Photo Credit: Aminé
Summer 2020 Is Being Lived Through Rap Music Videos
During the rise of COVID-19, we've looked to art as a means of comfort and escape. So it's understandable that rappers have used their music videos to create summer experiences, allowing fans to live vicariously through their rap music videos.
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released the video for "WAP" on August 19, and it went on to break YouTube's 24-hour record for views on an all-female collaboration. Although set in a mansion, the music video felt like summer: the barrage of bright colors, free skin, and hot dancing served as a reminder of the fun that comes with the season, when temperatures are high and you’re excited to be outside enjoying the festive weather. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t enjoy summer like we normally do. During this time, we've looked to art as a means of comfort and escape. So it's understandable that some artists — particularly rap artists — have used their music videos to create dreamlike summer experiences, allowing fans to live vicariously through their music videos.
Whether fall, winter, spring, or summer, rap videos — when they aren’t telling important and much-need stories — have always been about having fun. From Tupac’s festive celebration in “I Get Around” to Tyga’s booty-bouncing recent release “Ibiza,” suns out and buns out have gone hand-in-hand with the genre’s braggadocious nature. But during the pandemic, these make-believe realms hold a closer importance because we can’t actually be out and around people having fun.
Michael Garciatook the world to the waters when he directed the video for Lil Mosey and Lunay’s "Top Gone." The first shot that the viewer sees is Lil Mosey grinning from ear-to-ear, surrounded by people who are having just as much fun as he is on a boat atop beautiful, crystal clear water. For the duration of the video, everyone dances around while eating shrimp cocktail, an image that we've all likely imagined at some point in our lives in hopes of it someday becoming a reality.
Although the "Top Gone" video may look like a ton of fun, the reality is that it was much more difficult to film for Garcia — who also directed Polo G's "Go Stupid" video and Lil Mosey's "Stuck in a Dream" video — because he also had to adhere to practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"There's a lot of different complications to actually making a music video happen now that never existed before," he said. "You have to test everybody before they get on set and have them sign waivers. The first couple of months were challenging, but after a while you just have to adapt or you’re just going to die. At first, the record labels didn’t even know how to approach it."
Testing for COVID-19 seems to have become an integral part to music video shoots for mainstream artists. In a recent interview with i-D, Cardi shared that she spent $100,000 on testing to ensure that everyone involved in making "WAP" didn’t have coronavirus. Although Garcia didn't put a dollar amount on how much was spent testing for "Top Gone," he made it clear that the process was strict for filming the music video — from temperature checks to antibody and nose swab tests. His measures have worked; he hasn’t had anyone test positive for COVID-19 on one of his sets.
"As far as waivers are concerned, it's unfortunate but you have to acknowledge that you're stepping on my set and that you're running a risk by working around a group of people that day," he said.
Similar to "Top Gone," NLE Choppa and Mulatto released their own ode to summertime with the music video for "Make Em Say." In it, the two host a pool party at a gigantic mansion with countless people present as they dance together, chase each other throughout the house, and sit in convertible cars as they soak up the sun's rays. While Choppa doesn’t explain the extent of the protective measures that were in place for shooting the video, his stance on the pandemic itself makes one wonder just how strict they were — if at all.
"I don't even believe in the pandemic," he said. "We just had a good time. Ain't nobody have no coronavirus out there."
\u201cQuarantine my ass, lets get our vibrations up \ud83d\udc9c\u201d— NLE Choppa (@NLE Choppa) 1598653896
Choppa recently posted a video captioned, “Quarantine my ass, let's get our vibrations up” on Twitter where he said, “Y’all quarantined man, letting these people fool you.” After doing a deep breathing exercise, he ends the video with, “The world is beautiful right now, we can overcome this bullshit going on by just being positive in this bitch.” This worldview of invincibility is something that he echoes when speaking about the “Make Em Say” video.
"I was just focused on having a good time and I didn't realize we were in a pandemic because that's not what I'm focusing on," he said. "I'm going to have fun regardless, no matter what the suggested restrictions are."
The idea of having fun in a big house was also something Aminé used for the music video for "Compensating." In it, the rapper hangs out with his friends and some ladies in — and around — a massive house as they play tennis, dance in a room of tennis rackets, and show off some serious bush-cutting skills. It’s as fun and close-knit as both “Top Gone” and “Make Em Say,” but there’s less people involved as if it's acutely aware of the pandemic going on around this celebration.
Director Jack Begert, who co-directed the video with Aminé, said that the pandemic impacted the creative process of showing how everyone's having fun.
"We were trying to be really smart in coming up with concepts that work outdoors, or with a limited amount of people," he said. "There’s a dancing scene in the video that feels like a big, high-energy music video setup, but there are never more than five people in the frame together. Sometimes, this can be a frustrating constraint, but it can also force us to get more creative, pivoting to more unique ideas and setups."
From its Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-like mansion vibes to its sunny tennis court vibes, there’s a real nostalgic feel to “Compensating.” Instead of being a masked-up middle finger to the pandemic, it's a continuation of Amine’s heartwarming, feel-good aesthetic that doubles as a primer on how to have good, safe fun during the pandemic, and the next chapter in his visual diary.
“In terms of the final product, our main goal was to create something safely, while still having the video be timeless, not limited to the time period of the pandemic,” Begert said. “I think we’ve hopefully achieved that goal.”
As summer boils to a close, these videos — and countless others — serve to remind us of the season's best moments. But they aren’t just helping people cope with being locked in the house during the pandemic — they're also helping both the artists and the crew behind them get back to work.
"Everybody's just happy to do something that doesn’t involve them watching the news or being on the internet all day," Garcia said. "Artists usually have grueling schedules between touring appearances. Right now, they just want to shoot. They want to do something normal."
"If people can’t work, they can’t provide food for their families. These guys, they rely on this shit because they’re freelance. So there’s a real sense of positivity when we’re shooting, and that’s been the beauty of it," he continued. "It’s a great feeling because I know what I do as a director directly affects more than just our crew, but our families. We’re providing a meal on their table. The biggest gift that my creativity has brought has been able to provide some kind of stabilization in their house, if they’ve had financial issues and everything like that. Being able to give people money right now for something they love to do has been very big in my life."
Trey Alston is a Virginia-based writer for Pitchfork, Complex, and MTV News.