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Music Video Round-Up: A Milli, Killer Mike, Nappy Roots

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Lil Wayne: ‘A Mill’ (directed by Gil Green)

Like the song, the video for ‘A Milli’ feels half-complete and tossed-off. Also like the song, the video also grows more fascinating the more you come back to it. Director Gil Green has long been a fan of the single-take that’s not really a single-take but feels like one–see ‘Stay Fly’ or ‘Hell Yeah’—but those other videos gained energy or chaos through the immediacy of shaky cameras and long, loosely orchestrated action, ‘A Milli’ just casually walks through and never picks up or goes anywhere. It’s moment-to-moment, just like Wayne’s free-associative raps.

While no rapper’s gotten more hype in the past couple of years than Wayne, ‘A Milli’ as a song and video is the first thing he’s done that doesn’t feel at all compromised. Ultimately, ‘Tha Carter 3’ itself is a compromise, but everything about ‘A Milli’ highlights Wayne’s insularity. Like the best rap songs, it’s just a dive into the rapper’s head and the video matches it by giving us a kind of “Wayne uncut”. It’s a mini-documentary like those old Hollywood so-and-so “On the Set” things that sometimes run between films on Turner Classic. In the space between his trailer and the actual video shoot—for the next single that is—we get this really raw and complicated portrait of Lil Wayne. He only occasionally decides to rap along with the song, he takes a shit, he changes his clothes, he does a Leprechaun kick, he puts on a Presidential smile for fans who want a picture, he drinks two styrofoams cups of purple, and he munches on some food. Nothing cool, nothing bad-ass, just Wayne. Tom Breihan’s spoken about the way Wayne “challeng[es] ideas of rap stardom” and this video’s a perfect example. ‘A Milli’ is this weirdo freestyle that’s inexplicably turned into the song everybody loves but that doesn’t make it less of a weirdo freestyle. I would be perverse to try to turn this hit song into anything resembling a conventional video, so Green and Wayne don’t.

Killer Mike featuring Ice Cube: ‘Pressure’ (directed by Giovanni Hidalgo)

The ‘Pressure’ video exudes the anger of the song and gets its mix of fuck everybody for this bullshit anger and tough-minded, this is what we can about it fervor perfectly. It never even tries to be conventionally coherent and constantly works with point and counter-point. It operates on like conventional, classic film grammar something movie directors rarely do and music video directors even less so. When you cut between our Jesus-loving President, any number of black church leaders, and Jim Jones, there’s an overt but not obvious connection between all three of these schlockmeisters, topped off with Godardian text across the screen: “Churchs Make 20,000 Annually”. The constant thread is only hypocrisy and corruption, not relegated to certain races or political persuasions.

The text, either hard facts or hard-ass sloganeering really is Godardian—it has the sloppy chaos of his 70s work and 90s video work only Mike actually believes what he’s saying—and is also closely connected to the anarchic strands of graffiti writing. All that “medium is the message” type junk…when an image of Barack Obama dancing with Ellen DeGeneres comes across the screen, what are we do to with it? OJ trying on the infamous black glove? It’s reducing these moments to the image themselves and also all their hundreds of contexts and none of them at the same time.

Images bounce off one another and rhyme and conflict and complement and sometimes even just stand on their own. Killer Mike rapping to a wide-angled, dirty security camera, the mélange of famous political footage, celebrity gossip trash, and the kind of footage people post on message boards and SpaceGhetto because it’s sick and violent, all placed into an almost end-of-days context. This is the same mix of sincere political activism, asshole hubris, and the understanding that you gotta entertain, that made Christopher Hitchens get his ass water-boarded. If ‘Pressure’ came out a month later, you could expect to see chubby, drowning Hitch drop those iron bars somewhere in there…

Nappy Roots featuring Greg Street: ‘Good Day’ (directed by Lenny Bass)

Rather than placing Nappy Roots and friends on a street corner or even in like a public park or something, this video places them in front of a low-lit black background that’s then filled-in with the appropriate props (a bed, basketball hoop, cars, street signs). It anchors the video, moves it away from every other “hanging-out” Southern rap video, and makes the all-kids chorus part even more joyful. The hand-held work moving through the classrooms as the kids clap and sing is even more exciting because it looks and feels full of life compared to the minimalism of the performance parts.

