By all accounts, the music video should be dead by now. The standard line on music videos for decades was simple: We’re laying out all this money to create a promotional clip, an advertisement that will hopefully push someone in the direction of buying an album. Well, you don’t need to be told that no one buys albums anymore. And they haven’t for a long time. For a while, the fate of the music video seemed to follow suit.
After MTV shuttered its music video countdown at the tail end of 2008, the prospects of the music video looked grim. BET’s 106 & Park hung around for six more years before calling it quits, but the message was clear; the music video had long ago lost its purpose as a promotional vehicle, but with these daily celebrations of the format now dead, the clips had lost their cultural importance as well.
Paradoxically, however, rap videos have only grown in scope and scale since their main booster went dark. As the internet opened up a way to reach their audience directly — and via social media platforms — rap videos helped foster a community of eager, young fans willing to watch videos at any time and not just for an hour after school let out. In turn, the genre seems to have entered into a golden age for ambitious, smart and thought-provoking videos from all over. Fast forward to 2017 and everyone from socially conscious stars to drug and party rappers are releasing videos that are meant to amaze viewers in ways we haven’t seen before.
But before we get to what makes this new crop of videos from artists like Young Thug and Kendrick Lamar so exciting, we have to take a second to remember what rap videos used to look like.