Mass Appeal’s Director’s Chair turns the lens on the creative minds behind some of the hottest music videos.
Jonah Schwartz is behind some of today’s illest videos. From Freddie Gibbs to Curren$y, Jonah has worked with the best, producing optimal gangster visuals. We sat with the New York native and spoke about his time in Japan, and how he finally got to make that ’90s grimey video he always wanted.
Mass Appeal: Where are you from?
Jonah Schwartz: I’m from the Upper West Side originally. I’ve also spent time in Westchester, SoHo, East Village and Brooklyn. I’ve been all around New York. I lived in Japan for three years too.
MA: When did you live in Japan?
JS: Well, I still go back and forth all the time, but I lived there for three years. Between 2003-2007, or something like that.
MA: Were you filming out there?
JS: I originally went there to learn Japanese and I eventually started working commercial production. So I worked for a Japanese commercial production company and then realized it’s not a lot of fun working for a Japanese company. It’s just way too strict an environment for me. So that’s why I came back to America.
MA: What was your first experience with music videos?
JS: I mean, the first day I got cable I started watching MTV. That’s when I was eight years old or something. I remember I used to watch this dance show on MTV, like, “The Grind” or something. They had some crazy dance thing going on. I don’t know, that’s just a weird MTV flashback or something, but yeah I totally used to watch MTV.
I was into rap, but I was into all the other stuff that was on there too. I remember all the alternative videos and all that. There was just so much random shit on there man – Tears for Fears and shit.
MA: I wasn’t on MTV for Tears for Fears. More LL Cool J type stuff.
JS: My earliest memories is stuff like that. MC Hammer, LL Cool J, Run DMC, all that shit. That was popping. That was almost before the middle school rap started coming about, like Wu-Tang, but when that stuff did come about – that’s what really influenced everything. That’s when I started watching “Video Music Box” everyday. I’d come home from school and watch that for hours.
MA: Did you watch “Video Music Box” and realize that’s what you wanted to do with your life?
JS: There was actually a big gap of time between that and me making music videos. My goal was never to be a music video director, but I was always into film. I always wanted to make film. I’ve been making videos since I was in middle school, just home videos or whatever. I never put any thought into music videos. Even when I was in high school, it was just something I loved to watch. I fell into it almost, but it was the perfect match when I did fall into it.
MA: I want to talk about the “Trillmatic” video you did with A$AP Nast and Method Man. There’s definitely a lot of 90’s influences in that one. How did that video come about.
JS: Well it’s a really funny story. I swear that video was meant to be. It started with me being in Japan. They were on tour and the girl who was handling the booking is a friend of mine. She introduced us and they wanted to shoot a video. There was no time to do it but the last night we ended up shooting a half video. Half for ASAP Ant’s “Way It Go,” and then the second half was this verse for “Trillmatic.”
So we did that one verse and made a video out of it. There’s such a little amount of footage there I was thinking this video isn’t even going to happen, I didn’t get enough footage. When I put it together it ended up being fucking sick! We dropped the video and the shit was hot, everyone loved it.
MA: Did you also do the “Trillmatic” video that was done in New York?
JS: Yeah, that’s how it all came about. It was just that one verse but it got a really good response. When it came time to do the actual video they hollered at me and I was like, “Yes!” I’d been waiting do it so when that came around I already had that concept down in my head – ’90s New York.
MA: Did you think about that concept back in Japan, when you heard the song at first? Or did you kind of think about it when you got back?
JS: I thought about it when they brought up the idea that they still wanted to do a full video for the song. I’d been dying to make a grimey New York type video. I’ve been wanting to make that video since the beginning of my career but just never had the right, whatever to get that done.
I made a sample clip where I just ripped a whole bunch of these videos off YouTube and edited them to the song. I took the old Nas, Big L, Mobb Deep, whatever I could find and I edited them to the song. It was funny, without even sending it to the ASAP guys I was talking to Yams and he hit me up with his treatment. His treatment was the same fucking treatment that I had.
MA: That’s crazy. I’m assuming you guys shot up in Harlem?
JS: Actually the majority is the Bronx. I think we were going to try and shoot in Harlem but logistically the Bronx made a lot more sense.
All the stuff with Method Man and the rooftop stuff, that was all near their studio. I just did a lot of location scouting. I worked hard on that video.
MA: It shows. It’s a great fucking video.
JS: I was so psyched on it while I was making it. I was putting in 150% effort to make it look great. Even in the end, there was so much more shit that I wanted to shoot that we didn’t get. However the shoot goes, shit goes late, you have to freestyle and improvise a lot. From the original concept, there was a lot of other shots and scenarios that we were supposed to shoot but it didn’t happen.
When we finished shooting I was like, “This video, is it going to be alright? I didn’t get enough footage. I wanted to get that other shot of Method Man.” After I got that first edit, though – the shit was so dope. Like, I didn’t even know what I wanted to change.
MA: Were there any difficulties during the shoot that prevented you from getting everything you wanted?
JS: Nah, it was a very smooth shoot. It was a lot of fun too. I would say they were more timely than most are for a hip hop shoot. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone I think. Method Man was there and everyone was pretty serious about it. That helped. Everyone was really serious about making a dope video and that’s the reason it came out so good.