Hype Williams’ innovative and intriguing cinematic touch has shaped hip-hop since his debut in the ’90s. The genre just wouldn’t be the same without Williams’ trademark multi-view directorial style elevating the music of hip-hop royalty Nas, JAY-Z, Missy Elliott, Kanye West and more, gifting the community iconic music videos like Missy’s “She’s a Bitch” and JAY-Z’s “Big Pimpin’.”
On Thursday night (May 10), hip-hop enthusiasts, filmmakers, and media filed into the AMC Empire 25 theater at Times Square for Red Bull’s Music Festival New York Director’s Series discussion panel, in which famed video director Hype Williams discussed how he fell in love with videography and revisited some of his legendary visuals over the years.
Below, check out five things we learned from Hype Williams’ conversation.
Jada Pinkett Smith came up with the idea for 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” music video.
With the help of Hype Williams and Jada Pinkett Smith, 2Pac and Dr. Dre recreated the post-apocalyptic film Mad Max for the “California Love” video, which saw the two west coast hip-hop fixtures driving through the desert, on the same set as the original Mad Max.
“Jada Pinkett,” Williams said with a pause. “Jada was the one who wrote this treatment for Dre and they called me and said there’s no way we could do this without you.”
Williams added that at that time, Dr. Dre had a huge budget and wanted an opportunity to translate his love for film into his music videos. Before the Mad Max-inspired “California Love” video, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube teamed up for the menacing “Natural Born Killers” and accompanying cinematic music video, where Dre and Cube play fugitives hiding in a fiery warehouse as police embark on a search to find them.
Nas’ “Hate Me Now” video with Puff Daddy is the “watered-down” version.
There’s a lot going on in Nas’ “Hate Me Now” visual, in which the Queens rapper took on the role of Jesus being crucified on the cross in order “to get back at all those people that don’t want to see a black man doing his thing,” Nas told Rolling Stone in 2007. But according to Hype, a lot of what actually went down didn’t make the final cut due to several disagreements about how the message would be perceived. “What you see here is the watered-down version of what went down. This is very important and I want everybody to know that this video was probably, for its time period, the equivalent to what Childish Gambino just did,” he said, referencing Childish Gambino’s gripping, record-breaking video “This Is America.”
He continued: “The first edit of this video at this time had to be the greatest thing anyone has ever seen. Because of who Puff was and where he was going, he needed a release so he had no restraints filming this video. The things that he did and the things we filmed him doing were so radical when edited to this music, I couldn’t even describe it, but at this time, the greatest thing we’ve ever seen was Puff as a special effect, something that I feel is happening with Childish.”
Hype recalled showing Puff the original “Hate Me Now” edit, who was overjoyed at the final product and “slapped the shit out of strangers” but the video was quickly shut down by higher execs. However, Nas’ “Hate Me Now” visual was still met with controversy, as Puff reportedly assaulted record exec Steve Stoute after the unedited version of “Hate Me Now” aired, which showed Puff being crucified on the cross.
Jodeci’s DeVante Swing introduced Hype Williams to Missy Elliott, Timbaland and Ginuwine.
The genius pairing of Missy Elliott and Hype Williams resulted in some of Missy’s most iconic visuals, including “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” featuring the garbage bag-ensemble, “Hot Boyz,” and “She’s a Bitch.” And it all started with an introduction on the video set of Jodeci’s 1993 cut “Feenin.”
“DeVante was like, ‘Man, listen. I got these kids and I need my kids to be around you and around us so we can learn and I’ll let them do anything,” Hype said. Swing made the “kids” help out with craft services on the video set and that’s when Hype was introduced to Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Ginuwine.
“I saw her differently,” he added. “Everyone else said, ‘No, you’re crazy,’ but they let it happen anyway. The ‘big brain’ at Electric [Records] Sylvia Rhone. She said, ‘Hype, you’re crazy but I’m gonna let you do it’ — and that’s how we did “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).”
Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” video only took three hours to make.
Hype Williams praised Beyonce for her impeccable work ethic and admitted that the Lemonade singer is his favorite artist to work with. “We shot this entire video in three hours,” he told the crowd. “So it’s a testament to the kind of artist she is. She has a tremendous work ethic.”
As to how he builds relationships with superstars like Bey and Jay, Hype believes that “it’s not my abilities or my talent or anything I would love to say that I have but somehow, they give me more than they give everyone else. It’s just a blessing that I’ve got working with great artists, somehow they would give me more than they would normally give so it’s a blessing I was given to get the most out of the greatest, doesn’t matter who it is.”
Hype has worked with Kanye West the most in his career.
After watching Missy’s “She’s a Bitch” video, Williams discussed how his innovative videos opened the minds of not only the hip-hop community and the artists, but also those who didn’t view hip-hop as “valuable.”
“Looking back at [my videos], we really were taking it past where everyone thought it could go. At one point, rap music was a joke, everybody thought it was nothing but all of these great artists proved them wrong,” he offered. Host Jeff Mao then asked Williams to name some of the artists that challenge him creatively and allow him the freedom to execute his thoughts without restraint, to which Williams responded: “I’ve done more videos with Kanye [West] than with any other artist and that’s because of his willingness.”
Listen to Hype Williams’ conversation below.