The music industry is wide open for mavericks. From recording artists who utilize platforms like Soundcloud and Instagram to become household names to the bedroom producers who turn the right beats into in-demand careers, the game is wide open to be conquered. But that spirit doesn’t stop with the musicians. Music video directors like Cole Bennett, the mastermind behind multimedia company Lyrical Lemonade, exemplify the DIY ethos that has so many young videographers subverting the traditional barometers of music industry success.
Bennett told Complex that, there have been some crazy offers there for a long time, and “I just said, ‘No, no, no,’ because I wanted to do it how I wanted to do it.” And he’s doing it the right way. Lyrical Lemonade has amassed over a billion Youtube views with standout visuals like Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams,” Lil Xan’s “Betrayed,” and Lil Tecca’s “Ransom” video. All three songs were breakthrough moments that showed off Bennett’s videography skills and marked him as an industry tastemaker.
But he’s not alone. There are rappers popping up every day, and they all need compelling videos. The country is rife with young, independent music directors who are crafting eye-catching videos that match the innovation and ingenuity of hip-hop’s young rhymers.
So many of today’s new school rappers look at Chief Keef as a primary influence on their sound. It’s only right that the roots of DIY, Youtube-housed videography started within the Chicago drill scene. Some of Keef, G Herbo, and Lil Bibby’s earliest videos were crafted by directors like DGainz and A Zae Production, who uploaded the videos to their Youtube channel and helped the insular Chicago movement achieve a groundswell of attention beyond Chicago.
Their gritty, low-frills videos set a standard for how hungry artists could shoot and distribute their videos. There was no longer a mandate for artists to film clips against white or green screens, or shoot fake-it-til-you-make-it videos with rented cars selling an aspiration. They didn’t have to pitch them to MTV, BET, or the Box. These young directors went right into the artists’ hoods with their DSLRs, came back with gold, and uploaded it for the world to access. And while a video connoisseur would probably have a world of criticism for a video like Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Know Dem,” which AZae produced, the visuals matched Chief Keef’s gruff lyrics and the minimalist, churning production with a gritty visual aesthetic that hammered home the in-the-trenches essence of drill rap.
The true genius in the movement is evident in the editing. The old adage goes that it’s not the tools, but how you use them. Take Lil Durk’s “Right Here” for instance. The low-frills video consists of Durk walking into a house and chilling out with friends, then going into a separate hallway for another set. The “video set” left no room for scenic overhead shots or cinematic flourishes, so DGainz makes his presence felt through the editing. The music video begins with the visuals chopping along with the snares, a visual trick continues throughout the clip at certain junctures. DGainz then employs some quick editing to keep the production from feeling stagnant. He makes the most of his mostly sedentary set, which not only matches the cost-saving ingenuity of independent artists but also reflects the larger “something from nothing” theme in the fiber of most rap records.
But while Chief Keef has a relatively straight-laced presence in the rap game, his younger counterparts like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Lil Pump, and others are more animated personalities. It’s only right that they collaborate with directors who have a mind for accentuating their colorful qualities.
Directors Josh Goldenberg and Rahil Ashruff of Goldrush have said that their colorful video for Lil Yachty’s breakout hit “1 Night” was crafted with “very meme-able, GIF-able material” in response to “how viral Yachty was” when he first popped onto the scene in 2016. The funhouse video showcased scenes such as a still, childhood photo of Yachty rapping, him dancing on a boat, and (of course) holding a cat. The cheeky music video instilled Yachty’s presence as a fun-loving, playful figure in a game full of artists who take themselves a bit too seriously. Ditto for Lil Uzi Vert’s “Ps and Qs” clip, where group Pangean harkened to Uzi’s love for anime by interspersing animated comic-like scenes with creative effects that give the real-life characters big, round eyes.
Perhaps Yachty and Uzi would be just as successful if those songs were paired with trope-y depictions of them living in the lap of luxury with “video vixens” in tow. But those quirky videos, just like Chief Keef’s gritty visuals, are extensions of their respective personalities and sonic worlds. They epitomize the power of collaboration with intent. That’s why Bennett, A Zae Production, DGainz, and dozens of other independent video directors will continue to be star-makers, steadily honing their craft while feeding off the innovative energy of new school rappers for inspiration.
Some of the artists mentioned above are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.