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Exploring the Aesthetics: How Hype Williams Revolutionized Music Video Artistry

Updated: Apr 27

Is…she…wearing a trash bag? That’s the thought that crossed most people’s minds upon watching “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” for the first time. That was definitely on my mind. That wasn't the first time I had seen a Hype Williams video, but it was the first time I knew a music video director’s name.

"Woo Hah" - Original Artwork by Kiara Chanel

Williams says that the art in comic books, especially Marvel, influenced him. He cites comic illustrator Jack Kirby as one of his biggest influences. Once he realized that he had artistic talent, Hype began making graffiti. His love of visual art evolved into a love of film, which led him to enroll in film school at Adelphi University. Hype's college career was short-lived. In 1993, he dropped out and founded his production company, Big Dog Films.

"Jack Kirby single-handedly designed my brain...Jack Kirby used angles and expression in a way that brought him into the history of fine artists. Jack Kirby visualized the stories using colors that go past graffiti. He used colors that go past Basquiat and Rembrandt."

-Hype Williams (Complex)

Hype is responsible for many iconic moments in my youth. It's hard for me to overstate his importance to me as an artist. I can still remember the first time I saw Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson liquify. Or that slow-motion high kick in the "Doin' It" video. Or Mary J Blige in that silver jacket. Bad Boy and the shiny suits? The entire "Flava In Ya Ear Remix" video?! Music videos have always been a potent marketing tool, but Hype made them into something more. He made them ART.

Music videos are an interesting medium. Labels fund them because they have marketing value. But music videos are an integral part of an artist's creative vision. Hype could interpret these ideas and help create cohesive and iconic visuals. His artistry helped to inspire countless Black Gen Xers and Millennials.

“I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see in videos. There was no color, no originality. Record companies assumed that the people who bought rap records didn’t need to see quality, so nobody was putting in the effort or the money.”

-Hype Williams (New York Times)

Over time, music videos have become less ubiquitous. Hype has taken his artistic skills in different directions. It is a travesty that he’s only made one film, but it doesn’t sound like filmmaking is an experience he’d like to revisit. Even if Hype never steps behind the camera again, I’m more than happy to revel in his previous work. I compiled a list of Hype Williams’ most visually inspiring videos. Here they are in no particular order:

"Ex Girlfriend", No Doubt (2000)


"Be Happy", Mary J Blige (1994)

Hype was a big reason silver and metallics became huge trends in the 90s. This video was full of simple visuals, but each was striking. The cool tones put a refreshing spin on the usual black-and-white visuals.

I loved the mountain shots, but I always wondered how Hype got Mary up there. The shot compositions and variations in depth of field and color keep the viewer engaged. It also kept my attention because I was in love with that silver jacket.

Visual Highlight: The jacket, obviously.


“Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)”, Craig Mack featuring Notorious B.I.G., Rampage, LL Cool J, and Busta Rhymes (1994)

According to Hype, he didn’t have much of a budget to make this video. He still figured out a way to stretch what he had into something iconic. On paper, a black-and-white video shot with a blank background sounds incredibly boring; the result is anything but. Hype says he took inspiration from photographers like Matthew Rolston and Albert Watson, each renowned for their black-and-white photography. This video combines slow motion, flash photography, and classic 90s rap hands. Hype was able to distill a couture feeling while maintaining the edge necessary to sell the video.

Visual Highlight: Busta Rhymes is a force. He steals the show despite the producer being all in the video...dancing.


"Rock the Boat", Aaliyah (2001)

In 2001, Aaliyah was poised to go mainstream in a big way and this video was a huge step in that direction. Sadly, tragedy cut her career short and this video turned into a beautiful tribute. After years of being the gorgeous, cool tomboy, Aaliyah had blossomed into a stunning, refined young woman. This video accentuated Aaliyah's femininity and relatability.

While the video wasn't meant to be a "fashion video," a lot of attention was paid to the wardrobe. Each look was meant to be something that any teen could put together without the assistance of a stylist. The only elaborate look was the dress she wore for the underwater scenes. Hype wanted her to look like she was flying. The video ended with her floating, ascending into the light. It was a lovely way to close out Aaliyah's final video.

Visual Highlight: The underwater scenes.


"Sock It 2 Me", Missy Elliott featuring Da Brat (1997)

When Hype and Missy get together, it's always special. Missy contributed half of the $900,000 budget to this video. She hoped that the hefty price tag might deter anyone planning to copy her, or at least make them work for it. “If people gonna copy me this time, they gonna have to come out of their pockets".

Though the song is sexual, in nature, the video is pure escapism. Taking inspiration from Mega Man, the video showcases Missy, Lil Kim, and Da Brat on an adventure on a faraway planet. Timbaland even makes an appearance as someone who resembles Doctor Wily.

