The late, great Biggie Smalls was an illustrator that used words to paint extraordinary stories that could be visualized with ease. A man who knew the importance of details, his raps were like short stories, or better yet, mini movies.
“I Got A Story To Tell” is considered one of his best and most compelling stories. The song details how Biggie’s creeping with a New York Knick’s girlfriend lead to a robbery when her man came home early for an unknown amount of money. For years it’s been speculated who the 6'5” Knick player was, just last month Fat Joe added fuel to the story's fire by citing Anthony Mason as the Knick in question. Even though the world may never know, the song is still an excellent example of why Biggie is revered as one of the greatest ever.
Aristotle Torres recently brought the song even more attention by writing and recording a short film inspired by the lyrics. His rendition has a few added details but overall it follows the storyline. A late night escapade between two acquaintances turned into a $100,000 robbery when her basketball star of a husband comes home unexpectedly. It’s well-shot, really crisp quality, with actors who bring the characters to life. Aristotle is no stranger to hip-hop or videos, he is the founder and creative director of the full-service By Any Means - a company that has shot music videos like Nas “The Don,” Ludacris “Jingalin” and more.
Rappers have always claimed that their album is like a movie, but only some actually go out and make them into cinematic experiences. Flying Lotus’ short film for his 2012 Until The Quiet Comes is a perfect example of where music video meets short film. Directed by the incredible Kahlil Joseph, viewers receive a four minute visual experience that incorporates songs and themes from the album. A visual worthy of an MTV Moon Man and acceptance into Sundance. Bridging both worlds is what many rap artists attempt but very few execute it with such pristine excellence.
I have a great appreciation for Tyler The Creator’s visual eye and creative approach to his videos. If Wolf Haley is directing there’s always an expectation of something unique and moderately silly. Back in 2012 he released a video for the song “Sam Is Dead.” The video is based around an army platoon that seems to be loosely inspired by the Vietnam War. If you mute the sound, the first few minutes would convince anyone that you’re watching a real war movie. The quality is high, the styling is perfect, the AKs are convincing, it’s impressive how he can create these concepts for rap songs. It wouldn’t be Tyler if the video doesn’t take an odd turn and by the video's end, Tyler has shot three different versions of himself. I’m certain there’s some deeper symbolization but I wouldn’t even know where to begin dissecting. Still, a worthwhile watch for anyone that enjoys music videos that offer something more. Now if only we could get him to release the Wolf movie.
I wrote in the past about how incredible Childish Gambino's music videos are, but his short film Clapping For The Wrong Reasons deserves its own praise. The cinematic endeavor loosely coincides with the character that Childish channels throughout the album, Because Of the Internet. Filmed at Chris Bosh's mansion in the Pacific Palisades, it follows a day in the life of The Boy. The narrative is loose, a free flowing story that highlights his lifestyle and the characters that surround him. There’s music that is played throughout, most of it unreleased - the song with Trinidad Jame$ and the verse he raps with Flying Lotus are still nowhere to be found. I believe his goal wasn’t to make a movie based around the music but to give the character he was basing his album around a face, a personality, a soul. It’s worth watching for anyone that has yet to see it. Danielle Fishel’s cameo will make you watch every season of Boy Meets World.
On Halloween of 2011, Kid Cudi released a short film called Maniac that starred himself and Cage with Shia LaBeouf as the video director. Even though Cudi has a song called “Maniac” it has almost no correlation to the short film. The film is rather…gruesome. It follows two French serial killers as they hunt down and murder random people, hacking, slashing, choking, shooting, and burning them to death while a film crew follows. I like the different tones, the film never gets too bright, always matching the darkness of the men committing the acts of terror. It’s a loose remix of the French film Man Bites Dog. If you like something a little more extreme, this is the visual for you.
Kanye West is a visionary. He has always been an artist that cared about having incredible visuals to match the incredible music. I wasn’t surprised by the story of how three music videos were made for “Jesus Walks” and that after running through his budget he began spending his own money. He outdid himself with the “Runaway” short film. The 40-minute visual is scored by most of the music that’s featured on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s the story of a man who falls in love with a phoenix that he discovered after it fell from the sky. This is real quality. The scene with the fireworks while “All Of The Lights” play is incredible and ballerina scene alone showcases why Kanye is a mad genius. You shouldn’t watch expecting some love story that will make you tear up but if you want a music video that is visually a featured-film, this is the one. We’re still waiting for him to release the film he shot for Cruel Summer, a video that must be viewed on seven-screens due to it being shot on a seven-camera rig. Only Kanye would come up with such an insane idea.
YG’s "Blame It On The Street," Joey Bada$$’ "No Regrets," Alexander Spit's "A Breathtaking Trip To That Otherside," Big Sean & Jhene Aiko’s "Out Of Love," Bodega Bamz’s "The Streets Owe Me" - the list of short films that are coinciding with the music is growing with each album. Beyoncé took things to the next level with the videos from Lemonade. Absolutely stunning. She deserves her very own article dissecting all the themes and symbolism. It’s also worth noting that she premiered her visual album on HBO. I don’t know if it impressed anyone else but I was floored by the decision to release a secret album’s music visuals through HBO. Any major label artist can follow in her footsteps and drop a surprise album, but who will dare try to release their album through AMC?
If artists continue to treat the music like movies don’t be surprised when Netflix or Showtime replaces YouTube as the central hub to watch videos from your favorite rapper. It could happen, don’t believe me just watch.