The music industry is a business with an abundance of creative roles. Artists are allowed to enter through one door, solidify their status, and then find inspiration to explore other avenues. Take J. Cole, who recently thanked Royce da 5′9″ for allowing him to direct the video for their recent collaboration, “Boblo Boat.” “I found my 2nd calling in the process,” Cole tweeted.
Being able to contribute more than just his verse opened Cole’s eyes to another method of creative expression made possible through the art of rap. He’s not alone; there’s a small crop of artists who found their way into the music video director’s chair. Of course, the results have varied—not everyone has the expertise—but it’s better to try and fail than to limit creativity due to the fear. Shooters will shoot, creatives will create.
And so, we've rounded up 10 music videos directed by rappers or singers for other artists, giving each a raring and placing a critical eye on the outcome of these unexpected unions.
Prince — "Love Sign" ft. Nona Gaye
Directed by Ice Cube
Rating: Today Was a Strange Day
In 1994, Ice Cube was on the set of Prince’s “Love Sign,” not as a celebrity cameo, but as the music video director. Prince’s relationship with hip-hop is unusual, peculiar even by Prince’s standards, but this intersection between him and Cube has to be the most bizarre. During a 2016 appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Cube recalled how needing to exercise his director’s muscle brought the two together.
“Love Sign” features Nona Gaye, the daughter of Marvin Gaye. Ice Cube was able to practice being a director with a living legend and R&B and soul royalty― not a bad opportunity for the gangster rapper who made “No Vaseline.” In the video, Nona is an assassin who is hired to murder the local DJ. Understanding that Cube entered this job as a novice explains some of the video's shortcomings: repeated clips, awkward story progression, and absurd camera angles. It’s ludicrous in premise and execution, but it's the kind of trainwreck that was huge in its day.
The idea of Ice Cube directing a video for Prince is better imagined than what was realized. As a director, some mediums are fitting for your vision. Ice Cube found his true calling in feature films.
Drake — "Best I Ever Had"
Directed by Kanye West
Rating: I Let Hype Williams Down
Kanye West earned his seat at the table of creative geniuses long before the year 2009, but nothing creative nor genius came from the Chicago savant being in the director’s chair for Drake’s breakout single, “Best I Ever Had.”
Hip-hop’s most celebrated college dropout returned to the gymnasium for lazy, slow-motion breast bounces, steamy locker room stretches, and mini-monologues absent of imagination and maturity. The concept isn’t the worst; I can appreciate aiming to be more risky than predictable, but in execution, it lacks the clever humor of Kanye’s “The New Workout Plan” and the outrageous lewdness of Nelly’s “Tip Drill”―two videos that successfully sell sex and satire.
The then-newcomer was encouraged by the veteran West to exchange simple intimacy for racy comedy―a dreadful decision―and through his directorial guidance transformed Drake’s women-lauding hit into a scantily clad wet dream for the Video Vixen generation. If aired at the right hour, “Best I Ever Had” could easily be confused as an extended 1999 ad for Girls Gone Wild and not a highly anticipated music video.
Danny Brown — “Blunt After Blunt”
Directed by A$AP Rocky
Rating: Greatest Frosted Flakes Commercial of All Time
There’s a minimalistic quality to A$AP Rocky’s early music videos when the budgets were small but his vision still keen. The viral “Purple Swag” and “Peso” exemplify an eye for aesthetic―Tumblr meets MTV the way his music pairs Harlem with Houston―but it’s Danny Brown’s “Blunt After Blunt” where the young director makes an enjoyable meal with few ingredients.
“Blunt After Blunt” is shot without patience. Each shaky frame lasts the length of a .gif. It’s both irritating and interesting how quickly the pace moves. The lack of brightness personifies the production that gives the song its intimidating atmosphere. Imagine how it might feel to enter a smoke session in the cellar of serial killers. Opting to use candles and flashlights as the source of illumination takes away comfort; it’s not a horrifying video, but far from inviting.
Dressed in the orange tiger stripes reminiscent of the world’s most famous Tony, Detroit Danny is scarcely visible, but his animated faces and vibrant fashion shines through the layers of marijuana smoke and lo-fi film effects. Danny wasn’t aiming to be pristine, but enigmatic. “Blunt After Blunt” is a time capsule of when Danny and Rocky were on the verge of blowing up but were still in the basement―broke, high, and making the best out of it all.
SZA — "The Weekend"
Directed by Solange
Rating: When Keeping It Solange Goes Wrong (Right?)
