Deal,” but the clip of Danny Lloyd saying, "Redrum!" is barely noticeable. The clip from Kubrick's 1956 The Killing used by The Alchemist on Curren$y’s “The Vibrations” right after is just as short, but far more fitting.
Hip-hop’s affinity for Stanley Kubrick is fitting when you consider how the self-taught director who was raised in the Bronx went from hustling chess games for food to an immortal legend of his craft. Eleven of his 13 feature films were adaptations of short stories and novels. He transformed and expanded the source material on the big screen beyond what is found in the books.
Not everyone agreed with Kubrick's methodology. Stephen King has spent years being vocal about his disdain toward the film adaptation of The Shining, but his passion for adapting obscure novels is similar to producers who dig in crates for old records to sample.
Reverence doesn’t guarantee remembrance. The passage of time has caused many great artists to be forgotten. It’s the lasting impression left upon viewers that allowed Kubrick to live on as more than a novelty craftsman admired by peers in the film industry. With that said, there’s a poetic beauty to how exceptional artists such as Kubrick are able to become a benchmark, influence, and idol for those who come after their death.
Pharrell spoke with Angie Martinez in April 2013; he excitedly foreshadowed an epic collaboration with JAY-Z by saying, “I gave him a straight up Stanley Kubrick movie.” Stanley Kubrick lives on as a name, as a sample, as an influence, and as a beacon of genius that every artist, no matter the genre, hopes to find. True timelessness is when your name and art lives yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Kubrick lives and his influence continues.
By Yoh, aka Stanley Yohbrick, aka @Yoh31