It all goes back to early Saturday mornings standing too close to the television, watching vibrant fantasy worlds moving like paintings that broke free from the restrictions of a canvas. Colors so striking that they intoxicate the eyes, it’s still something that I gravitate toward, that’s why Kanye’s Graduation is one of my favorite album covers in his discography. 'Ye has some incredible covers but Graduation is special, the artwork is overflowing with vibrancy, the purple sky is an incredible backdrop, the Graduation Bear looks like he was destined to be on Cartoon Network, and even the fairly odd Takashi Murakami character looks like something that would exist in Kanye’s imaginary bizarre universe.
When Takashi and Kanye collaborated for the “Good Morning” music video it only further confirmed that the Graduation Bear was meant to be animated. Rap is no stranger to animated music videos, it’s a method that artist have been using to express a vision. Even Tupac has been animated. In a year where music and visuals have both been excellent, watching “Good Morning” this past week sent me on a hunt to discover more recent videos that have bridged animation and music in holy matrimony.
Run The Jewels are no stranger in using animation as a medium to really bring their music to life. Last year, through Fools Gold, the two rhyme slayers released a video for the self-titled single, “Run The Jewels” that’s visually just as good as the song. This year, they stepped the quality up further with the powerful “Early.” Mike starts the song off with a story-driven verse, walking listeners through an incident with a police officer from the perspective of a black man being pestered for no reason. It’s chilling; this happens often and Mike gives a voice to those that are usually silent when the badge is concerned. The video captures the imagery perfectly, I love that the color scheme is only black, white and red. It’s a bleak video that captures the bleak reality of the struggle in America between black citizens and law enforcement. A powerful video for a powerful song.
Sometime it takes art imitating life for you to realize that we are truly living in some dark times. A record like “Early,” with a message that is too in-your-face to ignore is why Run The Jewels is easily one of the most important rap groups in the game today. And just recently, their song "Rubble Kings Theme," for the Rubble Kings documentary, was given its own animated video. It's a royal rumble between two rival gangs in South Bronx during the 1970’s. Another incredible video to add to their growing collection. Killer Mike’s "Reagan," though it wasn’t released this year, is another must-watch.
Earl Sweatshirt broke his silence this year with an album that I’m still playing despite it being released near the end of March. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside only produced two videos, one being “Off Top,” a visual that's like entering a mind under psychedelic influence experiencing a terrible trip. The video starts with an animated police car surrounded by balls of fire, while an American flag is waving in as a grainy backdrop - certainly an interesting message to place at the beginning. The next scene we see an animated Earl falling with fire burning underneath him. He falls onto a tongue that swallows him while a riot video plays in the back, an angry looking train breaks through the tongue with Earl riding in the very front. It’s a cornucopia of eccentric clips, my favorite being the police officer that is made to look like a bloodthirsty pig. I’m not certain what he was trying to convey in the short, Taylor Johnson-directed clip but it’s a mesmerizing viewing. It’s safe to place it in the dark twisted fantasy category.
Pell made noise last year with his Floating While Dreaming project, and what put him on my radar was the video for his single “Runaway.” He did it again this year with the remix to "White Sea," a song takes you through the pain and sorrow of a broken home. The video is absolutely gorgeous, Aaron Keuter outdid himself with the animation. Every scene is captivating, and despite the concept being rather sad, the video is full of lush, bright and beautiful colors. This video is the best possible first impression for anyone interested in Pell’s music.
ProbCause is another artist on the rise that released quite the visual experience with “Same Thing.” The kaleidoscope background is eye catching while multiple cartoon-esque faces rap into the screen. It’s rather trippy, as the kids would say. In a time where your visuals are just as important as the music both these artist are approaching both in a way that is definitely worth your time.
It’s a wild, wild west in Fashawn’s "Confess" music video. It’s a true western theme, gunslingers and robberies, back shots and backstabbings. Will Smith would be proud. It’s well-detailed, courtesy of Hectah, who handled the animation and direction. When the video was originally released, Mass Appeal held a contest called “Spot The Rapper,” as the video is littered with familiar faces that will have you doing a quick double take. Out of the many rappers that make an appearance, the drunk Earl Sweatshirt jumped out at me immediately, a must watch.
While Fashawn took us to the past, Shabazz Palaces’ “Forerunner Foray” takes us into a dimension where basketball players surf on pizzas in space, black stallions pull black chariots in space, it’s an intergalactic voyage unlike anything you’ve seen this year. Based on the comment section it seems that the video was also played on Toonami, an incredible look for any artist being embraced by a network that introduced an entire generation to cartoons and anime.
My favorite animated video this year is absolutely stunning, the cinematic storyline matches the breathtaking visuals. ASM (A State of Mind) and the villain DOOM came together for “Masking,” song number 14 from the The Jade Amulet album. The Jade Amulet is described as hip-hop’s cinematic odyssey, following the life of a prisoner named Shalim and his plans to escape and overthrow the tyrant Dumile. Of course, DOOM plays the role the evil king. “Masking” is near the very end of the album, and while watching the video may spoil the story it will surely entice you to give the album an entire listen. Monkey Eggs truly captured the music with his animated rendition, it’s eye candy, I can only imagine how long it took to animate the entire five-minute video. If there was a list of best animated music videos in 2015, “Mask” deserves to be at the very top.
These are just a few of the outstanding visuals that were animated this year. With animators getting better every year and technology advancing at such a rapid pace, don't be surprised if more rappers take to presenting their ideas through high quality animation. Cartoons will always leave you with a bit of nostalgia, they take you back to the simple days of a childhood where the worries were few and weekends were dedicated to neglecting homework and watching your favorite shows too close to the television. Good times, good times.
[By Yoh, aka MF YOH, aka @Yoh31]