Are million-dollar hip-hop videos joining throwback jerseys and Jheri curls on the extinction list?
Rather than submit clips to MTV or BET, more rappers are choosing to take their videos straight to cyberspace first. In some cases, they're only taking them to cyberspace.
"Before you had YouTube and all that, this is something I would do anyway," said Jim Jones, co-CEO of Diplomat Records. "I would shoot low-budget videos and target local video outlets. I would go in the projects and shoot my own videos. This [new trend] is the same thing, but now you have a better way to watch it. You're liable to see your favorite rapper on YouTube every week."
50 Cent, Cam'ron, Mobb Deep's Prodigy, Kanye West and even producer Scott Storch have recently been the biggest names making the most noise. "I think big-budget videos [were] a moment in time," Jeff Sledge, senior director of A&R at Jive Records, said. "It's a lot of money. Artists are a lot more business-savvy, a lot smarter. A million dollars on a video is a lot of money — that's putting you deep in the hole. I think a lot of artists are trying to work things harder and sharper."
There's also the lure of immediacy. Just like with mixtapes, some of the songs being made into videos need to get out to the public right away.
During the last few weeks we've seen Cam'ron and 50 Cent take their growing feud not to the traditional battlegrounds of the mixtapes first, but to YouTube, MySpace and other Web sites. After a volatile live phone conversation between the two on New York radio station Hot 97, video footage of Cam'ron's phone-in and his hysterical laughter afterward made its way around the Net. 50 Cent responded not just with a dis record, as everyone would expect, but with a full-fledged video.
"I was kinda amazed at the idea," said DJ Kay Slay, the first to debut 50's dart at Cam, "Funeral Music." "I was like, that's a real mastermind move."
In less than a week, Cam'ron responded to 50 with his own song and video, the hilarious "Cuurtis." In the clip, Killa mocks 50 by having average Joes yell Fif's name, Curtis, in a taunting fashion.
On to round two: 50 — who also went this route a few years ago, releasing the sexually charged "Disco Inferno" to the Net to build anticipation for his The Massacre LP — came with a quickie retaliation in the form of the Young Buck video "Hold On." Although Buck says he had no idea 50 would throw insults at Cam at the end of the video, he was excited to have another promotional item for his Buck the World album, due Tuesday (see"Track By Track: Young Buck Says G-Unit Are Alive And Well On World").
"50 was like, 'Fly out to my crib in L.A.,' " Buck said. "And the way he was excited, I thought he was gonna have a party. But when I got over there, this mutha----a had cameras and sh-- all in the house. He's like, 'We gonna shoot a video — it's gonna be up next week.' I'm like, 'Next week? What the f---?' But the minute we finished the video and he threw it up on YouTube, that sh-- had, like, a million hits in two days. So that means a million people seen this damn video that didn't cost too much money to put together and actually marketed my album also. Because if you notice at the end it says, 'Buck the World, March 27.' I was like, 'Damn, this is one of the realest promotional things I ever seen.' 50 did it again, honestly."
Not all MCs are using the Web to get the upper hand in a battle. In fact, not all MCs using the Internet as their first look are even putting out videos for actual songs. Kanye West recently released a clip for a video he shot for a freestyle in which he raps over the beat for Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's." While Rich Boy made a hit talking about hooking up his Cadillac, West's freestyle finds him bragging about paying for females' breast augmentation.
"He took it all the way," Rich Boy laughed, when asked about Kanye's project. "He took it as far as a remix can go. He almost made the song a version of his. But it's love, you know. That's real entertainment. I felt that he put it down great. He was talkin' about them double-Ds. I can't hate on that. I just smiled when I watched the whole video."
"I like it," agreed West's GOOD Music artist Consequence. "I'm actually gonna repackage my album, hopefully, with videos for each song. It's definitely about giving more to the consumer visually. When we move more into the digital age, people want to feel the experience. And the technology, by creating visual content, allows the artists to fully capture the audience's imagination. I think you're gonna see a lot more independent and low-budget videos that let fans understand the [artist's] point of view when making records. With a lot of records, that kind of gets lost in translation."
Just like mixtapes, the Internet is becoming instrumental in breaking acts. It's not just about hearing the artist's music on MySpace — labels are seeing the value in supplying the visuals to introduce their new acts, especially since the RIAA has some DJs a little gun-shy about flooding the streets with their unofficial CDs.
"The 'Vans' video was instrumental in breaking the Pack," Jive's Sledge said. "We had some issues with [getting the video on TV] because of free advertising. The whole song is about a shoe. So to get around that, we had to go to the Net. We put the video on YouTube and on their MySpace page. The video just exploded. It became the video on the Net that you couldn't see on television. And the video is hot — it's not like it's crappy. Last time I checked, they've gotten a million hits on the 'Vans' video on YouTube alone.
"I think it's a real creative way for artists that don't have the outlet to get mainstream play, to get recognition so they could possibly reach that level," Sledge continued. "The bad side about it is I don't think an artist who starts rapping today should be able to make a dis video going after Jay-Z or Nas next week. You gotta stay in your lane. And I think that's what's gonna happen now. A lot of artists who want to come up, they're gonna say, 'Well, I can get up easy, all I gotta do is make a video going at this guy.' "
Slay's protégé, the lethal MC Papoose — who has released straight-to-the-Web videos for "Alphabetical Slaughter" and "Ghetto Soldier" — sees the new wave more positively.
"You can't stop the streets from coming in, period," Papoose said. "I think the industry needs to realize that. If you make it complicated, they're gonna find another route, they gonna go to the Internet. At first, they was just pushing the music through the Internet, now they're pushing videos!"