Jamaica has already solidified its place in modern mainstream music thanks to dancehall and reggae, but now there is a new creative sector that’s bubbling within the island.
Music video directors have been on the rise in the country over the past few years, as they strive to give a unique look to Jamaica’s music that only natives would be able to capture. Auteurs like Dameon Gayle (Busy Signal’s “Stay So”), Jay Will (Popcaan‘s “Everything Nice”), Ras Kassa (Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock”) and the RD Studios crew (Shenseea‘s “Pon Mi”) have transformed Jamaica’s music video industry from low-budget DIY projects to stunning filmmaking that can compete with the best directors stateside.
Next up is 300K, a 24-year-old from the island’s Clarendon parish who’s ready to make his mark. The rising director — who credits When They See Us, Get Out and Ex Machina as some of his favorite films — got his break in 2017 with Dre Island’s “We Pray.” Featuring dancehall hero Popcaan, the video intertwines the grittiness of the streets with the lush scenery to create a motivational story. “I just want to stay true to my roots,” he tells Billboard. “I’m around a lot of grimy, ghetto stuff, so I try to tell what I know: people being in the struggle.”
300K spoke to Billboard about how he got his start as a music video director, and his plans to capture the international market.
Billboard: Take me back to the beginning — how did you find your knack for directing?
300K: Being from Clarendon, not much is there to do. So we weren’t exposed to stuff like film and things of that nature. I didn’t really know about camera equipment. I started doing graphic design first on my own — I didn’t go to school for it. But I found out it wasn’t enough for me. I thought, “How could I tell a story without using graphics?” I didn’t have a camera, so I used my smartphone to try ah ting. And then I went from there. I shot my first video in high school, but you won’t find it online or anything. It was like a monologue, nothing too big of a deal. But I did my first official video in 2015 [a short film titled “Somewhere In Jamaica”], two years after high school.
What drives your passion for it?
I just want to stay true to my roots. I’m around a lot of grimy, ghetto stuff, so I try to tell what I know: people being in the struggle. I saved up money I made from designing party flyers for clients and what I made from my first video to buy my first camera. [Directing] came naturally, but I’m not a talkative person so that presented a bit of an issue. But after a while, I learned I needed to communicate ideas in order for things to flow better. I didn’t really look to anyone for inspiration, but I’m a fan of Director X. He’s all about the cinematics.
Is there a particular music video that helped catapult your career?
I’d say “We Pray,” that’s the one with Popcaan and Dre Island [released in 2017]. That was my first introduction to a real big-budget production. I went from shooting from my phone to working with a whole team of a high caliber. I met Dre Island in a studio a few years back, and we had mutual connections. I don’t get too excited about stuff, so people praising me about the video was kind of whatever. I was more concerned about it being good for me.
The first video of yours that I saw was Aidonia’s “Krayzay” in 2017. That definitely took him out of his element.
That was a very last-minute [decision]. Dancehall artists are very “in the moment” people. If they link you and say, “Yo, I want to shoot tomorrow” — they really mean that. Aidonia linked me on a Saturday and wanted to do the video that Monday. I told him we couldn’t do it because we don’t have a location, props or anything, really. So we pushed it to the following Monday so I could figure something out. I had to think about the limitations as well, because the budget wasn’t really big and Aidonia’s team doesn’t venture to certain areas [in Jamaica]. We ended up shooting it in Spanish Town. We tossed around ideas, and I thought it would be cool for him to wear a straightjacket. I had an idea to add in a wheelchair too, but they didn’t go with that. The overall video was very different for dancehall.
The video for Govana’s “The Light” shows a different side of Jamaica with the more natural elements.
Govana’s been on a roll right now, so he knocks out projects really quick. He wanted for [viewers] to feel connected to the song when they watched the video. I asked him how he felt when listening to it. He began describing it and I said, “Cool, mek wi just take it to di mountains then.” And we definitely wanted [the video] to be a night thing, so the next thing I had to think about was lighting. We messed around with all the elements until we caught a vibe.
Your latest is Koffee’s “Rapture” remix video with Govana. How did that come about?
Koffee is really, really talented. We had a real budget for this one, so that was good. And this was my first time collaborating with Ruption from RD Studios, who’s one of the top-tier directors in Jamaica. Our styles are very different. Adding the Book of Mormon [into the video] was Ruption’s idea; I kind of try to avoid religious elements in my videos. But it was all about compromise and understanding that no idea is a bad idea. Koffee wanted to do something that was far left from what she usually does, in terms of her visuals. So we all started throwing around different ideas. I thought adding a helicopter would be cool, and to also go back to Spanish Town — where she and Govana are from — to vibe with the people. We tried to make it as cinematic as possible.
What are your overall thoughts on Jamaica’s visual scene?
I like where it’s at right now, including the music as well. There’s more people collaborating on projects and putting aside their ego. Everybody is more open and willing to work with each other. It’s not like, “I don’t like this person so I’m gonna stay on my side.” And I really like where it’s going overall, especially with the visuals getting a lot more creative and being looked at with different perspectives. It’s not like an ignorant, “one man one vision” type of thing. Jamaicans have this thing where if one person did it before, then they need to do [the same thing]. People are leaning more outside the box. I like where I’m trying to push it as well, in terms of comfortability. [My work] is very different from the norm that people are used to. I’m really looking forward to changing the whole landscape.
What’s next for you?
I have a couple of short films waiting to be released — I can’t talk about it yet since it’s too early. Working with [international artists] is definitely the aim overall, to expand my wings some more. That’s definitely in the pipeline, but I want to make sure I’m completely satisfied with what I’ve done here [in Jamaica] before venturing out. I don’t want to take on too much right now to where I can’t really manage it.