Rap Artist Yung Jake: the Andy Warhol of the Digital Age?

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The Andy Warhol or the Weird Al Jankovic of the digital age. Or both? Digital images haunt Yung Jake in his new music promo/artwork selected for the Museum of Contemporary art’s channel MOCA TV

Yung Jake is a young artist of the internet age whose subject matter is social media and imaging technology. It’s more than that, it’s digging into the mechanics, looking under the hood of our image and internet technology, turning the immaterial digital image into something tangible. A digital back-to-basics kind of guy. Like Penn and Teller do with magic, he deconstructs digital media by showing us the nuts and bolts but it’s so slick that he retains the magic. An observer of how technology shapes our thinking and interactions, as a Millenial he will of course only give interviews via text messages – here’s a sample of an interview with Brenna from the O Music awards.

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Brenna’s text interview with Yung Jake around the O Music awards

The recent CalArts graduate copied and pasted his way into the social media space with “E.m-bed.de/d” a youtube viral about going viral that went viral.

You either think:

A) Yung Jake is the best thing since that debugging tool you discovered on Database Daily. He is a genius who makes nerd-tech sound cool and funny.
B) Yung Jake is META dude!!! He makes brilliant work about digital imagery, twisting it into smart commentary about imagery, culture and contemporary hip-hop.
C) His casual use of hip-hop’s less savoury language makes Yung Jake a bit tired (but the rhymes…)
D) Why do young people’s music videos look so scratchy and messed up and ugly and as messy as a teenager’s bedroom? Could no one find video director Russell Mulcahy?

For the full interactive experience click here.  With “E.m-bed.de/d”, Yung Jake pushes all the Millenials’ (Gen Y) buttons:

The Wilderness Downtown promo? Check. The ‘video’ was an interactive HTML 5 piece (like the award-winning  Chris Milk’s work The Wilderness Downtown for Arcade Fire starts doing odd thing with your screen. You are no longer in control, a feeling Gen Y embraced with the fluidity of the first rush of web tech.

Youtube buzz? Check. As you watch, the youtube views seem to get bigger.

Twitter celebrity? Check. At one point Justin Bieber’s twitter account appears to shout out the song on your screen.

Gen Y Brand? Yes, the controversial all-over-the-place Gen Y brand American Apparel features too, as a girl from one of their ads walks into Yung Jake’s bedroom.

David O’Reilly? No. Gen Y’s favourite glitchmeister, the dark, dark, humourist-animator doesn’t feature in “E.m-bed.de/d” but he is name-checked in Yung Jake’s video “Datamosh”.

He also made a bit of a splash at last year’s Sundance festival. As they explain on their site; Yung Jake uses the tools of “net-native generation in their native vocabulary (i.e memes, data, 720p, GIFs, mash-ups, pixels, remix) and with their native aesthetic (i.e. User Generated Content, phone-camera quality images, stock icons and photos, Garage Band quality music and webcam videos). Millennials that grew up with YouTube, blogs, social media, and an app universe (where nerd culture is king) can relate to his character’s ambitions to be digitally omnipresent and have the agency to remix reality with his access to seemingly unlimited digital tools.”

Like Andy Warhol in the 60s, Jake occasionally plays the nerd. Warhol did this through his ‘affectless’ tone of voice, through playing a kind of daft naivety.  Take this example from Warhol’s book “From A to B and back again, the philosophy of Andy Warhol” (even the title suggests a kind of daft naivety) – “My favourite simultaneous action is talking while eating. I think it’s a sign of class. The rich have many advantages over the poor, but the most important one, as far as I’m concerned, is knowing how to talk and eat at the same time. I think they learn it in finishing school.” Acute social observation or nerdish attention to irrelevant detail?

And of course Warhol was the pioneer of Pop Art. In 2014 Pop culture is now Net culture, and nerd is the king of net culture. Whereas Warhol explored the material objects and images of the consumer and celebrity culture of the time,  Yung Jake explores our ‘immaterial’ digital culture, of coding, data, ‘follows’. He sings parodically in Datamoshing, “You thought it was an accident, a video glitch
/I did it on purpose though… it’s nothing. You don’t have bad Internet, I’m just datamoshing
(Swag)/ I’m on my web shit, ya heard me? 
It’s cool cause it’s nerdy.” Yung Jake has just made his debut on MOCA TV, the channel of the Museum of Contemporary Art with the video Unfollow, in which our artist-hero tries to move on from his ex, but is followed around by images.

MOCA write in their notes for the promo:

“Yung Jake makes his MOCAtv debut with ‘Unfollow,’ a music video about being haunted by the shadows of a relationship and the abundance of social media. To the internet rapper, the unfollow button is the only tool he has to move on from a relationship. But just as former flames run into one another IRL, the spread of imagery online continues to bring him to the past. Like his hero Drake, Yung Jake swags out his state of emotional vulnerability, inundating viewers with screens, feeds and braggadocio, so as to transform pathos into envy.”

Yung Jake? In 2014 not only are artists fictional figures, ‘images’, but digital images themselves now have a life of their own.

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