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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