A Brief History of Cringeworthy Special Effects In Rap Videos
Have you ever watched a movie you loved back in the day only to find that the special effects that were employed are so horrifically outdated you can’t even enjoy the movie anymore?
As much as the late '90s and early '00s were a formative period for techniques like CG animation and green screen wizardry, the resulting end products rarely hold up to our spoiled 2017 eyes. These days, the average PS4 game has more believable graphics than half the high-budget blockbusters that ruled the summers of my youth.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars as much as the next person, but you can’t tell me you don’t cringe yourself stupid when you see the horrendous CGI “updates” of the original three films. Not that claymation and puppets were ever a super believable medium, but you just kind of accepted it because that’s all they had back then.
For some reason, that same feeling of special effect nostalgia doesn’t hold up when it comes to videos from hip-hop's glory years. While I miss the wildly imaginative videos that came out decades ago, watching Snoop Dogg morph into a Doberman just doesn’t pack the same punch anymore.
So, as both an ode to how dope these videos were when they came out and a loving poke at how absolutely ridiculous they look now, I’ve assembled a brief history of hip-hop videos with special effects that do not hold up. Like, at all.
Wu-Tang Clan - “Triumph” ft. Cappadonna
Y’all remember this one? Hooooly shit. The absolutely bat-shit insane video for “Triumph” was directed by Brett Ratner, the man responsible for Rush Hour, so it’s safe to say that top-tier cinematic quality was never the ultimate goal.
Although “Triumph” kicks off with one of the most classic verses of all time, Inspectah Deck delivers it while sticking to a skyscraper like Spiderman in the most obvious display of “he was really just laying down on a green screen” of all time.
Also, they REALLY ran with the whole “killer bees” motif on this one. Not only does a swarm of bees engulf New York City and randomly manifest into the individual Wu-Tang members, the Clan themselves seem to be living in what I can only describe as a beehive vagina. I’m dead serious.
RZA is walking around a prison with weird-ass butterfly wings, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon had to share the same poorly conceptualized prison-slash-concert scene—the whole thing makes no sense.
Then you have U-God hanging like a bat from a dead tree for no reason. Oh yeah, and EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE. Why? Maybe it’s a visual representation of the lyrical fire being spewed, or maybe Wu-Tang just gave Brett Ratner $300,000 and said, “just make the video weird as fuck.”
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - “Tha Crossroads”
OK, I know I’m treading on thin ice here, so I’ll try to keep it respectful. This is one of the most beloved songs and videos in hip-hop, and for good reason—as far as the song is concerned—but watching it in 2017 is like seeing the ex you used to be crazy over bumming in sweatpants with Cheetos stains on ‘em. What happened?
The video starts off with a pretty straightforward funeral scene, an apt setting for the song's emotional foundation. However, things start getting weird pretty quickly as a gangster-looking reaper comes to take the soul of the deceased.
This was probably totally appropriate back in the day, but this shit looks like a mixture of Ghost and that scene in The Sandlot where The Babe comes out of Benny Rodriguez's closet, and I don't mean that in a good way.
Again, I don't want to make light of the very real circumstances of young black men being lost to violence that inspired this song, but the way it's depicted in this video just does not hold up at all. People start disappearing out of thin air in what looks like a weird Power Point transition effect, complete with a "whoosh" sound.
Just when things couldn't get any weirder, a fallen homie's face appears in the facade of a brick building in a brilliantly terrible display of 1996 CGI capabilities.
The video ends with all the souls that the gangsterized angel of death collected climbing a gigantic afterlife mountain, complete with Eazy-E's spirit superimposed onto a blue sky. Again, probably totally appropriate in '96, but today this looks like the public access version of a video eulogy.
Lauryn Hill - "Everything is Everything"
This is the one video I handpicked for this piece that I would actually love to see remade with today’s technology because the basic premise is fantastic.
Basically, director Sanji treats New York City like a giant vinyl record, with a gigantic needle dragging across the streets of the city’s various boroughs. Pretty dope concept, right? What’s not dope was the execution of the idea, which again relies heavily on '96 CGI.
Not only does the needle itself look corny as hell, there’s occasionally a gigantic CGI hand that comes down to scratch the “record” and hooooly shit that thing looks like it came directly out of Golden Eye '64.
The video is more than legit when the focus is on Lauryn’s performance shots, and even some of the shots of the needle dragging by barbershops and passerby are well done. It’s when the CGI becomes the focus that you realize just how poorly this video held up.
All said and done, the video isn’t nearly as glaringly goofy as some of the others on this list, but it is a perfect example of a great concept that just wasn’t ready to be pulled off by the technology at that time.
Plus, if you have to watch it several times, say, to write about it, you run the risk of getting extremely dizzy.
Busta Rhymes - “What’s It Gonna Be” ft. Janet Jackson
Man, where to start with this one. As with a large majority of Hype Williams’ visuals, “What’s It Gonna Be” spends five and a half minutes teetering on the edge between, “that’s the coolest shit I’ve ever seen,” and, “what the fuck was he thinking?”
Let’s start with Busta since he’s the first artist we see. I know platinum was the big thing in 1999, but... no, you know what? I just read the Wikipedia description of this shit, and it has to be read for you to understand the visual fuckery that is this video. Enjoy.
The video begins with a glass filled with liquid moving toward the edge of its resting area, which spills and transforms into Busta Rhymes as a knight in a futuristic armor suit. Jackson is portrayed as a dominatrix, in a purple latex suit adorned with cock rings and baring her cleavage…
...Jackson appears in a liquid tunnel as Rhymes morphs into a sperm-like creature and floats towards her. A marching band of miniature Rhymes passes through the tunnel's walls as Rhymes transforms into one himself, before morphing again to rise through the tunnel's ceiling. Electric sparks fly as miniature versions of himself pour like raindrops onto Jackson's breasts. Towards the finale, Rhymes and Jackson are united to perform together, as their bodies morph into each other. The remaining scenery then combusts into thin air as they continue transforming into a silver liquid.
Do I even really need to explain this further?
To be fair, just like the Lauryn Hill video, a lot of these shots had potential. Janet in the midst of the flowing purple whatever-that-is was a dynamic visual, and some of the chrome soldier sequences would’ve looked legit had the technology not been an absolute shit show.
But Busta Rhymes as a Terminator sperm? Nah, fam.
Sway & King Tech - “The Anthem” ft. DJ Revolution, RZA, Tech N9ne, Eminem, Xzibit, Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap, Jayo Felony, Chino XL & KRS-One
I personally love both this song and video, but to say that it still holds up visually would be a bold-faced lie.
While I can’t for the life of me find the name of the video's director, I would imagine whoever it was happened to be in the room with Wu-Tang and Brett Ratner when they came up with the insane treatment for “Triumph.”
The visual style is similar to “Triumph,” with 99% of the video being 100% shitty CGI. Again, some of these shots would be great with the proper technology behind them. Seeing RZA split into several different versions of himself at the hip is fantastic, and even Eminem’s weird-as-shit Parrapa The Rapper-esque part could’ve potentially been saved with some 2017 post-production magic.
The majority of the video, however, is so unspeakably corny from a visual perspective that I really don’t know how these artists were able to perform their lines with a straight face knowing the visual fuckery that was waiting at the finish line.
For real, Chino XL rapping inside some sort of gelatinous ice cube? C’mon. Literally, the only person that got a decent look in that video is KRS-One, and his scene was just boring by comparison.