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Dating back to hip hop’s first golden age, seeing your favorite artists up close and personal on the small screen has been a pretty big deal. Today, the way we view music videos is vastly different than how we did even a decade ago. However, the format remains invaluable to presenting an artist to the world and bringing us into their element. The days of scheduling our day in order to be near a TV to partake in the “world premiere” of a new music video may be extinct. But, that has not stopped artists in hip hop and R&B from presenting visual content that provokes thought or simply keeps you entertained.
The best music videos present a story to the viewers, make an artistic statement, or challenge our collective imaginations. Being able to capture the essence of a song and convey that message or sentiment in visual form takes a mix of skill, passion and lightning in a bottle. But, when all of the ingredients are there, they make for timeless mini-films that help bring the music to life. In 2018, some of the biggest acts in music pulled out all the stops to make sure their videos would create excitement and intrigue by utilizing tantalizing special effects, having blockbuster cameos from entertainers and social media personalities; and by using chic settings to help bring their visuals to fruition.
As we prepare to close out the year, I highlighted eight visuals from 2018 that kept me glued to the edge of my seat. I believe that they may have a good chance of being mentioned amongst the greatest music videos ever.
8. Drake: “God’s Plan”
Rap artists are notorious for their ostentatious display of wealth and luxury, which is often flaunted in the form of big budget music videos that capture this lifestyle of gluttony. No stranger to these exhibitions, himself, Drake decided to change course for his “God’s Plan” music video. He opted to give away the entire $996,631.90 budget to the less fortunate; rather than use it to show off models, jewelry and luxury cars. Directed by Karena Evans and executive produced by Director X, the video starts with a monologue about appreciating life from a local Miami resident, through the good and the bad — a sentiment that is conveyed throughout the visual. Opening with shots of children and elderly citizens in underprivileged areas, the video cuts to Drake at the Sabor Tropical Super Market. Here, he announces that he’ll be paying for all of the shoppers’ groceries. This leads to pandemonium throughout the aisles of the store, marking the OVO boss’ first good deed of the video. Drake’s charity continues after taking over the University of Miami campus, where he gifts student Destiny James with a check for $50,000 to help cover her tuition. Soon afterward, he heads over to Miami Senior High School to surprise the student body and make a $25,000 donation to go toward after-school programs. Gifting random families with wads of cash and free vehicles, Drake keeps the goodwill flowing, paying a visit to the Lotus House of Miami. This is a women’s homeless shelter that he pledged $50,000 to. This action allowed him to make sure that every cent of his budget went toward putting smiles on faces and improving the lives of others. Aside from shots of Pittsburgh Steelers wide-receiver Antonio Brown dancing with Drake inside a Miami mall, there are no other high-profile guest cameos and little glamour. This results in the focus being put on the community of Miami, and the “God’s Plan” video being one of the more selfless acts by a rap star that we can recall.
7. J. Cole: “Kevin’s Heart”
Art imitates life in the accompanying clip to J. Cole’s K.O.D single “Kevin’s Heart, which stars its namesake, comedian Kevin Hart, portraying himself. The video premiered during the aftermath of his 2017 cheating scandal that made national headlines. Directed by J. Cole and Scott Lazer, the mini-movie centers around a day in the life of Hart following the allegations and his interactions with the public in light of his transgressions. From becoming a trending topic on morning radio shows to receiving disapproving glances from fellow shoppers while in the grocery store, Hart feels the heat from the public. He also feels temptation with numerous women making overt sexual advances toward him. While the video centers on Hart, J. Cole makes an understated cameo in the video and — much like Hart — is seen struggling with operating a stroller for his child. This can be deciphered as Cole’s ability to relate to Hart’s struggles with infidelity in the light of fame and success. One hilarious scene from the video captures Hart receiving advice from a random fan in the bathroom of a restaurant. The man pats him on the shoulder without having washed his hands. This results in a humorous reaction from the megastar. Despite being centered around a serious matter in Hart’s personal life, his willingness to poke fun at his own shortcomings in a straight-forward way helps make this video an endearing one and speaks to the creative genius of J. Cole.
6. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B: “Finesse (Remix)”
Lovers of nostalgia got a blast from the past in the form of this funky fresh music video from Bruno Mars, who turns back the clock to the early ’90s with a little assistance from Cardi B. Directed by Bruno Mars and Florent Dechard, the pair takes various cues from cultural staples of that era including In Living Color, the hit ’90s sketch-comedy show, which helped launch the careers of numerous comedic legends and helped usher hip hop into the mainstream. Mars and Cardi replicate the intro from the now-defunct TV series, tossing around cans of paint and discharging spray-cans in a fashion similar to the way the cast members did in the first two seasons of the show. Wearing a spray-painted midriff shirt, custom jacket, jean shorts and a leather cap; Cardi’s outfit is one befitting of a Fly Girl, the iconic dance crew headed by Rosie Perez and featuring a pre-fame Jennifer Lopez. Clowning around with her costar, Cardi displays her charismatic charm, all the while exuding an ample of amount of sex appeal and Boogie Down swagger. Although Cardi B’s sheer presence steals a bit of Bruno Mars’ thunder, the multi-talented performer shines in his own right, showing off his prowess as a dancer and bringing to mind moves from the era of New Jack Swing. Initially accompanied by a pair of his homies, Bruno and company beckons a trio of ladies to the dance-floor, and the two groups proceed to get busy in unison, as a live band jams out in the background. The energy ratchets up even further when Cardi B emerges from the same door that Keenan Ivory Wayans used to, joining the bevy of dancers and performers in a moment that serves as the video’s climax. This video is one of 2018’s most action-packed clips in epic fashion.
5. Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar & Future: “King’s Dead”
Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Future take it to the top with the accompanying video for their Black Panther soundtrack cut “King’s Dead.” In the video, the three rappers are on various rooftops throughout the city. Directed by Dave Free of The Little Homies and Jack Begert, the visual opens with Lamar atop a palm tree and eating while he raps the hook. The scene, then, switches to an office setting where Lamar is dressed as a stock trader. He’s soon joined by Jay Rock and Future, as he operates the phones and approves paperwork. All employees run around frantically the whole time. Both locations, as well as a barbershop, are the settings during Jay Rock’s verse. Future is distracted by an attractive woman in a penthouse elevator, during his verse, too. However, the video reaches a climax with Lamar’s depiction of a drug transaction gone bad, which results in him committing murder in an attempt to defend himself. Avoiding oncoming traffic while dancing in the middle of an L.A. intersection, Lamar controls the vehicles with the wave of his hand, one intriguing quirk that makes this video one of the more innovative of the year.
4. Travis Scott ft. Drake: “SICKO MODE”
Travis Scott makes his return to Houston in this video for his ASTROWORLD single with the hometown hero hooking up with director Dave Meyers to help put the spotlight on his city. The clip opens with a group of children racing home on their bikes, as toxic fumes overtake the neighborhood and the sun descends to ground level. Drake — who is seen walking what appears to be a dog and strolling along train tracks — is revealed as the person responsible for the fumes and begins to rage until the smoke suddenly clears. Then, Scott makes his entrance, while riding a horse through the Houston streets. From that point on, Scott can be seen posted in front of local landmark Screwed Up Records & Tapes, as well as mobbing throughout other areas in the city — including an abandoned plot of land near the train tracks — while surrounded by a harem of attractive women. With various wardrobe changes, including one that finds Scott and his collection of eye candy cladded as a vintage soul group from the Motown era, the video shows the rapper in various incarnations. This all happens while Scott is paying homage to deceased Screwed Up Click member Big Hawk — whose vocals were sampled for the song’s hook. Basking in the ambiance, while a dancer performs a solo routine, Drake pops up for another appearance. This time, he takes it back to high school before being thrust into an alternate dimension and crash-landing back in a vehicle roaming throughout the city. Mobbing in a Houston Astros jersey and joining Scott in the parking lot outside of Screwed Up Records & Tapes, Drake joins the current pride of Houston for a riveting visual that captures the pair in all their splendor.
