in 2005, stones throw records asked me to make a video for the MED songs ‘push’ and ‘get back.
the goal was not to make indie hipster music bloggers happy or redefine music video – the goal was to make a video that got a relatively unknown MC airplay on BET. for about 1/25th of the budget normally required to pull something like this off.
i got an amazing producer, a 16mm camera, and a minimal lighting and grip package.
how minimal? when we were doing the dolly moves in the alley, i asked the DP to 'boom up’ as we came in close, but then laughed at myself because i realized that our 'dolly’ was in fact a piece of plywood with skate wheels on it.
i also challenged myself by not making a shot list. if i was going to have to do something this low budget, i was going to see how well i could do freestyling.
we shot in two locations, one in highland park and one on hollywood boulevard. as was expected, madlib didn’t show up to set, but we were happily surprised when the semi-reclusive j. dilla did.
it meant a lot to pb wolf and stones throw, it meant a lot to MED, and it definitely meant a lot to me to have my set blessed by jay dee. (i’d met him on a few occasions before but it was usually brief and he was a man of few words around people he didn’t know too well).
i even kept the camera rolling after the music stopped on a few takes because it was obvious that he and MED were having fun together.
the end result was accepted to BET programming but never saw airplay because, despite the huge producers attached to the project (j. dilla and just blaze), MED didn’t have much of a press story and no hot 97 spins. lesson learned.
one completely unexpected outcome of the project was as follows: months later when stones throw art director jeff jank was designing the cover for dilla’s 2006 'donuts,’ he realized that he had no unseen photos of dilla and that dilla’s failing health made taking a new photo impossible. so he asked me if there were any stills from the shoot that might work for a record cover.
i picked about three out and sent them to him, and the rest as they say, is history.
last week, as i was sorting through a box of papers in my library, i found the release dilla signed on the set that day.
having filmed such hip hop legends as biz markie, treach, roxanne shanté, nas, snoop, wyclef, jazzy jeff, and others, i must say that the fact that he actually signed the release (and signed it in his real name) says a lot about his humility. most artists won’t sign a thing without a big check and a lawyer involved.
i remember watching dilla leave that day. i looked to the front of star shoes and saw him leaving. as is the on-set tradition when an actor completes their last scene of a film, i called out 'that’s a set wrap for j. dilla!’ and started clapping. a few people around me joined in.
dilla threw up a peace sign and was out.
ps: i almost forgot. probably the coolest thing that came out of this whole situation was something that egon told me. apparently dilla’s mom said that she thought this photo perfectly captured her son’s spirit.