The best rap video of the 2010s so far is undoubtedly “Codeine Crazy,” the tortured finale of Future’s 2014 Monster tape. Somewhere between a post-breakup bender and an Actavis-addled cry for help — think of it as Future’s "I Feel Like Dying" — the song is a lot on its own. But it wasn’t until the video, released early last year, that everything clicked. It wasn’t like any other Future video. After dozing off, wasted and alone in the club, he appears in all white in a field, double cup still in hand. He’s awakened by a mysterious woman in white, whose touch sends a burst of faint purple lightning through him. The sky is a queasy shade of violet, and there’s a pack of horses galloping in the distance. It all feels like a weird trip, or a dream that will make sense much later. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it, and from the looks of the video’s atypically sincere YouTube comments, neither can the rest of the Futurehive. There’s a running thread within it, now five months deep, that’s blossomed into a support group for a commenter who was inspired to give up lean and get a job: “Tomorrow is a new day and I will wake up a new man. Pray for me.”
The director of “Codeine Crazy,” Uncle Leff (né Vincent Lou), is deep in the mountains in Georgia, editing, when I reach him by phone. Born in Rhode Island but now living in Atlanta, Leff was given a flip camera by his mentor in the mid-‘00s, and taught himself editing from YouTube tutorials and a dusty copy of Final Cut Pro 7 after dropping out of school. He and his four-person team had been busy with videos around the city (including the one for Makonnen’s pre-Drake original "Club Going Up on a Tuesday”) when Monster dropped in October ‘14; the crew spent a road trip from Miami listening to “Codeine Crazy” on repeat. Soon after, Leff ran into Ebonie Ward, the brand manager for Future's Freebandz label, at her Fly Chix boutique. “I was like, ‘Monster hard as fuck. What’s going on with the videos, who’s gonna do that ‘Codeine Crazy’?’” Leff recalls. “She texted Future right there and then, and he was like, ‘Let’s rock.'”
After "Codeine Crazy," it was on: Leff and his small crew went on to handle the videos for "The Percocet & Stripper Joint" and "Kno the Meaning," with the same hallucinatory color schemes and mysterious hints of narrative, before being recruited as creative directors for the Purple Reign tour, Future’s trippiest, most extravagant live show to date.
I expected there to be something of a story behind Future’s cult classic video, but did not anticipate the inspiration to draw on acid trips, rebirth, and the “Chuckie’s Wonderful Life” episode of Rugrats.
Tell me the story of how the "Codeine Crazy" video was made.
Uncle Leff: We were hella inspired listening on the ride from Miami, and the first time I tripped was right around the time we shot that video. And you know what’s crazy? After my first acid trip, I feel like I was reborn. I felt like it was the rebirth of a new Future, and it kind of came out like that. We were in the studio with Future and talking about the concept. The treatment we had, Future’s walking through this wooded field, and he was like, “I should lay on the ground!” A week later, we’re doing the video. We have 500 acres of land on the south side of Atlanta, like South Fulton. My homeboy, he’s a cowboy. Like, real Atlanta cowboy shit. Hella horses, hella everything. We were always around these horses, having big-ass fires and shit. [Future was] in all white, like, “All this white and you want me to be laying on the ground?” I’m like, “That’s what you said, bruh!” But Monster was like a new beginning for him, you know what I’m saying?
Definitely, but a lot of people slept on Monster at first. It almost felt like the “Codeine Crazy” video needed to happen, a few months later, just to remind everybody.
Leff: People be emailing me the craziest shit about that video, how watching that shit changed something. It’s like a cult, Donnie Darko–type following on that video. People are like, "Is there a story line for that?" There is a story. Remember on Rugrats, when Chuckie was like, How would life be without me? Remember when he lived with the other angel Chuckie or whatever the fuck it was? And he went to see how life would be without him. I guess like on a walk. [In the video,] Future, before he’s spit out into this field, he’s in the club passed out. It’s New Year’s Eve, he’s got the black-and-white suit. We shot that at Club Mansion in Atlanta. So the old him is passed out at the New Year’s Eve party, and then he’s reborn again in this field. Here’s this Chuckie Finster, walking him through the life. What’s your theory? I’m interested.
So in the ancient Greek underworld, there’s a specific section of the underworld called the Asphodel Meadows. It’s this barren field with dead trees, and essentially the souls of people who weren't necessarily good or evil live there forever, like a purgatory. When I saw the video I was like, Oh, that’s it!
Leff: It’s the weirdest thing about that video. There’s so many ways you can take it, but it’s all about that same thing, that one thing. It’s about that — but I don’t really know what that is.
The Purple Reign tour wrapped last month, and the visuals you created took the trippiness of the “Codeine Crazy” video, but amplified and distorted them. Can you talk about your vision for them?
Leff: It was like a dream. He walks out this old gas station, and there’s this purple-and-pink 1979 Camaro with this big, pink bird on the front. Girl’s in the passenger seat with a fur on, flicking her hair. He gets in the car with a cup of syrup in his hand. He falls asleep at a stoplight, and a thunderstorm starts, and it’s lightning and all this shit, smoke’s coming out, and when he falls asleep, the trunk of the car opens up and doves fly out of it. And then it’s like "PURPLE REIGN TOUR" [onscreen], and the crowd goes fucking insane. And then the dream starts, and the show is the dream. Being on that tour for those two months was the craziest, most insane time of my life. There’s only two days on tour: the day you walk on that tour bus, and the day you walk off of the tour bus. Everything in between, I don’t even know what the fuck it was like.
Where does that originate from?
Leff: When I was young, my dad used to take me to this weird-ass lightning show, where they make lightning in a room in this planetarium in Boston. He used to take me and my brother there. It was loud and I would be crying, and he still used to take me there. That lightning thing, it’s weird — that lightning has almost everything to do with me right now. Or when I’m walking in the woods and I thought I seen something and I didn’t see it, I make what I thought I’d seen. I wouldn’t say hallucinating, but that’s where a lot of my ideas come from, walking and thinking I seen something and it wasn’t there.