Years before Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and School Daze, Spike Lee — who releases his approximately 876th movie today with Red Hook Summer, which he not only wrote, but also stars in, reprising his role as Mookie from 1989’s Do the Right Thing — was a music video director.
His first gig was in 1983, going behind the camera for “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel before doing it again four years later for Anita Baker’s “No One in the World.” It was right around this time, in the late 1980s, that Lee broke big, and he began not only making better movies, like the aforementioned Do the Right Thing, but also more high profile videos for artists like Public Enemy, Prince, and eventually, Michael Jackson.
Although Lee’s career has been littered with iffy-to-plain ol’ bad movies (it’s been 10 years since his last classic, 25th Hour), his music video career has been spotless to date. In honor of Red Hook Summer, the sixth film in his “Chronicles of Brooklyn” series, here are Spike Lee’s six best videos.
#6. “Sunless Saturday” by Fishbone
SUBTLY isn’t Spike Lee’s strong suit, which explains why the members of Fishbone are trapped inside a metallic cage for the entirety of the proverbially-trapped-in-a-cage “Sunless Saturday,” the third single off their breakthrough album, The Reality of My Surroundings. Yet the video succeeds because of the way its shot, with comic book-style angles and frantic zooms. There’s even a kid playing an air guitar solo, which was awesome in 1991 and remains awesome in 2012. More drummers should wear overalls while behind their kit, too:
#5. “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature
Can you imagine a world without the “hey…ho…hey…ho” chant?
*Shudder* Still, the rest of the song is pretty fantastic and the music video very well known.
#4. “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” by Prince and the New Power Generation
Between 1982 and 1990, Prince didn’t put out a bad album. 1999, Purple Rain, Sign “O” the Times, Parade: all classics. Heck, even Around the World in a Day had “Raspberry Beret,” so you can’t knock it too much. Then came 1991’s stagnant Diamonds and Pearls and its many tracks that sounded like warmed-over renditions of Prince’s previous classics. “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” for instance, resembles a Purple Rain-era cut, but without a trace of funkiness. Prince without funk is no Prince at all. BUT the music video is great. Prince’s band at the time, the New Power Generation, is gathered all around him, while he plays a gorgeous piano dressed in the finest too-big hat that money can buy. I hope Heaven is one long Prince piano jam.
#3. “Breakfast @ Denny’s” by Buckshot LeFonque
I may have inflated Buckshot LeFonque’s ranking because until doing research for this post, I had completely forgotten about Buckshot LeFonque and now I can’t stop thinking about Buckshot LeFonque. “Breakfast @ Denny’s” and the masterful album it appeared on, Buckshot LeFonque, could only have been a hit in the 1990s, when jazz-heavy hip hop (hip hop-heavy jazz?) was a thing. The lyric-less video is pretty great, too, from Branford Marsalis playing the saxophone while wearing a Washington Grays jersey to Jay Leno’s head spinning out of a turntable, only to tell a KKK joke. Buckshot LeFonque? Buckshot LeFonque.
#2. “Da Butt” by EU
These days, wee tend to think of Spike Lee as a too-serious prick in dire need of an editor who does stupid things, like tweeting out the address of the guy who shot Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, when actually it was the address of an elderly couple in their seventies. We’re not wrong, either. But there was a time where he was actually funny(ish). For instance, at the beginning of the video for EU’s “Da Butt,” a reporter asks Spike why he created School Daze, his 1988 film starring Laurence Fishburne and Gus from Breaking Bad. The director responds, “So I could create a dance…da butt.” What follows is four minutes of people shaking their butts. Yes!
Also, I have a theory that EU is the black Huey Lewis and the News, but that’s for another post.
#1. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
I’m going to ask Rosie Perez what she thinks of this video. Rosie, what do you think of this video?