"Hip-hop has gone from sports jerseys, sports cars and champagne on girls on a boat, to the Louvre, pastel coloured suits and modern dance.”
By Meghan McKenna
Date June 19, 2018
Director X is the name—or rather, pseudonym—behind some of pop culture’s biggest music videos. Drake’s “Hotline Bling?” That’s him. Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay?” That’s him too. Nelly’s “Hot in Herre?” Yup. Sisqo’s “Thong Song?” Heck yes. Drake’s “God’s Plan?” Okay, that’s actually not him… but he executive produced the video, with his protégé Karena Evans working at the helm.
Over the two decades Director X (real name Julien Christian Lutz) has been making music videos, he’s seen the industry change a lot. At yesterday’s launch of YouTube Music, the director spoke to the changing nature of visual music in today’s popular culture. With the rise of YouTube—and fall of the music video countdown show—the visibility of music videos has shifted from two-minute slots on a television station, to a search bar in your pocket. For this reason, he explained, it’s easier for these iconic, sharable music video moments—memes! GIFs! More!—to permeate public consciousness. It’s why we’re seeing news networks as big as CNN doing think pieces on Donald Glover’s “This is America,” and why everyone from Norm Kelly to has recreated X’s own video work from Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”
Call it luck or call it fate, but the day I was scheduled to speak with Director X just happened to be the day after Jay-Z and Beyoncé surprised the world with a joint album. And, on this day, The Carter’s Louvre-set music video for “Apeshit” dominated the pop culture conversation. Knowing that I’d soon be heading to my desk to draft my own think piece on the music visual, I asked Director X to share his thoughts on this trending, art-heavy hip-hop video. Surely, as an industry powerhouse, he’d already seen the video a dozen times and had organized his expert opinion.
He hadn’t seen the video. (Which is totally fair considering his Blockbuster movie, Superfly, hit theatres this weekend.) He assured me he totally knows “where [Jay-Z and Beyoncé] are at and the direction they’re headed when it comes to art. And how they’ve embraced what the music video is. From the clips I see, I know where they’re at with it.” Hey, don’t we all have strong opinions on things we’ve never seen or experienced? Despite knowing he hadn’t seen the video, I pressed for X’s analysis of “Apeshit.”
If I write a think piece on “Apeshit,” what should my angle be?
“I think what’s going on with hip-hop is really interesting, especially with the older artists that come from the 2000s into now. It went from ‘hey, you’ve got a hot record and the hood loves it’ to ‘hey, you’ve got a hot record, want to come to my fashion show in Milan?’ That’s influence. You’ve got this generation—the Kanyes, the Jay-Zs the Swizz Beatzs—that have been embraced into the art world at the highest level. And there’s a way the two things have been influencing each other: the artist or the fashion designer would listen to some music and be influenced by hip-hop artists, who then gets influenced by the fashion designer or artist who then puts it back into their music. So the thing is now rolling over, rolling over.”
“So now, you’re at this point where there’s this artistic level of hip-hop. Donald Glover, what Jay-Z and Beyoncé just did, what Jay-Z has been moving towards for quite a while, the stuff that Solange is doing with her music videos. There’s a very high-level artistic appreciation and execution going on in music videos that wasn’t there before. This stuff has always existed, and for music video nerds like me, you had to be into Tool or something obscure. You had to be way out here in the fringes to get that kind of artistic experience.”
“Now you have mainstream artists that come from mainstream experiences doing that kind of work. So you’re really seeing that growth happen. Hip-hop has gone from sports jerseys, sports cars and champagne on girls on a boat, to the Louvre, pastel coloured suits and modern dance.”
Do you think it’s positive growth?
“Of course. Every art form has to grow. It expands out and it influences kids. When you’re younger, you live in your genre. Your exposure to other things and your interest in other things comes through that genre. For these guys to be in the Louvre, who knows how many kids said, “what? The what? Let me go ahead and Google that. Oh wow what’s this, what’s that?” This is what opens doors, and this is how it’s supposed to be.”
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