Not that those parts don’t have their own sense of energy and fun. There’s plenty of fun and naturalism on the set as well, kids clapping with adults, the guy goofily leaping onto the bed, kids and adults making funny faces towards the end, but there’s a sense that the performance part is the Nappy Roots talking about it and the chorus/classroom part is their dream of a day where “nobody gonna die” come true.

Unabashedly fun and communal, with absolutely no interest in conventional rap signifiers of cool—as I said, even the sexy girl in the bed just gets playfully jumped-on—‘Good Day’ celebrates the minor victories of a new fresh shirt, a barbeque, or a basketball game and makes them palpable. When member Fish Scales grabs a plate and happily chomps down on a burger at the end of his verse and right before the chorus, it’s perfect.

Written by Brandon

July 11th, 2008 at 11:45 pm

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Music Video Director Gil Green.

Music video director Gil Green has three of the best videos in rotation right now: Akon’s ‘Don’t Matter’, Three-Six Mafia’s ‘Doe Boy Fresh’, and DJ Khaled’s ‘We Takin’ Over’. I believe ‘We Takin’ Over’ is the first Green video to feature the Hype-esque ‘Gil Green Presents’ in floating CGI-letters, which I read as Green’s formal announcement as a big-time event oriented video director. Green’s direction however, is a bit more subtle than Hype Williams or most video directors, having an energy and honesty that is very appealing and never becoming too much.

All three of the videos highlight Green’s strength, subtlety; he knows when not to cut or go crazy with the camera, the kind of thing that should be ‘Film School 101’ but has unfortunately becomes synonymous with “good” music video directing and is taught in film schools. Green has all of the qualities a music video director nowadays is supposed to eschew: restraint, a focus on realism, and a refusal to blow his subjects up larger than life. Green also communicates even-handed and rarely didactic social and political messages that sneak up on the unsuspecting viewer.

‘Don’t Matter’

The video fits the music because ‘Don’t Matter’ sounds like a sincere version of a travel commercial theme and the video looks like a sincere version of a travel commercial. We get the expected island imagery but presented a little more realistically, it has a certain 70s movie feeling to the cinematography, which hints at my favorite aspect of Green’s video direction: he does not depend on fast-cutting or computer enhancement. The party scene at the end is the only point where we get any sense of fast-cutting but it’s barely rapid-fire and the fast-cutting there works because it is a legitimately cathartic party scene. Other than that, the video has a meandering quality that fits the concept of the video. Akon picks up his girl to go out but the girl’s father doesn’t like it (communicated in one effective shot of the father looking angry) and the rest of the video is the fun part; the couple hanging-out for the day. Keeping the video to this simple concept also avoids the tendency in rap videos to simply mix two unrelated sequences in order to vary the video up (although he does do this in ‘We Takin’ Over’). Instead of cutting between two loosely connected sequences, generally, a narrative and a performance sequence, Green allows them to co-exist and mix with one another. Also, the video gains energy from suspense, the slightly threatening aspect of the Father, looming in the background, always exists. We’re not explicitly reminded of it but that’s good because the song is called ‘Don’t Matter’ and the song and video are about not worrying about those things even though they hover in the background.

-Movie Equivalent: ‘Morvern Callar’

-What’s with…Akon saying the word “fight” the same weird way that Eddie Murphy says “fart” in ‘Delirious’?

‘We Takin’ Over’

I’m actually not as hyped-up about this video as others but for a music video for a typical banger which therefore, should have a conventional video it more than gets the job done. Similar in style to ‘Don’t Matter’, Green uses handheld cameras mixed with more conventional video shots, once again, bringing the video’s energy through sequences and conventional cutting, not hyped-up rapid-fire editing or CGI embellishments. Again, there’s a loose concept like ‘Don’t Matter’, a concept that keeps the video itself moving forward so it doesn’t need to be done with extraneous “cool” shots and fancy-pants film-school editing. Green fulfils the crucial A.D.D aspect music videos need but on his own, significantly more modest terms. The video also modestly takes on the mixtape controversy of the past few months. ‘We Takin’ Over’ being the new single from a well-known DJ’s sophomore “legal” release is made into an action plot where Khaled is being chased by imposing men in SWAT gear, presumably some stand-in for the conventional, legal music industry. I also like how the aggressors in the video are omnipresent but never really take the video over. They literally hover in the background of the frame but do not stop Khaled and friends from having fun. Like ‘Don’t Matter’, ‘We Takin’ Over’ has a way of acknowledging threatening outside forces by putting it figuratively or literally in the background of the videos, never absent but never fully oppressive either.

