The opening of Tyga's clothing brand Last Kings flagship store in Los Angeles has created a bit of buzz this week. But chances are if you've heard about it at all, you've heard of the store's exorbitant decorating bill. It's been reported that the YMCMB rapper spent over $120,000 decking out the interior of his store, with a large chunk of that money going to an "Egyptian-made tomb" and recreating Michelangelo's frescos from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling. While a rapper throwing large sums of money at something the general public finds superfluous is hardly newsworthy, the real story here seems to be: What the fuck is going on with the aesthetic of this place?
According to its website, Last Kings is "inspired by a love of Egyptian culture and the belief that we can all be Kings." OK, cool, but that sounds more like a cheap, posi way to state the obvious: connecting yourself and your brand to powerful empires of the past is a quick and easy way to say, "Listen, I'm kind of like a Big Deal."
Historic revivals in decorative arts have been riding the awesome-by-association train for centuries. Elements of Egyptian forms and decoration first started to appear in Europe and later in America after Napoleon's conquests in Egypt and the subsequent scientific study of those expeditions which was published during the 19th century. Egyptian style saw its next heyday in the 1920s after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. You could also replace "discovery" with "that time this English bro broke into and robbed a religious burial room of an ancient foreign society for profit." I'm down to argue the educational and cultural benefits of problematic scientific practices, but to see Tyga posed with his sarcophagus as though it has just been excavated (with a gold shovel and pick axe, no less), sort of just reeks of ham-handed appropriation and a total lack of attention to coherence or detail. The rest of the store, and the clothes, don't do much better.
While Tyga reportedly spent $100,000 to paint the store's ceiling like the Sistine Chapel, it's surprisingly difficult to get a solid, representative picture of it. This is unfortunate, as my first thought on hearing that stylistic choice was, "what part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would he decide to have in his store?" Recalling my art history training and several visits to the chapel (as well as access to Wikipedia, which is kind of like making another trip, right?), I remembered that the chapel is decorated with stories from the Old and New Testament of the Bible, the Book of Genesis and the Last Judgement—as well as figures of Popes and relatives of Jesus. What the fuck could any of Michelangelo's brightly colored beefy Bible bodies that have to do with this black and gold Ancient Egypt-inspired pompousas hell t-shirt shop? And while I'd like to be able to make some more high brow digs at whatever his choice was, it's really besides the point because of course, NOTHING from the Sistine Chapel makes any sense on the ceiling there. It's not even about expectations of there being a bigger picture behind the decorative choices of a clothes store; it's just an ugly mish-mash of really loaded decoration. Fundamentally, it's just bad design.
While it's not exactly fair to expect a mind blowing take on interior design from the guy responsible for "Rack City," I've already pointed to examples of rap and thoughtful design existing symbiotically. Recently, Kanye West's stylistic debt to Alejandro Jodorowsky and the 1972 movie The Holy Mountain for the Yeezus tour has been widely discussed by critics and by Kanye himself. Using monumental design to play into to themes of godliness, power, and self discovery without plain image-snatching speaks louder and hits stronger than Tyga's corny layering of imagery could ever hope to achieve.
And what about the clothes? What can we expect from a designer who's store looks like a busted Greek diner from the outside with an interior that picks up Egyptian style in a way that's reminiscent of the Cheesecake Factory? The Pharaoh-cum-Versace logo hints at the confused use of Greek meanders on most of the shirts, along with super late to the game A$AP Mob knock-off black and white designs mixed with some flannel. This Ed Hardy level of mixing styles for edginess (or something? I'm not really sure what he's going for at this point) already has its place in suburban malls or the plethora of streetwear websites that I don't even want to scroll through—let alone visit IRL.
It seems that Tyga is the fallout of fine art nestling into hip-hop. While I've done enough of singing Kanye's praises for his treatment of art (and let's be real, Last Kings whole existence is basically entirely indebted to Kanye, who is apparently executive producing Tyga's upcoming The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty) there's a broader spectrum of rappers staking out their relationship to the world of fine art one way or another. Moments like Jay Z's "Picasso Baby" project or lines like "Foreplay in the foyer/ Fucked up my Warhol" from "Drunk In Love" are pretty fucking SMDH and corny, but not as absolutely clueless as Tyga's design nightmare. Tyga sees the need to establish himself by connecting to what is very much in the moment but also a more "timeless" history of art. In short, it's just not working.
Karen Peltier has an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts from the Smithsonian Associates and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. She has a lot of feelings about furniture and is on Twitter - @dudebutt