“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”. “No Scrubs”. “What’s It Gonna Be”. These three music videos and countless other projects have been directed by the renowned Hype Williams. For the past few weeks, we’ve explored the works of musical acts such as Sun-Ra and how it relates to Afrofuturism. Hype Williams showcases his take on the genre by using space-age visual landscapes and primitivistic imagery.
Y2K futurism was at an all-time high by the end of the millennium: The Matrix made its debut in 1999, most of my older relatives were playing Jet Set Radio on their Sega Dreamcast, and shiny suits were everywhere (even Will Smith jumped on that bandwagon). For many of his music videos during this era, Williams collaborated with stylist June Ambrose to change the mainstream narrative of hip-hop from hardcore and rugged to glamorous and innovative.
“[My styling] was about creating these aspirational images that would catapult the culture into a stratosphere in which they were going to economically going to be worthy of. They were making the money and touring the world, so why can’t we be in high fashion? Why can’t we make costumes that are extremely larger than life?” — June Ambrose
Along with the flashy outfits, Williams also adopted the use of a fisheye lens for these videos to distort the images and suggest that the artists are living in an extra-dimensional reality.
Missy Elliott has also been a long-time collaborator of Williams and has produced a wide range of iconic videos that continue to defy expectations for how Black women could be portrayed in hip-hop and sci-fi. “She’s A Bi**h” (1999) (a personal favorite of mine) is a militaristic, cyberpunk declaration of self-authority while “Sock it 2 Me” (1997) is a sci-fi cosplayer’s fantasy with Missy, Lil Kim, and Da Brat dressed in costumes inspired by Mega Man, fighting oppressive alien-like androids in outer space. Both Williams and Elliott created worlds in which Black women were the focal point in a futuristic setting, a concept that was (and unfortunately still is) rare 20+ years ago.
Afrofuturism is often believed to contrast the notion of blackness being “intrinsically primitive”, only focusing on space, technology, and the future. Ancient African cosmology and its relation to science fiction, however, is just as important to the genre. Underpinning Afrofuturism is the African diaspora, the displacement of people from Africa due to the slave trade and as a fluid concept, it explores the past, present, and future.
Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” (1997) is the perfect example of blending diasporic imagery with magical realism and sci-fi. The hyper-colorful video directed by Hype Williams was originally inspired by Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America. The video showcases tribesmen and dancers performing a ritual around a fire tied with imagery reminiscent of Parliament-Funkadelic (ie. the fluorescent body paint), proving that Afrofuturism is deeply connected to ancient African tradition.
Similar to Missy Elliott, much of Rhymes’ work transcended the visual landscape of rap/hip-hop at the time with the use of hyper-surrealism. His visual evolution has influenced a generation of hip-hop artists who are not afraid to step outside the box for their music videos.
Hype Williams’ work has inspired a new generation of music video directors and artists to be more creative. He doesn’t follow trends — he defines them. He introduced avant-garde filmmaking techniques to rap videos that have become his signature style and are still used today by artists such as Tierra Whack and Kendrick Lamar. It would be difficult to imagine what music videos would be like today without the foundation he laid.
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