A Demonstration in Artistic Onus
Rap is having an art moment. Or maybe, um, art is having a rap moment. It’s hard to tell, but there are plenty of slides to slip under the microscope to study: Jay Z and Marina Abramović at Pace; Takashi Murakami and George Condo’s covers for Yeezy; Mykki Blanco’s 7” with OHWOW Gallery; DIS Magazine darling Glass Popcorn. Yung Jake, he’s there too, conflating the archetypes of art and rap.
The rap game isn’t forever for Yung Jake. He’s an artist first. Maybe. “It’s just a period,” the Los Angeles-based art-rapper (or rapper-artist) writes via text. “My Blue Ivy period. It was [always] def an art. But I knew it would not be seen as that cause it doesn’t look like an art and I knew things would come together as I would start to explain myself. I started just saying, ‘I’m making art,’ and reference[d] it in every song.” Contradicting himself later, he texts me, “I even don’t know whether what I do is more art or more rap.” Perplexity is key for net-native artists, whose entire personas are often part of a larger body of work.
And like many digital-native artists—Jeanette Hayes, Petra Cortright, Jennifer Chan among them—Yung Jake doesn’t just embrace technology, he evangelizes it (he only does interviews via text, for instance). His most recent release, “E.m-bed.de/d,” is hosted on a brilliantly coded, internet-shunting HTML5 video-site that sets your computer off on a glitched-out journey of outside-the-browser swag.
Historically, he’s not doing too much different than Yves Klein and other artists who first deconstructed the canvas in the 1950s. The music itself is stunningly expert trap, over which Yung Jake raps in a Kid Cudi-like singsong flow, “I’m makin’ stacks on stacks on stacks on stacks on / I’m makin’ money as long as my Mac’s on / internet raps / find me in my RhymeZone / I’m makin’ art, niggaz / Find me on Rhizome.”
The video garnered everyone’s attention, from Purple Magazine to the motion graphics site Motionographer. Most importantly, “E.m-bed.de/d” became an official selection in Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier program. Yung Jake describes a scene at Sundance where he watched someone wander further into the universe of pop-ups and links he’s created. “I kind of tryna create a landscape with the worx,” he texts.
“These artists are expressing themselves in a transmedia way,” says Emma Reeves, Creative Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ MOCAtv, who recently filmed a video with Yung Jake. “Whatever happens with digital communication, [artists like Yung Jake] are right here, right now.”
“He has the internet and the dataweb. He makes an intensely topical and analytic rap that makes it meaningful,” says Ry Rocklen, an artist who was Yung Jake’s professor at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), and who happens to be in a rap duo, called Bushes, with artist Nick Lowe.
It was back at CalArts that Yung Jake first experimented with blending rap and social media as art. For his first video, “Max Moyer,” Yung Jake lifted profile pictures from an imprudent bro-y teen’s unguarded Facebook, and rapped about the photos, to crit. “These hos on my jock ‘cuz I’m chillin’ on a camel / these hos on my dick ‘cuz I’m so damn handsome” accompanies a photo of Moyer, presumably on vacation, literally reclining on a camel. It’s brash and agitating and funny in a nerdy way, but still cool enough to fuck with, busting open conventions of our lives lived in public. “It got taken down,” texts Yung Jake, after the real-life Moyer told him over Facebook that the video was causing problems at his job.
But that wasn’t before collecting a couple thousand views from a net-art savvy audience. Yung Jake built on that with “Datamosh,” an ode to a glitch in Macbook’s Photobooth, an iTunes app, and “E.m-bed.de/d.” Along the way, he was featured on MTV’s The Hive, BuzzFeed, and Rhizome (the New Museum’s new media affiliate) to name a few. Along with the MOCAtv gig, a video for a track called “Unfollow” will drop this fall, and Yung Jake admits to a meeting with Kanye West. “He’s a fan,” Yung Jakes texts. “We chopped it up.”
Photographer: Kristiina Wilson at KristiinaWilson.com. Groomer: Joey Maalouf.