The Curious 21st-Century Decline Of Hype Williams


On Friday, a link to three-minute making-of video for a scrapped, Hype Williams-helmed clip of “XXXO” appeared on M.I.A.’s twitter. The footage shows M.I.A and a small group of dancers (including Beyoncé choreographer Jonté) painted head-to-toe and gyrating to the song’s hissing, whirling beat. There’s also a tiger. And there’s M.I.A. wearing side-slit leggings and Timberlands and looking really awesome in one scene, and in a metallic, skeletal chest plate thingy looking very uncomfortable in another.

“XXXO” isn’t Williams’ only aborted video with evidence floating around the Internet, where even music videos receive trailers, teasers, and making-of EPKs. The trailer for Rick Ross’ “Live Fast, Die Young” has been removed, but the blog posts touting it remain. An 11-minute behind-the-scenes clip for “Robocop” remains just a Google search away.

And then there are the dozens of videos Williams made (and completed) over the course of the past ten years, very few of which rise above being adroit. What happened?

The ’90s music video innovator was somehow both an excessive panderer (shiny suits, big boats, money flying through the air) and an avant-gardist (fish-eye lenses, formalist color freakouts, that scene in Belly where Nas and DMX watch Gummo), but his post-’90s videos pretty much fall into one of two categories: Moderately artsy, black-and-white slow burners (Slim Thug’s “I Ain’t Heard Of That Remix,” Fam-Lay’s “The Beeper Record,” DJ Khaled’s “Go Hard,” Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Angels”); or brightly colored, firework-laden freakouts (Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar,” Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Hello (Good Morning),” Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R”). And new technologies have led to him helming some disastrous computer graphics-aided videos (Common’s “Universal Mind Control,” The-Dream’s “Walkin’ On The Moon”) and engaging in a Dogme 95-like abuse of digital video (Consequence’s “Whatever U Want”).

Both Williams videos released this year have been inexplicably disappointing clips for main-event rap songs: Kanye West’s star-studded “All Of The Lights”; and Lil Wayne’s post-prison comeback single “6 Foot 7 Foot.”

“All Of The Lights” begins with sensitive shots of a little girl walking through the projects, scored to “All Of The Lights (Interlude).” When the song finally kicks in, the lyrics flicker across the screen in a variety of fonts, a clear homage to–not a ripoff of–Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. The point here is the contrast between those humanist shots of the girl and the obnoxious font party, and it kind of works. The rest of the video, though, bounces between incredibly bland medium shots of Kanye, Rihanna, and Kid Cudi performing and Kanye on top of a cop car. The viewer’s left waiting for it all to come together; instead, it congeals into a mess. Particularly telling is the footage of Kanye on top of the car right after Cudi’s appearance. There’s absolutely nothing happening in these clips–Kanye’s standing there, and the footage is cut up and reversed to give it the illusion of energy.

The concept behind Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot'” video is simple and pretty great: Literalize Wayne’s wonky lyrics. When the clip sticks to this clever idea, it’s as fun as Wayne’s free-associative rhyming. But like “All Of The Lights,” “6 Foot 7 Foot” is derailed by limp performance footage and a plucked-from-the-Netflix-queue movie homage–in this case, WTF references to Inception. Hype here veers between joyfully playing with visual puns the way Wayne toys with words and crafting a fan-made homage to Christopher Nolan’s dream-logic action flick that’s maybe worthy of appearing on YouTube.

There’s a sense with both of these videos that Hype’s making do by cobbling a bunch of scraps and half-formed treatments into a package that fits the allotted running time, and not attempting to craft anything bold or innovative, or even watchable. Why his video for “XXXO” wasn’t completed isn’t known, and perhaps it’s but one more example of the doggedly contrarian M.I.A. (who ultimately directed the “XXXO” video herself) bumping heads with even the artiest of mainstream figures (see also: Timbaland productions relegated to Kala bonus tracks; the fact that ///Y/ exists at all). But Williams’ unreliable videography post-“Big Pimpin” surely has something to do with it as well.