Jonathan Mannion has a knack for creating the perfect picture. Whether it’s still album cover shots for veteran lyricist Jay-Z or shooting a music video for newcomer Trinidad James, the famed photographer and director always aims to deliver a unique, striking image.
With James’ latest video for “Females Welcomed” Mannion did just that, taking the Atlanta-based rap rookie back to his native Trinidad to capture the Caribbean island’s culture. “I wanted to parallel the Carnival experience basically,” he told MTV News on Monday, two days before the clip was premiered on MTV Jams.
Hip-hoppers have seen the Trinidad Carnival before. In 2000, Jay-Z, UGK and director Hype Williams gave rap fans a hearty taste of the annual island celebration with their iconic “Big Pimpin’ ” music video. But where Hov and company focused on the colorful, costume-filled party, Mannion aimed to tell the full story of Carnival by creating a story that takes place days before the celebration hits full-tilt.
In its essence, “Females Welcomed” is a breakup song, even an unconventional one. “Now my side chick, my main chick, and my main girl ain’t feelin’ me no mo’,” James raps on the hook.
With that notion in place, Mannion, who has experienced Carnival many times before, wanted to tell the story of a couple that breaks up just days before the party, so they can live out their inhibitions, only to get back together once all the confetti has settles. “I know on the island the joke is you break up with your boyfriend during Carnival and then get together the day after,” he explained.
In the video’s opening scene, we see a shirtless Trinidad moping through the streets, fed up with love until he spots another woman in an empty bar. “It’s like a volume switch being turned on. So you start easy, you’re having a beer in a bar, you’re hollering at one chick,” the director described.
By the time the beat picks up and the festivities are in full swing, the costumes are out, the masses have assembled with fire-breathing performers and Mannion has picked up his pace, shooting quick action cuts at furious paces. “This set of visuals that are just attacking you at all points. Like, ’Wow did I just see that’,” he said. “It was like a volume switch being turned up from one, if it ends at 10, we were at 15 by the time it ended.”
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