As the Kaiser Chiefs once philosophised, “I predict a riot” and it’s a statement hip-hop’s most prolific tag-team decide to take very seriously in their newest video.
Jay-Z and Kanye West, when they’re not batting away fake pregnancy rumours and romancing a Kardashian, can be found making some great music filled with interesting samples, strategic collaborations and commanding rap lyrics (ok, not all of Kanye’s are that great anymore but still). No Church In The Wild is the next cut from their collabo-album Watch The Throne after Otis (they destroyed cars) and N****s in Paris (they rotated and morphed and all that jazz) and features the upcoming singer Frank Ocean who came 2nd in the BBC Sound of 2012 poll. Current.
Romain Gavras is directing this one and if you know a little about his previous music video work, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. Now notorious for his 9-minute video for M.I.A.’s Born Free depicting a genocide of red-headed individuals as a social comment on military brutality on minority groups across the globe (which ended up garnering worldwide controversy including banning on youtube in some places), Gavras once again is going for broke and this time riots are the topic in question. It’s coming up to a year since the much-reported ones across England so it could drag up uncomfortable memories over here on UK shores but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt unless a dilapidated Big Ben appears in a wave of smoke, fire and brimstone. That could get messy…
Molotov at the ready and we’re off in a wave of slo-mo striding through fog, bare naked statues, hoiking of bandanas and a little posturing with intent not to mention the first of many fiery explosions (as if there were any other kind). The guy holding said flaming alcoholic cocktail looks a smidgen like Kanye and, if it is him, I’d hazard a guess that the bandana is more for covering up his diamond gnashers from the Mob than as a fashion statement. A good precaution against mugging and/or mutiny considering those teeth are worth more than all the crowd’s yearly salaries combined. Recession say what? Jay-Z and Frank Ocean on the other hand avoid the situation altogether – very wise.
What follows suit is much more of the same but at varying times of day like there’s a angry mob itinerary in circulation:
1pm – stare broodingly at riot shield police before attempting to barge into them. Mind the dogs. Bring bandanas.
2:30pm – when you hear hooves, make for the hills. Oh and film some befuddled statues along the way chaps.
4pm – baseball bats and looting hour. Back streets are the best route. Once again, mind the horses and try not to set too much on fire.
6pm – jousting and more fire. Bring waterproofs just in case of high-pressure jets.
8pm until midnight – mount statues and hold flares aloft in prep for the laser light and firework display. Mind the flaming puddles, riot shield walls and angry elephant on the rampage.
Oh and did I mention the return of James Brown? Nope, he’s not in the crowd but his forlorn spirit can be heard a-wailing at either the lack of love on the streets or at Frank Ocean’s nonplussed sermon/chorus. Either way, you know when monkeys start screeching and wall carvings start giving you looks both desperate and disappointed that it’s time to calm down.
Nah, in all fairness it’s an atmospheric video for an equally brooding song so in that regard No Church In The Wild is a success. My only issue I have (and it’s just personal opinion here) is the inclusion of political viewpoint in a music video for two fairly mainstream artists. When it’s done convincingly, complete with a powerful clear message, then I can just about understand it – I don’t know whether this video is justified in it’s riot visuals when each side seems as violent as the other. Maybe that’s the point, maybe I’ve got it wrong but the fact that the clarity isn’t there is a worry.
The Born Free music video shot by Gavras (as previously mentioned) arguably had a better grasp on stamping a statement into visuals but that video was more a short film than a music video and M.I.A was a co-collaborator – someone with the life experience and controversy baiting discography to be utterly convincing in on screen portrayals and put forward a strong human ideology. Jay-Z and Kanye, hip-hop giants they may be, have the mainstream to think about now even if Watch The Throne wasn’t all that way inclined. The statue bits work a treat in terms of artistic flair but the actual riot? It’s not brutal enough to be truly shocking nor straightforward a narrative to actually make sense of the violence on screen. This middle ground gives the impression of a political leaning without implicating either of the artists. Plan B’s iLL Manors video left me feeling the same way and that was more realistic. Sometimes music is an escape for people, sometimes it can be a great medium to challenge prejudices – I’d argue this does neither and that’s a shame.
This article was first posted on June 10, 2012