David Knight - 1st Oct 2020

Andre Muir has created an ambitious four-part project to accompany Mensa's latest mixtape, V Tape that focusses upon Mensa's roots on the Southside of Chicago. 

The visual album creates a portrait of Mensa while exploring issues of community in the Southside of Chicago, the Black experience, his African roots and religion. Muir employs a combination of documentary footage, including stills portraiture, with powerfully impressionistic set-pieces, as he tells the story of the place and the people, figuratively over the course of a single day.

Here he explains the process and the thinking behind each part of the Director's Cut of the V Tape visual album.

ANDRE MUIR:

For all four videos, I use 'The Corner' as a pseudo-beacon for the Southside community.

"With this four-part music video, I wanted to create a portrait of the place Vic Mensa grew up: Chicago’s Southside. It was important for me to give Vic a chance to take a step back and return to his roots; highlighting everything that makes him, him.

"For all four videos, I use 'The Corner' as a pseudo-beacon for the Southside community. The videos progress from daytime, being based in reality, to it getting later and later in the day with things becoming more and more surreal.

"In the first video for Machiavelli, each setup takes place on iconic Chicago corners. Utilizing the “corner” as a quasi ‘pillar’ of the community, I wanted to set up the corner as a stage for different historically black institutions of Chicago’s Southside. This includes controversial groups like the Nation of Islam and famous gangs. These groups are definitely problematic, however, I wanted to focus my imagery around them because in their infancy they were beacons for positivity in black communities, especially for black men.

"Yes, they were problematic, however, they were never able to possibly flourish from the negativity like their white counterparts - Carnegie Hall or other similar organizations - [instead] they were targeted and leadership dismantled resulting in the chaos you see today. Larry Hoover had murdered many of his own kind, but it wasn’t until he marched 70,000 black people down to Chicago’s Northside to vote that he was arrested. This idea of not being allowed to flourish, or fly, really resonated with me as a black man and Vic as well where he is in his career.  There’s something romantic to it and I think can also apply to the Southside as well.

"Each corner has its own stage and its own group, and we purposely wanted to give each a militaristic feel to them, almost like a last stand against a society that has made war against them. Stylistically, I wanted to put a heavy emphasis on portraiture, using a photographic aesthetic to emphasize the idea of a portrait of Chicago.

"For most of the community, I wanted to show them smiling and being proud in a part of the city that really doesn’t have too many reasons to. There are so many things wrong with the Southside of Chicago: Lack of investment in infrastructure, education, jobs, etc. Yet they always find a way to smile, which I believe shows the resiliency of the people of the Southside. So I wanted to reinforce this idea of 'smiling despite'.

"In the second video: Bethlehem, I wanted to show pure black joy, in a way where the characters are doing 'black' things that society has kind of deemed as negative, immoral or indecent.

"In the third video: SC Freestyle, I wanted to paint the kind of nightmare that is so often designated to Chicago. I’ve always found it interesting the way black communities integrate slang-terms that are steeped in traumatic history in our everyday use. When you ask a friend what are they up to they’ll go 'Hanging over there, or hanging with a girl, or hanging on the block', etc. Considering black people’s history with lynching and hanging, I’ve found the use of the slang term kind of peculiar, almost as if we’ve internalized this inevitable outcome to a certain kind of lifestyle.

"So in the video, we see people 'hanging out on the block' with nooses around their necks that are never addressed, giving a surrealistic feel. In the video, shots ring out, causing the crowd 'hanging on the block' to scatter, with the men who are 'tied to the block' kind of succumbing to their lifestyle by literally choking out from the nooses around their necks as they try to flee, the more they try to run the more noose around their necks tightens. It was definitely a risky concept and there’s always that chance of being ‘cancelled’, but I’d rather take the risk than not deal with subject matters I find compelling and important.

"With the final video: Rebirth, we wanted to make a nod back to Vic Mensa’s African roots as he’s first-generation Ghanaian. We brought back the African Pallbearers that were featured in the first video so the film would have a full circle feel.

"This time it's more surreal, they are in more traditional Vodun garb and I wanted to kind of flip the perceptions people have on Voodoo, Vodun, Santeria, Obeah, Yoruban traditions, where White-Christianity has kind of painted them as demonic but these religions are really callbacks to African communities’ way of staying connected to their heritage. So in the video, I treat these Pallbearers more like angels coming to take Vic to heaven."

PRO Credits

Credits

DirectorAndre Muir
ProducerManny Caston
ProducerTroy Gueno
1st ADSaró Melero Bonnin
Director of PhotographyNathan Salter
1st ACConor Cunningham
2nd ACKatrina Mulligan
2nd Unit DoPFlynn Drew
SteadicamAustin Vinas
PhotographerAngel Harrold
Additional PhotographyFlynn Drew
GafferMax Skelton
Production designerAlexis Vergara
StylistCJ Aslan
EditorNathan Rodgers
ColouristJulien Biard
Grading companyCarbon Vfx
VFX CompanyCarbon Vfx
Other creditsCasting Director/Associate Producer: Jake Bloom Second Assistant Director: Lua Borges Second Second Assistant Director: Alex Wilson Drone Operator: Chris Morrison Set Dresser & Props: Kaden Maloney Art Production Assistant: Kengi Yang SFX Artist: Erica Martens Key Grip: Jake Joiner Grip/Swing: Nick Emmanuele, Alex Holzman Wardrobe Assistants: Ava Lukens, Kenna Stark, Ceici Reynolds Wardrobe: Donté McGuine VFX Lead: Michael Sarabia Color EP: Laurie Adrianopoli Graphic Designer: Paul Danhauser DIT/Editor Assistant: Sam Kelly Additional VFX: Ben Pakorny Visualizers Colorist: Jennifer Gaida Additional Photo Color Grade: Mace Vannoni Health & Safety Officer: Elizabeth Amdahl Truck/Key PA: Jordan Macy PAs: Bianca Brown, Nodel Dugbo, John White, Tyler Neander, Andrew Duvall, Jacob Bell Special thanks: Savemoney SaveLife / The Colonie / White House Post / Carbon VFX / Pogi Studios / Taco Sublime

David Knight - 1st Oct 2020

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