[Visual Analysis] Dana Dane- Nightmares

When I was  13 or 14 years old, I found an old box of my father’s which contained a couple of casette tapes. One of the tapes was Realms N Reality by Cella Dwella’s, which I still bumped Freshman year of  college in my cherry red Pontiac Grand Am, and the rest were a couple of mix tapes. I’m not going to front like I remember every song that was on those mixtapes, mostly a bunch of classic cuts from the 80’s, but I do remember Nightmares by Dana Dane. I probably can’t remeber the rest of the tracks because I had this one on repeat all night long the first time I heard it. Lyrics? Sick. One of the things that makes an emcee great is their ability to take an average scenario and turn it into a lyrical masterpiece and Dana Dane does that with this one, flawlessly. Beat? Fresh. I already think the theme song to The Munster’s goes hard as it is so the sample just does it for me.  I was surprised to find this  gem was available on youtube and more than pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed watching it. Premiering circa 1985, one year before my birth, this video represents everything I love about the golden age of hip hop. It plays out like something that could’ve been produced by my high school theatre arts squad, and it’s in that aspect that it holds the greatest appeal. Low on sophisticated camera techinques, but heavy on style and charm, this video would smash anything out right now. Dana Dane takes you on a journey both lyrically and visually, the hallmark of any great video. While nowadays some artists come out with a video that has nothing to do with the song and everything to do with their fashion sense, I actually felt as if I was watching Dana’s nightmare unfold before my eyes. Throughout , there are several diagnol lines created by various objects within the frame, the door as he enters into the doctor’s office, the armour he lays down on to recount the tales of his beastly stalker, the angle at which the three back-up ‘singers’ are shot during the chorus. Diagnol lines within a shot serve to create a feeling of disorientation, hence the setting of a nightmare. That’s television and film 101, a little something I picked up in college. The smoke machine is a trusted standby for creating an eerie atmosphere, is it just vapor or a ghostly presence?  The colored lighting is  icing on the cake , an impressionistic touch enhancing the surreal nature of the experience. There are plenty of great shots as well, Dana Dane writhing on a neon hued floor, blue suede shoes ditty bopping down a dimly lit hallway, and the beastly chick blowing in his face is classic. The party sequence is a   highlight for me, the way the crowd converges and disperses along with his narrative creatively provides continuity. His three back-up’s are a haunting vision, all ethereal tones and shadows, another punctuation in his conceptual dreamscape. Watching this video 24 years after it was originally released, I can’t help but take note of it’s nostaligic qualities. Seeing dudes actually dance is kind of cool as are  the after school special graphics. You don’t need a big budget when you’re that nice with it.


[Visual Analysis]Pac Div: Whiplash

Pac Div exudes that type of nostalgic cool that never looses it’s freshness. They evoke comparisons to groupls like De La and Tribe, yet remain completely and comfortably within their proper decade. As a connoseuir of the art of storytelling , the video for their recent release Whiplash strikes my interests as I find it to be a perfect visual definiton of the current quarter life crisis afflicted their peers. As fellow new school breakout Drake lamented on his successful single, Successful, that’s pretty much all he wants to be. Success itself, as determined by the concept of the ‘American Dream’, is almost always attached to the quality and breadth of our material possessions and we live in an increasingly materialistic society where consumerism and debt form an uncomfortable relationship within young urban America.

It was  near the end of the 90’s when record companies acting as image consultants aesthetically gentrified the still developing genre. The level of gratuitous lyrical and visual decadence rose to new heights as the era of bling descended upon us. Women, clothes, money, and cars had always been central themes in hip hop culture, yet compared to previous incarnations the face of hip hop was completely altered. For those of us who came of age with MTV and BET bred hip hop culture, these images have no doubt affected our perception of what “making it” truly means. Everybody has dreams, so as Langston Hughes poised in his famous work “What happens to a dream deferred?”  Through thier eyes we are given a glimpe of the flip-side to the grind, the many days spent in limbo waiting for the big payoff which may or may not come.  This clip Directed by Carey Williams makes no use of fluff or filler and his minimalist approach in composition mirrors a time when realness was a hip hop video standard. Strong contrast between light and shadow, and the specific use of color and black and white sequences mark the shift of tone as we are given a visual parallel of success and failure. Amidst broken down cars, bicycles and travelers on foot, a single Benz occupied by the trio becomes profoundly symbolic as it  glides over asphault like Apollo in his charriot.  Sunlight gleaming off the spotless paint and chrome wheels as their wistful faces are reflected in the hood, the car becomes a manifestation of the hard earned sucess the group has achieved and also an extension of their essence in relation  to the industry. The imagery suggests that Pac Div is letting us know they are the E-class of hip hop; verbally elegant, stylishly classic, well equipped, and top performers.  The languid flow of William’s shots perfectly mirror the hypnotic melody of the track with the segue into Young Black Male providing a poignant finale. The flagrant lights of the squad car bursting through the darkness command the screen. Most of us are well acquainted with the pulse quickining sight of red and blue lights flashing us down in the rear view mirror. Police brutality and racial profiling are disturbing factors in the success stories of urban youth, especially young black men in America. The discomfort and annoyance on BeYoung’s face set aglow by a department issued flashlight is an arresting image, no pun intended. 

[Visual Analysis] Beyonce ft Lady Gaga: Video Phone

After watching the video for Video Phone, my appreciation for the directorial talents of Hype Williams remained solidified. He makes a mean ass video and this was no exception.  Hype is known for is his ingenious application and use of color within his compositions. Brilliant neons, muted purples and metalics, amplified earth tones, his creations perfectly fit the tone and energy of the musical pieces they accompany. As a young grafitti artist he wanted to be the Basquiat or  Keith Haring of the streets, an ambition as indicative of his artistic prowess as it is of his extraordinary aesthetic ideology. His canvas is film and he masters it with the grace of Boticelli and the eye of a visionary. I became somewhat of a fan when Beyonce dropped the video for Single Ladies. Like Kanye, I must agree that it was one of the best of the decade. It was stunning in it’s simplicity, a perfect blend of stylish direction and flawless performance that will certainly be heralded as a classic 20 years from now. After it, however, Beyonce’s video game slipped a tad which was probably due to the pressure of trying to top herself.  Hype single handedly up’d her cool points in my book about 50%.  It seemed she let go of what her fans have come to expect and just had fun with this video, and it worked.  Hype shoots women as surreally beautiful creatures,  an augmentation of the qualities already existent within his female subjects. In this respect, since he’s dealing with Beyonce’s self proclaimed hardcore alter ego Sasha Fierce, we are presented with Beyonce as a collage of femme fatale archetypes complete with pop art shotguns, high heels and side-swept bangs. Influences range from Betty Page and Priss Asagiri, to Sin City’s Gail, Barbarella and g’d up chulas in the style of Mr. Cartoon. The men play the background as Beyonce’s faceless playthings, tied to chairs, stroked with instruments of death and impailed on spinning wheels. The song itself is coquettishly airheaded, lyrically vacant but you know it wasn’t intended to be a grammy nominee. It’s a slice of friday night/saturday morning sexiness better suited for 2am strobe light and smoke machine induced frenzies. Flash editing, festive and opulent colors and tight close-ups of cat eyes and moist lips provide the ambiance for Beyonce’s phone freak fantasies, leaving the viewer with a 5 minute exhortation of  pulp magzine-esque visuals.  The result is something like a bondage/peep show you would see at Cirque Du Soleil. I can dig it