Teaming up with Long Beach rapper Vince Staples for the track “Senorita” Ian Pons Jewell (the guy with hair incase you were wondering – photo by: Jihanna Tatanaki) walks us through a post apocalyptic ghetto in the video that has got hip hop heads going wild. Shot in sharp black and white it gives the video an element of seriousness that fuses with the provocative imagery and a much deeper sociopolitical message that is portrayed.
We caught up with Ian Pons Jewell to have a chat about the video and delve into his approach and execution for the project that has already gained such a phenomenal response.
Word Is Cheap: The video is shot in a post apocalyptic suburb but is it more of an exaggeration of how you perceive things to be in today’s world?
Ian Pons Jewell: The latter for sure. I have a pretty bleak outlook on our current predicament though. It certainly has a reference to police brutality in the USA, but also broader issues of poverty, voyeurism, religion and our current state of politics as a whole. But the intention was indeed to create a sense of an apocalypse or extreme ghetto that Vince walks through and observes, then re-tells to camera once he gets onto the “stage” and looks into camera. When you pick apart each element, there isn’t really much exaggeration going on, but it becomes so once it’s all placed together in a dense manner. The whole human zoo idea was written based on his outlook on a lot of “urban music”, he says – “we’re all in the zoo, and the listeners are the people outside of the cage”. It’s this idea of certain artists putting a polish on what is essentially a dangerous and violent life, and then these listeners from a totally different walk of life can plug in with some headphones. But the thing is, human zoos existed up until the 1930s. This is within living memory of some people. There was a case in which a Congolese man called Ota Benga was displayed inside a zoo along with apes by the morally depraved Madison Grant, and was label “the missing link”. That was 1904 New York. Though in 1994 there was an “African Safari” created in Port-Saint-Piere in France, which contracted people to be among the animals topless when “the weather permitted”. The world is a dark place, as much as it’s good to be positive, we shouldn’t shy away from reality.
WIC: Vince Staples has said that his purpose in music is to make people feel uncomfortable. Did this influence the way you approached the video?
IPJ: Totally. Vince’s outlook on his music and the industry as a whole was the main inspiration for the final script. It was really incredible to work with an artist that didn’t want to hold back in any way. Any art that makes people uncomfortable is good in my eyes, we need more of it.
WIC: What was the thought process behind making the video black and white?
IPJ: I saw images in my mind in black and white from the first listen pretty much. I actually had a totally different idea at the very start, but that was also black and white. I’ll definitely be working with it again too, it was real eye opener. Our DP Martim Vian totally exceeded my expectations of what we could get, he was incredible. What I particularly liked about it was the lack of distraction, it’s simpler, some things are hidden due to it but others are elevated. I like the extreme it creates.
WIC: There are obvious social messages but in your words, what is the video about, what are you telling the world?
IPJ: Well as I mentioned, it’s very much inspired by Vince’s interview with Pitchfork. He doesn’t record all day every day, only when he has something to say. He wants to live life so that there’s substance to his music. So this is where the idea of him walking through this apocalyptic ghetto comes from, and him then getting on stage to re-tell what he’s seen. It’s also a slight nod to Seinfeld which has the same structure! I have another Seinfeld reference in a different video, but anyways… The human zoo idea is also from his interview. Outside of this, it’s simply displaying this violent world with a privileged family able to look on from the comfort of a gallery, safely behind the glass. Our top down society, the creation of ghettos by the government, militarisation of police, institutionalised racism, religion as a cult that people follow blindly, the objectification of women. The location was also perfect as it is a residential street that’s right next to a massive chemical factory that spews gasses out all day. We were told by the residents that when the colour of the smoke changes they have a number to call. They’ve been evacuated on occasion too, so it kind of encapsulates our current destruction of the planet too though this wasn’t an intention at the start. It’s not that I want to tell something to the world, it’s just a reflection of it, plus a vsualisation of Vince’s outlook on the industry.
WIC: Do you think there are enough social messages within music video if you consider the billions of hits a week?
IPJ: Not at all. I think lots of people are wary of putting social messages in their videos at the worry of it not going down well. It really depends on the artist. I also think some artists just can’t even if they wanted to. So much of it is to do with brand. With this it was such free reign, and I was never asked to hold back anywhere. Corey Smyth, Vince’s manager, played a big part in this too by giving total trust. It was an absolute pleasure to work with them, I felt very free to do as I felt once we had the script signed off.
WIC: The response has been immense, for example the hip-hop heads in Reddit are losing their minds, was the reaction expected?
IPJ: Not really, in part because the video grew and grew during pre-production and on the day. Originally the track was about 2 minutes, really short. Then about 5 days before the shoot I was sent the “master”, luckily I had a listen through it even though I assumed it was simply a better mixed version. I was then shocked when I heard a whole new minute added that had a female vocal. I sweated all the way back to my friend’s house where I was staying, rushing back to see what was going on. But by chance I had this idea of doing the glass effect shots, but wasn’t sure where to put them. So on another listen I could see them all suddenly fitting together beautifully over it. I mentioned getting the actresses to mime some of the vocals, and then got a reply that Snoh Aalegra could come to sing her parts, I didn’t even know it was her till I asked. So that was incredible as I love her music and had actually pitched on her stuff before. So once we were shooting that was when it all really came together, with our incredible art director Paris Pickard going above and beyond, she’s a genius, and I’m not sure how she pulled it off on the budget. I’m rambling but my point is that as much as I could see the video in my mind, it wasn’t really till the shoot that I realised just how strong it was going to be. So once Daniel Bochenski did his beautiful edit on it, I knew it would make some waves.