Visuals have always been Solange’s creative strength, a master of making moving art to the sound of her music. Art in motion is what was expected when Solange was placed at the helm as music video director for SZA’s "The Weekend."
SZA stays in motion throughout the video, she never stops dancing. She dances in the desolate parking garage; she dances along the empty balcony; in every location she dances alone within the quiet loneliness. The song isn’t about competing but spending time, wanting more time, and the video shows how time is spent when SZA’s lover is having his weekday. Even when alone she’s sexy and jubilant, but with nobody to share her presence.
Solange utilizes her signature camera style―long, wide-angle shots and cinematic close-ups―one aspect of her visual voice shining through. “The Weekend” lacks the colorful vibrancy of the celebrated “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” and it's surprisingly muted for a directorial by Solange. Instead of building a narrative around the lyrics as expected, the video goes abstract. Complaints around the loose concept criticize how the song’s theme wasn’t done justice, and what should’ve elevated the record took a substantial amount of air out of a rising balloon.
I can understand the critique, but Solange did as she’s known for: making a beautiful video say very little, leaving the door open to various interpretations.
OutKast — "Player's Ball"
Directed by Puff Daddy
Rating: Welcome to Atlanta Before "Welcome to Atlanta"
L.A. Reid called a young P. Diddy―who was working for the LaFace subsidiary, Arista―and commissioned the young visionary to shoot a video for a group he recently signed. This was 1995, Puff was unapologetically advocating for New York hip-hop, but Reid saw him fit to direct the first representation of two young men from Atlanta, Georgia. The introduction of OutKast was in the hands of a novice director who didn’t exist in their world.
For an outsider, Diddy directed a video true to the home that raised the boys. Instead of going for a grandiose gathering of every pimp from East Point to East Flatbush, he kept it modest. The party shots are all short B-roll clips that rarely make an impression. Instead, he honed in on the geological aspect, adding classic Cadillacs every few seconds as symbols of Southern luxury. Visual Atlanta cues are made apparent through André’s Braves jersey, Big Boi’s baseball cap, and various local landmarks.
Puff took what would become the base idea of MTV Cribs and stretched the idea across the Eastside to welcome viewers to OutKast’s ATL.
“Player’s Ball” isn’t a blockbuster event, far from implementing the stunning effects Bad Boy videos are known for, or the daring creativity that would become synonymous with 'Kast, but it succeeds as a welcome mat, the original visual aid of André and Big Boi as 2 Dope Boyz in a Cadillac.
Divine Council — "Decemba (Remix)" ft. $ilk Money & André Benjamin
Directed by André 3000
Rating: Now Watch Me, Brian Nicholas
André 3000’s remix of Divine Council’s “Decemba” is one of his most imaginative stories. His verse on the song depicts the tale of a fleeing convict who is murdered by officers during sex with the deputy who helped him escape. Dre is known for graphic, creative writing, but “Decemba” was the first time his verse became the basis of a music video premise.
Divine Council’s $ilk Money―in bright orange prison garb―joins the long lineage of rappers who have entered the courtroom in the name of hip-hop visuals. The addition of a courtroom sketch artist is one of many tiny details that adds to the proper setting. With André as the director, it’s possible the getaway is inspired by the infamous Brian Nichols and the old Cadillac getaway car is the homage to Atlanta and the South.
The sex and police raid scenes are creative standouts. Switching to a first-person viewpoint and showing the world through $ilk Money’s eyes gives the video a shot of adrenaline. Sadly, the first-person perspective was not implemented throughout the entire video, which would’ve been a fresh approach to a common story. Still, how the video imitates André’s verse is interesting, and a great career move would be him committing to narrative-driven features that become self-directed music videos―one way to rewrite the art of storytelling.
Jhené Aiko — "The Pressure"
Directed by Childish Gambino
Rating: Confessions of a Living Room Celebrity
The 2012-2014 collaborative synergy between Jhené Aiko and Childish Gambino brought fans several audio and visual crossovers. “Bed Peace,” “Pink Toes,” and Jhené’s cameo in the music video for “Telegraph Ave” are all well-known, but Gambino’s role as video director role for Jhené’s “The Pressure” is the real gem.
