With "I Can’t Get Wit That" and "In My Lifetime" behind them, having been circulated throughout several music network video blocks, Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella’s relationship with Abdul Malik Abbott proved to be a winning combination.
By 1995, after having playing to the flashy aesthetic of the label on "In My Lifetime," which was shot in St. Thomas, Abbott took things back to street for "Dead Presidents," unarguably one of Jay Z’s most iconic music videos.
"The premise behind it was always Jay Z’s a hustler, you don’t know what he’s hustling, but he’s a hustler," Abbott told REVOLT of the concept behind the visual. "Basically, the premise of the video was sort of a spin off of the movie "Heat" with Robert DeNiro. There was scene [in the film] where the cops are watching the bad guys and the bad guys are watching the cops, so we had a little spin on that, wherein [Jay] has a deal going on and sort of like just shuns the deal, but goes back and photographs the cops hustling and hassling the dude that was trying to make [him] a deal."
While the 1995 film "Heat" was a source of inspiration for the video, the final scene in "Dead Presidents" established a rich lore that continues to amaze 20 years later. "By the time we got to [shooting] the infamous table scene, [Jay] would not shoot that scene until Biggie showed up," Abbott revealed.
As you might recall, at the tail end of the music video, Jay Z is seated at a roundtable with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Lil Cease, AZ, Smooth the Hustler, Dame Dash, Kareem "Biggs" Burke, and more. Classic, rare — and everything along those lines are some of the many ways the scene continues to be described years later. "We had AZ, Smooth the Hustler, Lil Cease, there was a lot of people there, but Biggie wasn’t there so we had to wait for [him] to show." Eventually, Big Poppa made his way to the set, leading to the coterie of famous peers to shoot the iconic scene featured a game of Monopoly, real money ("$30,000 cash on the table") and big buckets of Cristal. Feel the ambience?