-Movie Equivalent: ‘Vanishing Point’

-What’s with…the church at the end?

‘Doe Boy Fresh’

Tom Breihan pretty much summed this video up here calling it “a neat little statement on the escapist fantasy-fulfillment aspect of rap’s appeal.” I personally find the video to be a bit more satirical, not harshly critical or anything but I don’t think it’s only addressing rap’s escapist appeal as much as it is pointing out the way that many, of all races and age-groups, are willing to embrace rap music but always from a distance. In this video, Green uses computer effects but they are necessary to the concept of the video. The effects are used to an end beyond sprucing up the images, instead working towards the point of making the rap appropriators look at least a little absurd. The computer effects aid in helping the concept but Green is still not afraid to make the video look sort of weird or awkward. Some of the actors rapping do it well, others not so good, but I don’t think that is poor acting as much as it is an attempt at realism. For example, the Little Girl just looks sort of awesome while the Old Guy looks creepy as fuck. That’s interesting! Other doses of realism come through in the setting (a community center) and in the little joke at the end, with the guy taking money from his son, telling him: “50 dollars kid, c’mon. Yeah, I be hustlin’ to get back some of that child support money.” The joke, which is darkly funny rather than typical music video “wacky” is a strange touch and the line is delivered by the actor naturalistically rather than over-the-top.

-Movie Equivalent: ‘Watermelon Man’

-What’s with…Travis Barker being in the video?

‘Hell Yeah’

This is more of a bonus but this video is so amazing. One of the best rap videos ever. I remember seeing it in its eight minute entirety on ‘BET Uncut’ and being blown away. The intro with the family is really hilarious, their arguments and the inflections of their voices are dead-on, making the maliciousness of what happens to them even funnier. Certainly, they are being mocked but the parody is so dead-on that it’s done with some familiarity with that which it is mocking. Then the video itself, wow- a series of elegantly sloppy single takes gives the song an added energy that conventional video editing and directing would not be able to produce. This video, fitting the artists involved, recalls the actual grit and energy of the classic rap videos of the 90s. Once again, Green gives us real, palpable sense of realism, the details of the house dead prez are in, the total out-of-control-ness of the video camera aspects (it’s shaky like real family video footage), and the really sick and scary part where the family get hijacked are way more realistic than they need to be.

-Movie Equivalent: ‘The Black Gestapo’

-What’s with…nothing. This is the best video ever. Nothing is wrong with it.

Green is also the director of the much-hated but actually really, really, good ‘Choices: The Movie’. I’ve heard nothing but horrible things about ‘Choices 2’ and its availability only with the soundtrack and the lack of involvement by Green has led me to never pursue it. I will eventually. But I’d say that if ‘Choices 2’ has made you weary of ‘Choices’, rent it anyway.

‘Choices’ is obviously low-budget, so if you don’t for digital-video cinematography and questionable acting you won’t dig it, but if you can get beyond that it’s a more realistic and interesting crime movie than anything Scorsese has made since ‘Taxi Driver’. Unlike other rap movies, ‘Choices’ never tries to be too cutting-edge or cool or really anything, it just tells a story, doing its best to use the films’ apparent flaws, like untrained actors and a low budget to make it a bit closer to real-life. There is also the interesting choice of having the hero not be Juicy J or DJ Paul making it less of a vanity project. Instead, we get Pancho, played by Rodney Wickfall, who succumbs to the pressures of his moronic friends (Three-Six) and their acquaintance played by La Chat. Wickfall gives a very sympathetic, pardon the cliché “everyman” performance when he could have easily over-acted the entire movie as the actor playing the Foghorn-Leghorn-esque Alonzo chose to do. Beginning with the credit sequence which makes use of the Impressions’ ‘Choice of Colors’ and down to the rather touching end, the movie does a better job of having a heart and being gritty than most Hollywood movies. To me, it is the closest approximation of Donald Goines’ novel in its ability to understand and condemn criminality and retaining empathy for those involved in the life.

Written by Brandon

April 11th, 2007 at 7:09 am

Posted in Gil Green, music videos