Director and Mass Appeal alum, Vic Reznik, deconstructs New York rap visuals as a form of cinéma vérité—rough and rugged, never smooth. Take that, take Hollywood.
New York is cinematic as hell. The way light ping pongs off the Hudson through the corridors from the Heights to Canal Street; the beautiful decay of Brooklyn’s forgotten industrial age; the epic highway vistas; the Super Urban sprawl that’s become suburban. New York just got it like that. The problem was, since the fall of Hype Williams and the rise of Rudy Giuliani’s vision for a homogenous 1984 New York, the culture and ability to create within it had to submerge itself in order to avoid utterly selling out. The New York of the golden era no longer existed and Dipset and G-Unit were running on fumes thus the only New York shining through was S. Carter’s generic Illumaniti commercials that looked like Law & Order SVU episodes. Drake, Cudi, Wale, J. Cole, etc., all came from nowhere generic cities that we can’t automatically associate with a larger culture and aesthetic. So in 2011, we found ourselves at a crossroads. In order to save New York hip-hop we’d have to change the way hip-hop looked. The classic NYC video re-imagined.
With the advent of cheap high-quality digital cameras, rappers began realizing that to make it in this re-tooled game you had to be a self-contained Media Empire. 2011 was the year of NY’s DIY hip-hop artist emerging as a fully constructed brand with a built-in fan base ready for labels to distribute through the machine.
It took videos like “Peso,” “Barry Horowitz” & The “Huzzah” trilogy, to turn a necessity into a newly formed reality. At the close of the decade, the game had become too glossy for its own good. The new wave of videos are so amazing because they flipped the script. Instead of focusing on the mythos of New York, they were about the daily lives of real New Yorkers. Iconic artists are always accompanied by iconic imagery, and the new breeds of NY torch carriers have that on lock.
A$AP Rocky’s first three videos “Higher,” “Purple Swag” & “Peso” all take place in or around the A$AP Mob hub. “Purple Swag” is the pinnacle of Rocky editing Harlem to just a couple blocks. When the crew leaves the apartment they don’t actually go anywhere. The most movement in the entire video is the slow motion bike scene where Rocky let’s his JScotts fly. “Peso” takes place on the blocks around Broadway where the Mob still lives. From the Jumbo Burger to the bodega, to the catacombs of that roach-infested Uptown pre-war apartment building, where you might become the next casualty of a dice game, Harlem is A$AP. It wasn’t about New York, it was about Rocky. It’s the Flintstones Jeremy Scott adidas, and the Supreme towel over Rocky’s head. Take this in contrast to “Oh Boy,” which was shot on almost the same block as “Peso,” but looks like a promo for a bad Paid In Full sequel: Rico’s Revenge. Rocky, like Tyler and LiL B and Kreayshawn before him, wore their surroundings like wardrobes, without any emphasis on the hood, they brilliantly translated Harlem without even really showing Harlem. These videos were about real life, real streets, the parts of NY that won’t make it into movies, because they’re just too fucking normal, which made the stars that much more magnetic.