During his appearance at Times Square’s AMC Empire 25 theater for the Red Bull Music Festival New York Director’s Series discussion, acclaimed music video director Hype Williams made an intriguing comparison between one of his most lauded, controversial videos and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” “This Is America” has had the internet buzzing since its Saturday night debut, with dissections and analysis of everything from the video’s symbolism to Gambino’s dances taking over the blogosphere for the past week.
However, according to Williams, Childish Gambino — also known as actor-director-comedian Donald Glover — wasn’t the first to spark such widespread discussion. Per Billboard contributor Nerisha Penrose, who was in attendance at the panel, Hype drew a surprising comparison between “This Is America” and his own work with Nas and Diddy — then known as Puff Daddy — saying, “What you see here is the watered-down version of what went down. This is very important and I want everybody to know that this video was probably, for its time period, the equivalent to what Childish Gambino just did.”
In the original version of the then-controversial video, it was originally Puff being crucified, but his devout faith prompted him to 86 that cut for final release (the event leading to his assault of Nas manager Steve Stoute with a champagne bottle after the wrong version of the video was aired on MTV). Williams says of the clip, “The first edit of this video at this time had to be the greatest thing anyone has ever seen. Because of who Puff was and where he was going, he needed a release so he had no restraints filming this video. The things that he did and the things we filmed him doing were so radical when edited to this music, I couldn’t even describe it, but at this time, the greatest thing we’ve ever seen was Puff as a special effect, something that I feel is happening with Childish.”
As the original cut doesn’t seem to exist anywhere online for posterity, it’s hard to gauge the accuracy of Williams’ statements in hindsight, but one thing is for sure: Even after 20 years, hip-hop is still a voice capable of sparking major discussions — and controversy.