Hip hop shines a positive light on Detroit via music videos
DETROIT — With all of the troubles facing the city of Detroit, the mainstream media has been working overtime to drag the public image of a proud city through the dirt. Now more than ever, the city must reclaim ownership of how the Motor City is seen to the rest of the world, and among the leaders of this movement are independent hip hop artists creating music videos in the city.
Hollywood directors and producers have known for years that Detroit is like no other. The world-class architecture contrasts with run-down buildings to create a vivid, almost surreal landscape. Hip hop artists from these neighborhoods have known this for years as it is a part of the daily life that inspires their music and lyrics.
Local artists have taken the job into their own hands to make art that can be seen around the world through the Internet. The equipment and knowledge of how to make music videos has become cheaper and more accessible over the years, and Web sites like YouTube and Vimeo are quickly becoming more influential than cable channels like MTV and BET.
Most Detroit rappers see the value in showing themselves in their own neighborhoods as they really live, not like the rented houses and hired models seen in most popular videos. This authenticity is important to the artists and the audiences, mainly those from far away who want to see what the city is really like.
“I really don’t try to embellish the negative traits of Detroit,” says Myles Rowe, a young video artist who is working to make a career of directing music videos. “I really try to just show people it’s more than just abandoned houses. There’s a lot to Detroit, it’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Depending on the artists, that’s going to change (the) setting.”
“If the artist is a conscious rapper, it might be in an area where it’s more ran down like Brightmoor,” he adds.
Rowe, who directs under the name Rowe Shot Me, has become a highly respected video director at a young age, with video credits for artists including Chuck Inglish of The Cool Kids, Sheefy McFly, Richy Marciano, Boldy James and Danny Brown. In February, he released two new videos for rising local star Ron D.
“I made it a point to work with as many artists as I can,” says Rowe. “Just to get my name out and to get Detroit’s name out all together. There’s really not a lot of shine as far as Detroit artists go with hip hop music.”
Rowe, graphic design artist and photographer, explains that he got into music video making to help out artists. He understood this was a piece of the puzzle they had been missing for their careers.
RenCen Coolbeanz is another artist who has become experienced in putting together sharp-looking music videos for his songs. One of his latest videos, for his song “Bad Ass,” was filmed on the streets in Harmony Park, directed by himself and Evan Butka.
“The consumers of today are very visual people,” says RenCen.
As RenCen Coolbeanz prepares for the release of a new album, fans can expect that he will deliver a new music video that will build his creative vision.
“If I didn’t have music videos, I never would have toured overseas,” he says. “I won’t drop an album without a video nowadays. It’s so important that people see your movement.”
Being seen internationally is a huge motivator for making an eye-catching music video that could be shared throughout the world. The video for “Dillatroit,” a single from last year’s “Rebirth Of Detroit” album by J Dilla featuring Supa Emcee, Nick Speed and Guilty Simpson, was directed locally by Oren Goldenberg and has now approached 100,000 views on YouTube.
In the past year, Supa Emcee and Guilty Simpson have toured throughout Europe, while Nick Speed’s new album has reached the top of the hip hop sales charts in the U.K.
Many young artists from Detroit continue to team up with directors and shoot videos, creating a movement of new artists pushing the bounds of creativity and becoming entrepreneurs. Artists like Chavis Chandler, Nolan The Ninja, CrackKillz, ZeelooperZ, Fowl, Passalaqua, Cold Men Young, Doc Illingsworth, Bryce, Sacramento Knoxx, Eddie Logix and Clear Soul Forces are all names that could potentially be known throughout the world because of their work in front of a camera on the streets of Detroit.
This is media justice for Detroit hip hop artists, taking the image of the city back in their own hands and giving young viewers the positive message that greatness can come from the everyday scenes in the city.
So the next time you see a person with a video camera filming an artist in your neighborhood, know that they very well could be a part of an amazing movement happening now in Detroit. The artists, meanwhile, know that being a part of this movement carries with it a responsibility.
“It’s a responsibility to be accountable for the things that we’re doing,” says Sacramento Knoxx, a hip hop producer and activist from Southwest Detroit who makes his own videos, “to provide content that’s dope and that’s not feeding into this oppression. Things are oppressive or not representative or false, just trying to make balance.”
Author Steve Furay is also an independent local music video director for hip hop artists in Detroit whose mission is to create positive, authentic messages through video for the city and the world.