Mystery Code Leads to 1970 Gospel Release

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Mystery Code Leads to 1970 Gospel Release

After weeks of uncertainty, Kanye West’s gospel album Jesus is King dropped late last month, and with its release the mystery of whether or not the twice-delayed album would ever make it to fans was finally solved. But apparently, there’s another mystery built right into its album art—one that an archivist at Jack White’s Third Man Records was eventually able to piece together.

The album’s artwork is minimalist, a simple picture of a bright blue vinyl LP bearing little more than the release’s title and West’s name. But it also features a weird series of number and letters, “AR 1331 A.” Third Man tweeted that Detroit music historian Ben Blackwell figured it out: Apparently, the sequence is a record pressing code for a 1970 gospel EP by a musician called Rubye Shelton.

Shelton’s music is pretty hard to track down. After spending some time searching, I could only find one song online credited to the performer, and a copy the single in question apparently sold for more than $400 dollars earlier this year. The lone Shelton track that appears to be online hails from the B-side of the same release Kanye cited, and it’s a pretty great gospel blues number. It’s easy to see why West might want to shout out the tough-to-find EP.

In a statement to Pitchfork, Blackwell joked about his big find. “I knew the past decade spent in the deepest, loneliest recesses of Archer Record Pressing nerd-dom would eventually lead me to the biggest recording artist in the world,” said the historian. “But enough about Jack White…who is this Kanye guy?”

Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.

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