The Role of the Rap Video in 2017

Although making a video for one of your songs is still widely practiced, rap videos don’t really rock with the same zeal as they did in the past. The early- to mid-1990’s are considered to be the lyrical Golden Age in Hip Hop, the ensuing years bringing a new Golden Age within music video production.

Once rap started settling in and finding a lane in the American mainstream, and companies pushing these artists saw bigger returns in rap music, they inevitably pumped more into the artist. They invested in their vision really for the first time.

Before the internet was booming, a music video was the best way to get your artists seen by a wide number of people and to reach those potential audiences where artists didn’t tour. If that was your only chance to reach the open, impressionable mind, you’d go all out, right?

Videos became bigger. Directors ran with this opportunity. They wanted to make movies. The artist had a chance to flex their personas more comfortably—this was their first time on The Big Screen. Ludacris videos were applauded for their absurdity. Missy Elliott videos were (and still are) futuristic staples in the dance and design and performance art realms. Weirdness had a wave. Think of a video like Busta Rhymes’s “Gimme Some More” or “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See,” for example. Directors became auteurs: Hype Williams made big budget gangsta epics and everything in between, F. Gary Gray made chilling neo-realist stories about everyday street life, Director X made everything a party. They delivered not a visual assistant to the music, but a companion, each seeming necessary for the other to thrive.

This is all not to say that videos in 2017 aren’t creative or aren’t useful or innovative or aesthetically appealing. The landscape is different. Videos aren’t necessary to getting an artist seen anymore. Artists are in control of their own narrative with Instagram, Snapchat, and all other social media platforms. So why have music videos at all? All are mostly comprised of simple performance shots and follow the bringing-the-hood-out troupe or rapping in front of expensive cars or beautiful women. Everything is cyclical: it’s now music videos time in rap history to have a sort of coming-of-age crisis. It feels like teenage years to me because literally we are experiencing more teenagers in rap than ever before, thanks a lot to social media and platforms like SoundCloud where uploading your music is as easy as it’s ever been. We’re watching kids develop in real time. Sure, there are ofttimes disconnects between the song and the video, or their simple because it’s now a assistant instead of companion, feeling like their just for promotional use.

But as these artists and directors and videographers come of age and get experience, I’m predicting an influx of creativity in the field. Animation is huge right now. Innovations in phone apps and 3-D technology are bubbling. Everything’s low key very exciting.

Credit: Marcus Scott Williams

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