Year's Best: Okayplayer's Top 12 Videos Of 2012

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.Okayplayer's Top 12 Videos of 2012 (photo grid)

If you read our Top 12 Albums and Top 12 Songs year end lists, you may have noticed certain artists and projects cropping up again and again. Genius ain't distributed equally and that's doubly true when it comes to the videos. Though the visual culture that accompanies music nowadays doesn't fit that easily into the box of 'music television' anymore, videos are more necessary than ever--to the extent that it's been said your song does not exist online if it doesn't have a video to go with it. The result of course is that every song has one---even if, let's be real, every song shouldn't. So in spite of the flood of musical clips, the market on true visual innovation is cornered by an even smaller cartel of experimenters--not only are some of these creators repeat offenders from our albums and songs list, at least two (Flying Lotus and Killer Mike) also have multiple entries here making the Top 12 Videos a Top 10 of Visual Innovators, a very select club of bugouts who also tend to cameo in each other's shit. Read on to see who made the, uh, cut and see if you can spot them.

1. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes [short film, dir. Kahlil Joseph]

In the context of music "Short Film" should usually be reads as "pretentious video" but FlyLo's collaboration with director Kahlil Joseph is a full-on Sundance-selected work of art. The elements (Storyboard P's sublime boogie, cinematography which imbues L.A.'s Nickerson Gardens projects with an eerie beauty in both its golden hour and its witching hour) are nothing new to the genre but the way they combine with the music results in a magic realist hood dream that (for my money) is one of the most inspiring things to happen in 2012, period.

Featured Songs (in order of appearance):

"See Thru To U" (feat. Erykah Badu)

"Hunger" (feat. Niki Randa)

"Getting There" (feat. Niki Randa)

2. Killer Mike f/ Scar – "Untitled" [dir. Benjamin Dickinson]

Looting art history's greatest hits for inspiration is MTV 101, but the way Benjamin Dickinson interpolates Killer Mike's clairvoyant gangsterisms into old master tableaus like Judith Beheading Holofernes proves to be a strategy of startling power. The end result achieves something like what The Warriors did with Xenophon or Black Orpheus did for Rio; put the daily trials and tribulations of ghetto people into an epic context for the ages.

3. Jean Grae - "Killscreen" [dir. Jean Grae]

With her self-directed video for "Killscreen" rapper/auteur Jean Grae created an assassin-haunted easter egg hunt for her fans that's hard to describe in words and impossible to absorb in one viewing. A mindfuck so intricate that we had to create our own viewer's guide just to keep ourselves from going crazy.

4. Gorillaz - "Do Ya Thing" f/ James Murphy, Andre 3000

It's not easy to keep attention on the visual sphere when you have Damon Albarn, James Murphy and Andre 3000 to compete with but Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett does just that with this 5-minute wake up call in the bachelor pad from another dimension. Welcome to 212 Wobble Street.

5. Earl Sweatshirt - "Chum" [dir. Hiro Murai]

A great track from one of rap's most promising new artists and a video that subtly but powerfully underscores the Mystery Machine (you, that Scooby Doo-looking-for-clues music) feel of the beat. Director Hiro Murai's black and white travelogue through the back-alleys of Earl's (subtly) warped psyche is like a manual on the use of fx in videos: Use sparingly. Balance with great photography, pacing and judicious use of more traditional cinematic techniques (here, having Earl glide through the frames on a dolly cam, Spike Lee-style). Mix well and throw out anything that doesn't focus the viewers mind on the artist and the overall mood that the song demands. Watch out for giant toads.

6. El-P – "The Full Retard" [dir. Timothy Saccenti]

Arguably the most bumpable track on Cancer 4 Cure--El-P's Album Of The Year, "The Full Retard" gets the dead-wrongest orgy of puppet sex & violence in recent memory for its video--in the process making a star out the fuzzy, one-eyed, uzi-toting force of nature they call Mr. Killums. If its true that gun violence is not caused by guns but by depictions of wanton killing that desensitize us to ultraviolent images, then this video has blood on its hands. Specifically, squirrel blood.

