Yung Jake, Video Prankster and Meta-Rapper, Turns the Hustle into Art

"When you rap ur saying 'I’m a rapper and this is a rap and I'm gonna tell you something to a beat in the form of a rap. And I’m good at rapping and these are other things I’m doing with my life.'"

Yung Jake
Yung Jake Photo courtesy the artist
WRITTEN BY
Paddy Johnson

More plugged-in than your average Tumblr-rapper, recent CalArts graduate and hip-hop enthusiast Yung Jake makes music that treats the clichés of digital culture — social-media shares, blog mentions, and video plays — like art instead of just conduits to promoting it. His single "E.m-bed.de/d," for example, opens up a flurry of pop-up windows on your computer, featuring different parts of the same video, with rocketing YouTube view-counts and glowing "endorsements" from @justinbieber, Terry Richardson, Pitchfork, and even my own site, Art F City.

So, is there a relationship between the aspirational money-power-respect tone of contemporary hip-hop and the desire for Facebook likes? Maybe, but Yung Jake’s interest seems to lie simply in creating popular music through his own worldview. “All rap is self-reflexive,” the artist says via text message — oh yeah, he only does interviews via text messages. “When you rap ur saying 'I’m a rapper and this is a rap and I’m gonna tell you something to a beat in the form of a rap. And I’m good at rapping and these are other things I’m doing with my life.'"

It’s hard to imagine any music more reflective of this than Datamosh, an essentially content-free rap video in which Yung Jake digitally erodes the pixels that render his image while rapping about the, by now well-worn, digital-art technique. If it’s about anything, it’s about itself.

And Yung Jake has set his sites on other forms of Internet culture. “Unfollow,” an upcoming music video, is about how social media makes it difficult to get out of bad relationships and escape unwanted information. Without a hint of irony, the artist comments, “The spread of imagery brings us back to the past.”

So would he pull a Cory Arcangel and delete his social network in front of an audience?

"y?" he texts back, "id consider it for money."

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