A Brief History of Cringeworthy Special Effects In Rap Videos Article


Have you ever watched a movie you loved back in the day only to find that the special effects that were employed are so horrifically outdated you can’t even enjoy the movie anymore?

As much as the late '90s and early '00s were a formative period for techniques like CG animation and green screen wizardry, the resulting end products rarely hold up to our spoiled 2017 eyes. These days, the average PS4 game has more believable graphics than half the high-budget blockbusters that ruled the summers my youth.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars as much as the next person, but you can’t tell me you don’t cringe yourself stupid when you see the horrendous CGI “updates” the original three films. Not that claymation and puppets were ever a super believable medium, but you just kind accepted it because that’s all they had back then.

For some reason, that same feeling special effect nostalgia doesn’t hold up when it comes to videos from hip-hop's glory years. While I miss the wildly imaginative videos that came out decades ago, watching Snoop Dogg morph into a Doberman just doesn’t pack the same punch anymore.

So, as both an ode to how dope these videos were when they came out and a loving poke at how absolutely ridiculous they look now, I’ve assembled a brief history hip-hop videos with special effects that do not hold up. Like, at all.

Wu-Tang Clan – “Triumph” ft. Cappadonna

Y’all remember this one? Hooooly shit. The absolutely bat-shit insane video for “Triumph” was directed by Brett Ratner, the man responsible for Rush Hour, so it’s safe to say that top-tier cinematic quality was never the ultimate goal.

Although “Triumph” kicks f with one the most classic verses all time, Inspectah Deck delivers it while sticking to a skyscraper like Spiderman in the most obvious display “he was really just laying down on a green screen” all time.

Also, they REALLY ran with the whole “killer bees” motif on this one. Not only does a swarm bees engulf New York City and randomly manifest into the individual Wu-Tang members, the Clan themselves seem to be living in what I can only describe as a beehive vagina. I’m dead serious.

RZA is walking around a prison with weird-ass butterfly wings, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon had to share the same poorly conceptualized prison-slash-concert scene—the whole thing makes no sense.

Then you have U-God hanging like a bat from a dead tree for no reason. Oh yeah, and EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE. Why? Maybe it’s a visual representation the lyrical fire being spewed, or maybe Wu-Tang just gave Brett Ratner $300,000 and said, “just make the video weird as fuck.”

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – “Tha Crossroads”

OK, I know I’m treading on thin ice here, so I’ll try to keep it respectful. This is one the most beloved songs and videos in hip-hop, and for good reason—as far as the song is concerned—but watching it in 2017 is like seeing the ex you used to be crazy over bumming in sweatpants with Cheetos stains on ‘em. What happened?

The video starts f with a pretty straightforward funeral scene, an apt setting for the song's emotional foundation. However, things start getting weird pretty quickly as a gangster-looking reaper comes to take the soul the deceased.

This was probably totally appropriate back in the day, but this shit looks like a mixture Ghost and that scene in The Sandlot where The Babe comes out Benny Rodriguez's closet, and I don't mean that in a good way.

Again, I don't want to make light the very real circumstances young black men being lost to violence that inspired this song, but the way it's depicted in this video just does not hold up at all. People start disappearing out thin air in what looks like a weird Power Point transition effect, complete with a “whoosh” sound.

Just when things couldn't get any weirder, a fallen homie's face appears in the facade a brick building in a brilliantly terrible display 1996 CGI capabilities.

The video ends with all the souls that the gangsterized angel death collected climbing a gigantic afterlife mountain, complete with Eazy-E's spirit superimposed onto a blue sky. Again, probably totally appropriate in '96, but today this looks like the public access version a video eulogy.

Lauryn Hill – “Everything is Everything”

This is the one video I handpicked for this piece that I would actually love to see remade with today’s technology because the basic premise is fantastic.

Basically, director Sanji treats New York City like a giant vinyl record, with a gigantic needle dragging across the streets the city’s various boroughs. Pretty dope concept, right? What’s not dope was the execution the idea, which again relies heavily on '96 CGI.

Not only does the needle itself look corny as hell, there’s occasionally a gigantic CGI hand that comes down to scratch the “record” and hooooly shit that thing looks like it came directly out Golden Eye '64.

The video is more than legit when the focus is on Lauryn’s performance shots, and even some the shots the needle dragging by barbershops and passerby are well done. It’s when the CGI becomes the focus that you realize just how poorly this video held up.

All said and done, the video isn’t nearly as glaringly goy as some the others on this list, but it is a perfect example a great concept that just wasn’t ready to be pulled f by the technology at that time.

Plus, if you have to watch it several times, say, to write about it, you run the risk getting extremely dizzy.

Busta Rhymes – “What’s It Gonna Be” ft. Janet Jackson

Man, where to start with this one. As with a large majority Hype Williams’ visuals, “What’s It Gonna Be” spends five and a half minutes teetering on the edge between, “that’s the coolest shit I’ve ever seen,” and, “what the fuck was he thinking?”

Let’s start with Busta since he’s the first artist we see. I know platinum was the big thing in 1999, but… no, you know what? I just read the Wikipedia description this shit, and it has to be read for you to understand the visual fuckery that is this video. Enjoy.

Do I even really need to explain this further?

To be fair, just like the Lauryn Hill video, a lot these shots had potential. Janet in the midst the flowing purple whatever-that-is was a dynamic visual, and some the chrome soldier sequences would’ve looked legit had the technology not been an absolute shit show.

But Busta Rhymes as a Terminator sperm? Nah, fam.

Sway & King Tech – “The Anthem” ft. DJ Revolution, RZA, Tech N9ne, Eminem, Xzibit, Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap, Jayo Felony, Chino XL & KRS-One

I personally love both this song and video, but to say that it still holds up visually would be a bold-faced lie.

While I can’t for the life me find the name the video's director, I would imagine whoever it was happened to be in the room with Wu-Tang and Brett Ratner when they came up with the insane treatment for “Triumph.”

The visual style is similar to “Triumph,” with 99% the video being 100% shitty CGI. Again, some these shots would be great with the proper technology behind them. Seeing RZA split into several different versions himself at the hip is fantastic, and even Eminem’s weird-as-shit Parrapa The Rapper-esque part could’ve potentially been saved with some 2017 post-production magic.

The majority the video, however, is so unspeakably corny from a visual perspective that I really don’t know how these artists were able to perform their lines with a straight face knowing the visual fuckery that was waiting at the finish line.

For real, Chino XL rapping inside some sort gelatinous ice cube? C’mon. Literally, the only person that got a decent look in that video is KRS-One, and his scene was just boring by comparison.

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