What has made Gambino’s filmography a tour de force is how each video cleverly exists in a world of surrealism, much like his award-winning FX series Atlanta. His distinctive brand of strange is missing from Jhené’s “The Pressure,” and in its place is an approach rooted in reality. The video is crafted as a montage of panning scenes occurring in a makeshift living room. Jhené and company are within the camera’s eye―life unfolding with casual ordinariness―but this isn’t a picture-perfect portrait, it's phases of human interaction affected by unspoken strains. It’s the center of a quiet storm.
“The Pressure” deals in changing cycles much like “3005,” the lead single from Gambino’s Because the Internet. While “3005” displays the altering world on a Ferris Wheel, “The Pressure” is a metaphorical roller coaster of adjusting to life as a burgeoning celebrity, mother, and lover. What it lacks in exciting absurdity is replaced with a visceral simplicity made possible by imitating life.
Royce Da 5’9 — "Boblo Boat"
Directed by J. Cole
Rating: The Best Royce Music Video Thus Far
In the 10 years since his first music video, “Simba,” J. Cole has always been the artist directed, never the director. For “Boblo Boat,” the lead single from his forthcoming album, Book of Ryan, first-time collaborator Royce da 5'9" allowed his guest star to direct the music video.
Cole’s directorial debut takes inspiration from the childhood illustrated in Royce’s vivid moonwalk down memory lane. A story is created following a group of adolescent misfits during a night of mischief reminiscent of ‘90s black coming-of-age stories. One of the best scenes is shot at a gas station, the beer-boosting an homage to the vinyl-stealing scene from Ernest Dickerson’s Juice. The Easter egg speaks to the thoughtfulness of each scene, though, more thought should’ve gone into Cedric the Entertainer’s cameo.
The performance clips that put Royce and Cole in the forefront are illuminated by the fluorescent shine of the amusement park setting. The camera is constantly looming, anxious to capture every possible angle, but it doesn’t stray far from the children’s faces―Cole’s close-ups are often and intimate. “Boblo Boat” is Royce’s best video yet, an enjoyable short that could be the first taste of many videos directed by J. Cole.
Smino — "Wild Irish Roses"
Directed by Jean Deaux
Rating: Lovers Who Create Together Stay Together
Jean Deaux―an immensely talented rapping songstress from Chicago―has been self-directing music videos since her 2014 single, “Motel 6.” The years of bringing music to visual life have molded and sharpened raw passion for refined proficiency. Jean has been able to showcase her growing prowess as director and co-star of St. Louis rapper Smino’s “Anita” and “Wild Irish Roses.”
“Anita” tenderly depicts the gradual affection of two strangers falling into one another; black love in its genesis, the first date as an adventure of discovery. “Wild Irish Roses” is more recent, and far more inventive with its vertical framing, complementary lighting, assorted wardrobe, and a more daring eye for angles and details―the kind of video that sets a new standard of expectation from artist and director. What begins as a late-night run for Backwoods becomes a vibrant daydream of tasteful fantasy.
Jean Deaux and Smino, a couple in real life, prove that magic can happen when artistic lovers align. Their on-camera chemistry and trust in the bigger vision are what will allow their future videos to improve. “Wild Irish Roses” is painfully short, but within a small window, the making of a strong visual language is being cultivated.
D.A. — "Glowing"
Directed by Wolf Haley (a.k.a. Tyler, The Creator)
Rating: Nominated Most Underrated
Wolf Haley―the video director pseudonym for Tyler, The Creator―is one of the most imaginative minds of our time. Since the 2011 release of “Yonkers,” Haley has continued to create from a realm of ridiculousness that few dare to enter. After seven years in the industry making what most consider to be astounding visuals, it’s disheartening to know he only has two directing credits outside of the Odd Future alliance.
One of those two videos is “Glowing,” 2013 single released by D.A.―short for David-Andrew Wallach, former frontman for Chester French. Chris Clancy, Tyler’s manager, brought the mesmerizing song and the hungry director together. It's been five years since the video’s release and it's just as outstanding today as it was on the day it was initially released. Even with all his progression as a creative and filmmaker, “Glowing” is arguably the best video Haley has ever made.
The most compelling qualities of Tyler, the director, can be found in “Glowing”: bright and vibrant color schemes, destructive and disgusting content, thoughtful and dynamic presentation. The video doesn’t represent the song but it adds another layer of life to the music.
What has always been impressive about Tyler is his tenacity to keep creating regardless of received accolades or unrewarded trophies. When the industry realizes he’s the secret they shouldn’t keep, he’ll be given more chances to make magic with artists eager to see their songs live their best visual life.
By Yoh, aka Yohography, aka Yoh31