Visual Highlight: Missy and her dancers in the red camouflage doing the "Smooth Criminal" lean.


"Doin' It", LL Cool J (1996)

Mr. Smith is the album on which LL entered his sexy era. The singles from this album were "Hey Lover," "Loungin'," and "Doin' It,” each a different kind of sexy. "Doin' It” was raunchy and had the potential to spawn a very racy video. With Hype at the helm, the video kept a suggestive edge without going over the top.

Hype took his inspiration for this video from Pulp Fiction. He kept the sexy but also dialed up the surrealism. Most of the scenes where LL is engaged with women are shot tongue-in-cheek, keeping the vibe fun.

Visual Highlight: The silver dancers.


"What's It Gonna Be?", Busta Rhymes featuring Janet Jackson (1999)

Busta is another artist with whom Hype has a unique creative connection. In less capable hands, this video could have been pornographic. Instead, it's sexy with a bit of innuendo that I didn't catch as a child watching BET.

The video cost $2.4 million in 1999 ($4.5M in 2024 dollars). Considering that 25 years have passed since its premiere, the special effects hold up. Ms. Jackson's styling remains gorgeous and risqué after all this time.

Visual Highlight: Miss Jackson.


"She's a B***h", Missy Elliott (1999)

Missy was never concerned with being the object of sexual desire. Creativity took the front seat in all of her endeavors. As she became more successful, she saw herself needing to be more assertive and she accepted the resistance as a badge of honor.

“Music is a male-dominated field. Women are not always taken as seriously as we should be, so sometimes we have to put our foot down. To other people that may come across as being a bitch, but it’s just knowing what we want and being confident".

-Missy Elliott (Interview Magazine)

Hype loves a black-and-white motif, but the lack of color in this video is ominous. His love of Marvel is on full display here; the styling is a lot like Venom. Missy spends most of this video reveling as a diamond-encrusted, bald-headed scallywag. About halfway through the video, she emerges menacingly from the black water with an army of latex-clad dancers. They are covered from head to toe in black, including their bald heads.

Visual Highlight: Missy's bald head with the diamond-encrusted sunglasses.


"Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See", Busta Rhymes (1997)

You can tell Hype gets to let loose and have fun when he makes videos with Busta. According to Busta, he came up with the concept for the video while the song was being mixed in the studio. Coming to America was playing on mute, and the visuals aligned with the music.

The visuals go beyond a simple recreation of the movie. Hype's signature fisheye, opulent costumes, and colorful body paint help to heighten the drama. Busta is also a pro at playing to the camera. You can still feel his energy in the frame if you pause the video.

Visual Highlight: Busta in the neon body paint.


"The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)", Missy Elliott (1997)

This one is obvious. It is one of those videos that just stands out. We didn't often see women who looked like her in videos, and we never saw videos like this. Missy told Hype that she wanted every line that she said in the song to end up in the video, and he obliged.

“I was having fun when doing the videos. I never even thought, Let me try to do the most outlandish thing. That never crossed my mind, ever. It just spoke to who I was in school. For me to put on something to make me look even bigger than what I was, that was not the typical thing. Everything was kind of like a look back then. But, like I said, nothing is too outlandish for me.”

-Missy Elliott (Essence Magazine)


Honorable Mentions

“Silly”, Taral Hicks (1999)

Yes, that’s Keisha from Belly. This isn’t one of my favorite videos, but I am in love with the way that Taral Hicks looks in it. Taral Hicks is absolutely gorgeous, and her skin is flawless. Hype doesn’t have to do much to make her look good, but the way that he lights her skin enhances her beauty.

Visual Highlight: A full twenty years before “Euphoria” made glitter tears a global trend, Taral was crying sparkles. (Taral is so ethereal that you won’t convince me that she doesn’t actually cry tears of stardust.)

“Hey Lover”, LL Cool J featuring Boyz II Men (1995)

I have always liked this video, but thanks to adulthood and social media, I’ve laughed at how genuinely out of pocket this song is. Hype is able to capture a lot of the creepiness (still unsure if that was intentional). There are a lot of shots of LL in the shadows, skulking around his victi—crush’s general vicinity, but it all shot so beautifully.

Visual Highlight: The video's live interest (Gillian White) waiting at the bus stop.

“Quiet Storm (Remix)”, Mobb Deep featuring Lil’ Kim (1999)

As soon as I hear this song, I see Lil Kim standing on the bar. I love the red lighting with a touch of blue for contrast. Hype’s main clients are rappers, so there will be scantily clad women dancing. Somehow, it never feels especially gratuitous in Hype’s videos...unless it's intentional.

Visual Highlight: Any scene with Kimberly Jones in it.

What Hype Williams video inspires you most?

  • "Ex-Girlfriend"

  • "Be Happy"

  • "Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)"

  • "Rock the Boat"


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