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Hype Williams: his 10 greatest videos

Written by FACT Team on Friday, March 9 2012

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For over twenty years, video director Hype Williams has been turning out four-minute fantasias for the biggest names in rap and R&B.

With a fish-eye lens in one hand and a briefcase of cash in the other, the New Yorker remains the go-to man for high-impact – and high-budget – music videos. In celebration of Williams’ opulent legacy, FACT’s Joseph Morpurgo has assembled ten of his most distinctive clips. Don your shades – things are about to get colourful.

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WU-TANG CLAN
‘WU-TANG CLAN AIN’T NUTHIN TA FUCK WIT’
(1994)

Many of Williams’ videos are materialistic escape-fantasies; this 1994 video, by contrast, is a Dantean vision of staying stuck on the block. We’re not sure which is the most menacing: the fireballs, the foot-long machetes, or that extra pulling thug poses in a babygrow.

2PAC
‘CALIFORNIA LOVE’ (FEAT. DR DRE)
(1995)

‘California Love’ was honoured with no less than two videos, both magnificent, both absurd. The most memorable of the two was inspired by Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and transports 2Pac and Dre to post-apocalyptic Oakland, circa 2095, where they sneak into the camp of a gnarly-looking, future-primitive tribe that counts Chris Tucker and Tony Cox in its ranks and proceed, inevitably, to party, before leading a convoy of jeeps and motorcycles into the desert with a cash-guzzling abandon pretty much unique to 90s Hype promos. At the end, Tupac wakes up in bed – was it all just a dream? To be continued…

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R. KELLY
‘GOTHAM CITY’
(1997)

For a few minutes, this is about as close as Williams gets to social realism. Kelly’s no-frills performance is interspersed with grainy monochrome footage of real-life people struggling in the real-life ghetto. The Hype Williams solution to solving the poverty trap? Send Kels for a spin round the projects in the Batmobile.

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MISSY ELLIOTT
‘SOCK IT 2 ME’
(1997)

Hype fires Missy into space for this classic clip riffing on the Mega Man video game series. With a little help from Da Brat, Elliott and Lil’ Kim manage to fend off the unwanted attentions of various evil robots, an especially impressive feat given the bulkiness of their computer-generated space-suits. Probably the most psychedelic entry entry in the Williams filmography, and that’s saying something.

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KELIS
‘CAUGHT OUT THERE’
(1999)

Kelis’ unhinged breakthrough track gets a brilliantly disturbed video. Chairs are flung, corpses start talking, and the thing climaxes with a feminist march through suburbia,  fireworks exploding overhead. It’s not quite De Beauvoir, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable contrast to Williams’ usual androcentricity.

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OL’ DIRTY BASTARD
‘SHIMMY SHIMMY YA’
(1995)

This one’s for Don Cornelius: ODB moons and goons around an episode of Soul Train. It’s also a principal example of Williams’ tendency to soft-fade from one totally disconnected visual set-up to another. The effect sometimes seems like the result of poor storyboarding; here, it’s dreamlike and disconcerting.

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NAS
‘HATE ME NOW’ (FEAT. PUFF DADDY)
(1999)

Williams’ original treatment for ‘Hate Me Now’ featured both Nas and Puffy being crucified. After it was filmed, catholic Sean Combs demanded that his crucifixion scene be cut from the final edit of the vid – for some reason he seemed to register offence only after he’d come down from the cross – but the uncut version mistakenly found its way to MTV and TRL and was aired on April 15, 1999. Apparently within mere minutes of the broadcast, Puffy stormed the offices of Nas’s manager Steve Stoute with his bodyguards, and whacked him over the head with a champagne bottle. That’s the classy way to voice a complaint.

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BUSTA RHYMES
‘WHAT’S IT GONNA BE?’ (FEAT. JANET JACKSON)
(1999)

To this day, ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ is still Williams’ most expensive promo. It’s also a salutary lesson in how quickly CGI can age: the ludicrous effects, once jaw-dropping, are now closer to stomach-churning. In terms of sheer excess, though, it’s still the $2.4m carat diamond in Hype’s crown.

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KANYE WEST
‘HEARTLESS’
(2008)

The bracing ‘All Of The Lights’ video loses points for shamelessly cribbing from Gaspar Noe’s 2009 trip-fest Enter The Void. So this is the Yeezy video that came out on top: a delicious piece of technicolour melodrama that shows Williams extending his eye to the realms of animation.

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BEYONCE
‘VIDEOPHONE’ (FT. LADY GAGA)
(2009)

One of the better examples of Williams’ late style, this throws two decades of tricks into one hyper-stimulating mix. So you get your strobing frame-editing; your saturated colour schemes; your incomprehensible film narrative; and, for good measure, a man-camera hybrid that, oddly enough, brings to mind Snog Marry Avoid’s bitch-droid POD.

Joseph Morpurgo

 

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