Move over Pharrell, there’s a new rap star crossing over into the art world. His name is Yung Jake, and he currently has a solo exhibition at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles, as well as a burgeoning rap career. The 2012 CalArts alum first made waves with “E.m-bed.de/d,” an interactive HTML5 video that, according to LA Weekly, “satirizes viral culture while simultaneously sucking up to every relevant art blog and Internet presence [around].” The piece was featured at Sundance in 2013.
His current show, “Drawings,” features experiential digital drawings, described by the Huffington Post thusly: “[It] takes place in an unlit room, brightened only by what appear to be a series of blank canvases emitting an alien light. Upon closer glance, the canvases morph into digital drawings, each containing a lone computer cursor in motion… It’s unsettling to see a screen with all that blankness; normally such vessels are flooded with windows, tabs and popups of all kinds. Rarely do we get to see screen as screen.”
A preoccupation with technology seems par for the course for a millennial artist, but Yung Jake has made a personal performance of it. Refusing to reveal his true identity, he claims to have been “born on the Internet in 2011.” He prefers to conduct interviews via text message. Sundance curator Shari Frilot says, “Yung Jake is a character [but] he also lives by that character. I don’t even know who the other person is.” As much as he has used the Internet as a platform to launch his career, he is also fixated on maintaining the anonymity it has afforded him. Frilot mentioned in the same interview that she was only allowed to learn his real name because she had to book flights for him.
Jake also appears to have no interest in distinguishing between his rap and art practices. His show at Steve Turner also served as a debut for his gritty new music video, “Look,” which was filmed on an iPhone and features the rapper and his crew (every member of which is played by Yung Jake) cruising around Los Angeles in a car. Perhaps this is because Jake began as a visual artist and then took an interest in rap due to his frustrations with the art world, where his work was invariably ghettoized as African-American art. He told LA Weekly via text message: “everytime I made a painting it was about being black all da sudden…so I started making raps about pretty-hoe-bitches and suddenly blackness wasn’t an issue anymore.”
Jake seems poised to take the art world, rap game, and Internet by storm, simultaneously blurring the lines between all three. He sums it up in “Em-bed.de/d” with the lyrics: “Internet raps/find me in my Rhyme Zone, making art/niggas find me on Rhizome.” And in keeping with the recent series of artist apps, the Yung Jake Augmented Real app is available on your iPhone.
Yung Jake’s “Drawings” continues at Steve Turner Contemporary through May 31.