3. The Carters: “Apeshit”
JAY-Z and Beyonce epitomize black excellence and opulence in this regal clip, which captures hip hop’s favorite power couple stunting abroad. Filmed at the Louvre in Paris — the world’s largest art museum — this visual illustrates the infiltration of predominantly white spaces by black people, who have often been shunned by gatekeepers of high society. Directed by Ricky Saiz and produced by Iconoclast; the pair kick off the video with ominous bell tolls, as a black man with wings is seen crouching on the steps outside of the museum. After cutting to different pieces of art throughout the museum, the camera slowly pans towards Hov and Bey, whom hold hands while posing in a stoic manner in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. And from there, the dormant museum springs to life with dancers seemingly rising from the dead to perform in unison throughout the Louvre, as the Carters behold the action unfolding before them. However, they are not merely spectators, as the two partake in the festivities themselves — particular Beyonce — who takes center stage. She swaggers in front of some of the most coveted artwork known to man. While Hov has moments of his own, he largely plays the back, allowing his better half to steal the show. Aside from statues and paintings such as Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo, and The Coronation of Napoleon all appearing in the clip; the video is also rife with cultural and political statements. For example, one scene shows a group of young black men captured, while taking a knee in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This also shows their support in the fight against police brutality and other racial injustices. A statement piece in sentiment, the “Apeshit” video continues the Carters’ trend of bucking Euro-centric ideals and challenging updated idealogies, all the while promoting solidarity and black love.
2. Kendrick Lamar & SZA – “All The Stars”
Kendrick Lamar fulfills the dreams of black revolutionary Marcus Garvey by making a trek back to Africa in this culturally rich clip. Directed by Dave Meyers and the Little Homies, the video begins with Lamar on an ark, as he’s being carried by a sea of waving hands. When he arrives, Lamar is greeted by a group of African children wearing red caps specific to Igbo Nigerians. After the camera pans to a star-shaped galaxy — from which SZA prances around while singing the song’s hook — Lamar is seen seated among African locals, taking in a tribal dance performance in the middle of a village. Venturing through a wooded area while being led by a pack of black panthers, the Compton rapper appears to be headed onto the next segment of his journey. However, SZA reappears on camera, serenading viewers from the stars before being surrounded by a group of woman dancers clad in pink costumes made of feathers. The songstress is, then, captured amid what appears to be a contingent of African warriors clad in blue, as well as in a shanty with a group of women spectating a troupe of male dancers. After discovering a room filled with Egyptian hieroglyphics, Lamar reaches the end of his journey, as he wades through water and comes face-to-face with four larger-than-life goddesses as SZA looks on. The encounter is one that is symbolic of the rapper gaining a stronger understanding of his ancestry. This ends the visual and it encapsulates the essence of the Black Panther film effectively.
1. Childish Gambino: “This Is America”
Childish Gambino shows America an unfiltered reflection of itself in this charged-up visual, the latest in the rapper’s string of conceptual music videos. Directed by Hiro Murai and choreographed by Sherrie Silver, the clip begins with a black man entering the frame and picking up an acoustic guitar off of a seat before sitting down and playing it. However, he’s shot in the head at point-blank range by Gambino, who does his best impression of Thomas D. Rice’s character Jim Crow before committing the deed. From there, all hell breaks loose. Gambino is joined by a group of dancing children, while a riot ensues in the background. This is imagery that subtly points to America’s fixation on entertainment, while we’re numb to the harsh realities taking place around us. Shucking and jiving in front of a black choir before mowing it down with an AK-47, the act is a reminder of teenager Dylan Roof’s murder of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Other topics in the video that speak on the current state of America is the appearance of a cloaked man riding atop a pale horse, which is symbolic of death; as well as the manner in which guns are handled with delicacy — as opposed to black bodies — which are often discarded without the same amount of care. Also, there’s a shot of Gambino paying homage to Michael Jackson’s classic music video for “Black or White” by mimicking the King of Pop’s moves while dancing on top of a car. The star keeps viewers’ eyes glued to the screen for the duration of this clip, which still has us attempting to unpack and decipher it all.
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