7. Frank Ocean – "Pyramids" [dir. Nabil Elderkin]

Frank Ocean and director Nabil Eledrkin reunite for a longer, more ambitious and more conceptual sequel to the icon-making video for "Novacane" on this 10-minute visualization of Song Of The Year "Pyramids." A hallucinatory journey that involves absinthe, ass-wobbles, breathtaking desert panoramas, strippers who may or may not be demons, John Mayer solo-ing his lily white ass off in front of a giant neon alchemical diagram and--ultimately--a wistful vision of the titular pyramid on the far horizon.

8. Killer Mike – "Ronald Reagan" [dir. Daniel Garcia and Harry Teitelman]

The dead-simple yet uniquely effective animation of Killer Mike's "Ronald Reagan" proves that the best approach is the approach you haven't tried yet. Tacking a completely different tack from his mini-masterpiece "Untitled" directors Daniel Garcia and Harry Teitelman decided to remove Mike's angry presence from the video altogether--perhaps a surprising move for a diatribe on the lies, disastrous policies and possible satantic/alien-robot connections of Ronald Wilson Reagan. The red white & blue nightmare of a cartoon they drew in his place captures the spirit of the song better than any mean mug ever could--you may never look at a finger puppet quite the same way again.

9. Danny Brown - "Grown Up" [dir. Greg Brunkalla]

Sometimes all you need to achieve cinematic greatness is an original concept and confidence to give your actors the room they need to bring it to life. Enter Dante Hoagland who became a lowercase g to Danny Brown's big pimpin' on the year's most nostalgic rap "Grown Up." Though looking not a damn thing like the real Danny must have in his baby pics, young Dante's outsize star power strides onscreen and owns this clip, Beasts Of The Southern Wild-style, from the very first frame. Transforming himself like a true method actor, Hoagland's performance sells the concept so thoroughly you can even believe hipster-ass Brooklyn is really Detroit.

10. Flying Lotus - "Tiny Tortures" [dir. David Lewandowski]

Flying Lotus' second appearance on the Top 12 (truthfully, "Putty Boy Strut" might've been a contender, too, if FlyLo hadn't knocked his own ass out in the 2nd round). David Lewandowski's "Tiny Tortures" is a very different sort of short film from Kahlil Joseph's UTCQ, yet with its riveting use of visual fx, arm-wrestling with Elijah Wood for top star billing it packs an equal cinematic punch. Science fictional where UTCQ is magical, the two are united (like much of FlyLo's oeuvre) by the intensity lucid dreaming.

Director, David Lewandowski

Starring, Elijah Wood

Cinematographer, Christian Sprenger

VFX supervisor, Dustin Bowser

Line Producer, Christian Heuer

Sound Design: Timeboy

(Full Credits here)

11. Action Bronson – "The Symbol" [dir. Rik Cordero]

Like we said about Earl, sometimes a video-makers job is not to add bells and whistles but to execute a concept that best highlight's the song's mood and the artists personality. And what best highlights Action Bronson's personality is definitely wearing a blonde pony-tail wig and brandishing a revolver, belly-flopping into the middle of a black panther poker game and taking advantage of the opportunity to rub out pimps while spitting lines like "It ain't every day you see a piece of shit take a shit" that the whole "White Dynamite" scenario of Rik Cordero's brilliant vid for "The Symbol" provides. Goes good with Alchemist's grimey soul beat, too.

12. Major Lazer - "Get Free" [dir. So Me]

You may have noticed by now that every video on this list also happens to accompany a brilliant-ass song, besides the excuse to geek out over our favorite visuals, the whole thing has been an exercise in smuggling in several more Songs of the Year than would strictly fit on our Top 12. "Get Free"--Major Lazer's collaboration with Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors--is no exception. The real reason for its inclusion here, however, is the beautiful way the video by Parisian designer Bertrand Lagros de Langeron AKA So Medoesn't fit with the song. Though the eerie pop song--like everything Major Lazer does--has a strong reggae foundation--it is a very weird fit with the fiendish energy of the juxtaposed imagery; compulsively watchable documentation of Kingston nightlife at its most tun up. Although the frames are by turns inspiring and uncomfortable--problematic even in a ratchet-sploitation kind of way--its balanced by the sheer style and charisma of many of the people onscreen. Ultimately the cognitive dissonance between the melancholy of "drifting downstream til the levy gives in" and the sweaty, go-pon-you-headtop action dissolves in an odd emotional vibration that is all its own.