Kanye West dropped the highly anticipated music video for his new song “Wash Us in the Blood” today, and it was directed by artist Arthur Jafa.
The video, which garnered over 100,000 views in less than 10 minutes, plays like a spiritual sibling to Jafa’s decade-defining video work Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016), combining viral images of both Black trauma and joy, to hypnotic effect. That video was also soundtracked by West’s “Ultralight Beam,” the cathartic, gospel-inflected opener to the rapper’s 2016 album, The Life Of Pablo.
In “Wash Us in the Blood,” the footage of Ahmaud Arbery running prior to his murder in Georgia abuts a shot of Kanye in concert. Elsewhere, a video of Breonna Taylor dancing blithely is juxtaposed with a Grand Theft Auto-like animation.
The musician’s face appears throughout, obscured to varying effect with shifting black graphics; at one point, it shares the screen with an image of a spinning white orb that’s eerily evocative of the COVID-19 illustration.
An image of the sun’s surface, which appeared throughout Love Is the Message, recurs in the music video as well.
“The sun is the appropriate scale at which to consider what’s going on,” Jafa told in 2018. “It’s fundamentally an assertion that Black people’s lives should be seen on a cosmological level… I want you to look up at these things that are happening to Black people, not down—the way you would stare at the sun.”
“This decade’s social media explosion made escaping traumatic images of violence impossible, stimulating both demands for justice and feelings of vulnerability for targeted communities,” Artnet News critic Ben Davis wrote in 2019 upon naming Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, and it’s 2018 follow-up, The White Album, as the artwork that most defined the 2010s.
“But processing these images into art without seeming to compromise their reality seemed equally impossible,” Davis wrote. “Jafa’s artwork steered straight into this traumatic paradox, the video’s movement between extremes of horror and celebration capturing a sense of psychic crisis.”