Molotov cocktails. Uprising. Elephants? Not the traditional images associated with Jay-Z and Kanye West, the dynamic duo known for promoting material excess and lyrical swag. Yet their video for “No Church In The Wild” offers a grim look at an unnamed rebellion, the kind seen in modern Greece, London, the Middle East and perhaps even in the U.S. The video quickly became a trending topic on Twitter Thursday (May 30) but fans weren’t the only ones caught up in the battle. Video directors, too, offered their thoughts on the epic clip.
Set in Prague, the Romain Gavras-directed video begins with a man holding a Molotov cocktail and then he ignites it, tosses it at police forces and sparks the war. At first the protesters, armed with sticks, rocks and determination, seem to be losing. But the fight continues, the battle evens out. A man set aflame can be seen running the streets. There are lasers, fireworks, and “the people” make a comeback. In the end, an elephant is curiously unleashed.
Gavras, who directed MIA’s “Born Free” video in 2010, is no stranger to building conflict into his work. “Born Free” imagines a world in which ginger children were rounded up and ushered into concentration camps. The controversial clip stirred audiences with a graphic image of an exploding child amidst a red-headed rebellion.
While Gavras has his own bloody video backstory, in rap video history “No Church”‘s depiction of an uprising echoes Nas‘ 2002 clip for “One Mic.” In Nas’ rebellion, an angry mob of courageous youth rage against the machine. Chris Robinson, who directed “One Mic,” offers a bit of insight into the mind of a director who has put together a scene such as this.
“As directors, were always inspired by different things,” Robinson told CBS Local. “I was trying to create a juxtaposition, saying we are all the same. Look at the struggle of these kids in Africa and these kids in Queensbridge. Look at the struggle with so-called authority and freedom. Freedom of poverty and tyranny. For me, it was that kind of moment.”
The most recent type of riot in a rap video came from 2 Chainz. His video for “Riot,” which was directed by Decatur Dan, showed Molotov cocktails crashing into walls, an angry mob with sticks, bats and chains for weapons. But where the video for “No Church” was devoid of Jay-Z and Kanye, 2 Chainz took center stage in the clip for “Riot.”
The idea was not lost on Decatur Dan, who tweeted his discontent with the Romain’s riotous clip.
No church in the wild was the og treatment for RIOT. Plus performances tho.
— Decatur Dan (@DecaturDan) May 30, 2012
He went on to say: “‘Ye ran to Romain like you knew he would”
Unlike “Riot,” the song “No Church” doesn’t insist on one point. While Frank Ocean sets a somber tone on the chorus, and Jay-Z’s verse offers some connection to the gritty feel of the visuals, Kanye’s lyrics stand out as incongruous to the revolutionary theme.
“You will not control the threesome,” ‘Ye raps, “Just role the weed up until I get me some…/Thinking about the girl in all leopard / Who was rubbing the wood like Ke Ke Sheppard…”
“When I was watching it, I was wondering if they were going to switch it up during Kanye’s part,” said Tabi Bonney, an artist who directs his own videos as well as those for fellow artists, such as Wale’s “My Sweetie.” “But they kept right with it. They obviously wanted to make a point which is relavant to today’s society. They didn’t want to tell the same story in the club that’s being told all the time.”
Chris Robinson, who has directed videos featuring West and several for Jay-Z, said Kanye also likes to push the envelope artistically.
“He doesn’t shoot the videos that you think might go along with the song,” Robinson said. “As a director, sometimes you gotta go left to make your point. But the hook to me is, the ‘wild’ is not what you think it is, not the forest, not the woods, it’s the streets, it’s the world, people marching for Trayvon Martin. The big machine the little man is struggling against.”
There’s obviously a message in the madness, even if viewers may just have to discern it on their own. For today’s hip-hop videos, that’s revolutionary in itself.