Take a look at Brandon “N2ition” Riley’s video for rising Gary, IN rhymer Freddie Gibbs’s tune “The Ghetto” below, and you’ll notice that you’re looking at something different. The flossy clichés—bling, cars, cash—are absent. Instead, we see high school running tracks, lake beaches, and theatres. We see kids, grannies, murals, dirty piano keys, and broken basketball backboards.
In short, we see real atmosphere, an element that can take something as commodified and played-out as a hip-hop video into a profound direction. Says Riley:
I’m trying to take the hip-hop music video into a more cinematic direction. And I don’t mean cinematic as in ‘Let’s add dialogue at the beginning of the video and then jump into the club scene.’ It takes a real commitment from the artist and their team to believe in a track enough to come up with a unique concept and follow it through. To plan on taking 2-3 days to shoot it. To audition actors to play key roles, etc. You have to be inspired by the music first.
After making videos for his own rap group in college in Charleston SC, Riley started shooting for other acts and building his aesthetic. One of his vids became a top-20 finalist in a YouTube rap video contest judged by Common, 50 Cent and Polow The Don.
Since then, Riley’s made Chicago his home and has shot for local talent like Lungz, LED, Nascent, Big Law, Jay Star and others. His N2ition Productions continue to specialize in videos that eschew the vapid, party-up paradigm for a gritty tone that almost seems inspired by the ghosts of Midwestern blues.
Riley notes a bounty of video talent in his territory:
There are some other great directors in Chicago. Guys I’ve worked with like Travis Long from Ike Films and Noyz from Da Visionaryz and GL Joe from HYSTK. These guys are going to be national names in no time. They really have the borderline genius talent.
Upcoming N2ition projects include a video for “Linen” by Mikkey Halsted and Twista (“Some amazing shots of Chicago in the summer”), and another with LEP and Gucci Mane that he says “should be a nice Chicago anthem.”
And I’m supposed to be working some more with Freddie Gibbs in the near future. I also shot a documentary on Twista that should be out in November. But I’m just as excited about moving into more feature length projects. I just completed a feature with Ike Films and Ill be shooting something in early 2011 with Noyz from the Visionaryz…everything I learn on those shoots only makes my music videos that much better.
Bonus clips after the jump: Another N2ition production starring Gibbs working with Mikkey Halstead, plus some workingman’s-blues-style hip-hop from Jay Star.