Major label music videos may have big budgets and big-name cameos, but underground artists often have some of the best videos because of the artist and director’s need to do more with less. The old adage is that it’s not the tools, but how you use them, and independent rappers all over the world affirm that perspective with the dope, resourceful videos on this list. From Chicago artists Supa BWE and Open Mike Eagle, who’s been offering a wave of hilarious videos as part of his The New Negroes show, to up and comers like Brooklyn’s Radamiz, the list runs the gamut of innovative artists.
Lil Peep “16 Lines”
The footage used in Lil Peep’s “16 Lines” was shot in April of 2017, just seven months before the bold artist’s untimely death. The low frills video shows Peep melodically rhyming in dour fashion in a New York City hotel and in a car on the road, presumably in between show dates. The clip reflects the DIY nature of artists like Peep. He led a crop of resourceful young rappers and singers who were unencumbered by any expectations of waiting on a label or haggling about set locations or a treatment. He simply had his videographer Wiggy with him and decided to record right then and there — and it got out to a fanbase who loved it.
Open Mike Eagle, “Woke As Me”
This list could very well be the Open Mike Eagle list, as he’s been batting .1000 with the videos released from his The New Negroes show with Baron Vaughn. But it’s his collaboration with Phonte for “Woke As Me” that makes the list, as the two satirize today’s woke industry and fixation with conspiracy theories. The video starts with Phonte committing a cardinal sin of calling Mike “sleep” in front of the barbershop, which sets off a debate between the two while a pair of attendees play the fictional Wokken videogame, dueling hilarious social archetypes such as “Info-Warrior,” “Campus Crusader,” “Hotep,” and “Sex Worker.”
Quelle Chris, “Obama Care”
Quelle Chris’ video for “Obama Care,” from his incisive Guns album, is full of dark, adult-oriented imagery, but the inspiration came from a somewhat unlikely place: Sesame Street. Chris has said that the 3-minute video, which he directed, “is an homage to many of my favorite PBS, Sesame Street shorts with a touch of Terry Gilliam.” The clip, which was crafted using magazine clippings, cleverly culls from his lyrics (bodies of water converge when he rhymes, “I brought the wave, bought the rain”) and serves as a borderline surrealist commentary on America’s materialism and objectification of women.
Aesop Rock & Tobacco, “Corn Maze”
Aesop Rock and Tobacco’s “Corn Maze” video introduces us to Death Force, an Adult Swim-ready cartoon which depicts three characters set to destroy a nefarious villain named Lord Gore while Aesop watches in between dropping bars over blippy Tobacco production. The cartoon doesn’t take itself too seriously, as one character asks another “why does your mouth keep moving after you’ve stopped talking,” poking fun at old school cartoons. The three characters end up meeting with Lord Gore for the ultimate battle in the Rob Shaw-directed video, which reaches a crescendo just as Rock’s delivery gets more urgent.
Beast Coast, “Left Hand”
After years of anticipation, New York’s Beast Coast supergroup of Pro Era, The Underachievers, and Flatbush Zombies released a massive collaborative album entitled Escape From New York this month. The album was preceded by “Left Hand” and a Todd Levy-directed video set in a Brooklyn mansion. But it’s no pristine, lap-of-luxury mansion meant to signify their newfound success — it’s a dim, ghastly setting, that looks ripe to be used as a haunted house. They play on the cavernous setting with dark lighting and hues of purple and hue that parallel the sinister tone of the track’s moody piano loop.
Supa Bwe, “I Hate You”
Supa Bwe’s “I Hate You” video, which was directed by Lonewolf, is a haunting reflection of the state of emotions that come with a relationship that isn’t quite what you want it to be. That alternates between grainy VHS footage of the object of Supa’s affection, and gloomy footage of the Chicago artist in the woods on a hill, providing a clever visual metaphor for the torment he croons about. The video employs a range of settings which each have their own filtering and camera technique, expressing a hodgepodge of mood, and ultimately Supa’s internal confliction on the song.
Duckwrth, “The Falling Man”
Duckwrth has long been one of the most creative artists, and he demonstrated why with “The Falling Man.” The six-minute, four-act short film serves as a visual accompaniment to Duckwrth’s confessional track, where he delves into the stress of being a black man, pondering “why is love never easy” and a range of other anxieties. Each act depicts a different set of co-stars, reflecting the numerous people that weave in and out of Duckwrth’s life to cause myriad pleasure and pain. Throughout the Marcy Gant-directed visual, “there are gems hidden in the composition,” according to Duckwrth.
Radamiz, “Save The Youth”
It wouldn’t be right for a song titled “Save The Youth’ to not actually center the kids. Brooklyn MC Radamiz did just that in the three-minute video that stokes anticipation for his upcoming album on Pay Day Records. As Radamiz and History twist flows over hypnotic production, the video cleverly uses polaroids to transition in between shots of Radamiz and his Mogul Club partner History rhyming in an MTA train station and under the Brooklyn Bridge. The video is an ode to his native Brooklyn and the very generation to which Radamiz is looking to be a figurative and literal cross-bearer.
Pell “B*tch Ass”
Pell’s “B*tch Ass” track is all about doing for self. It’s only right that he matched the self-empowerment anthem with a video that showcases nobody but him. It would have been easy for a three-minute video fixated on one person to get monotonous, but the visual cleverly uses lighting and color to keep the proceedings fresh. The video manages to be effective while just spotlighting Pell’s eye, and also while flushing the entire backdrop in a sea of reds and blues that cascades around the New Orleans artist as he rhymes about being “stuck inside a web of emotion.”
Momoh Feat. Nipsey Hussle “WestSide”
The rap world will forever be reeling from the loss of Nipsey Hussle, who was killed in March at the age of 33. Minneapolis rapper Momoh is helping to keep Nip’s legacy alive in the video to “WestSide,” a collaboration they put together. The video exemplifies the “treasure every moment” idiom. For Nip, the song may have been another feature. But Momoh thought enough of the moment to record it, and now it’s a memorial to another rap legend who was taken from us too soon.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.