Last week on a closed Los Angeles set, Drake filmed the video for “Over,” the first single from his much-anticipated debut album Thank Me Later. The Canadian rapper-singer placed his trust in Anthony Mandler (Jay-Z, Rihanna) to direct a pivotal moment in his fledgling career.Rap-Up.com dialed up the man calling the shots to pick his brain about the visuals to the song everyone’s talking about, crafting an iconic image for hip-hop’s breakout star, the most intimidating artist he’s worked with, and how the “Run This Town” director has had enough of the Illuminati innuendos.
How did you and Drake connect?
I’m a big fan of Drake and I was really excited when he called me about doing it, and really put a lot into making it special and capturing what I think is an image he hasn’t had yet. Here’s a guy whose lyrical presence does not equal his visual presence yet, by any means. That’s something that he and I spoke a lot about. He felt strongly that nobody had really captured him, and some of the videos that had been done were less iconic than he would like to be represented as.
What’s your thought process when approaching a video?
In all honesty, I don’t really care what other people have done with somebody. If I did, I would put myself in a lane with other people. To my failure or my success, I always want to do something different, so you look at “Run This Town” or “Russian Roulette,” and it’s always about trying to separate and move the needle over. I’m not saying that he made bad videos, I’m just saying that I wanted to do something different with him. I really like to get on the phone, get in person, really kind of talk it through with the artist, and really try to understand where the song came from, what’s their overall story, who are they, what’s the character, and how does that relate.
What struck you about Drake?
This guy’s story is so fascinating. Here you have a half-black, half-Jewish kid. You got a kid that’s on a really accessible TV show, but in two years he’s the hottest thing in the streets. You got a guy that is living all the fantasies out at every level, but he is also a really humble kid and wants to have a family and live a normal life. He’s a kid who’s conflicted, and one thing he said to me in the first conversation that was so poignant, he referenced that line from “Successful”: “I want the money, cars, and the clothes…” and then he says, “I suppose.” It’s like that self doubt. It’s so refreshing that he’s confident, but he’s not arrogant. I think that dimensionality is so important in a genre that is very one note with words like “bravado” and “swagger” and “arrogance” and “promiscuity.” Here’s a guy that’s finally putting a duality to the words and saying, “Yeah, I have all that and I do all that, but I’m also somebody that’s asking, is that what I should be doing with my life?”
Is there added pressure working with an artist with such great expectations?
More than Jay-Z or Rihanna or Beyoncé or Kanye? No. I feel pressure working with artists because I have their careers in my hand. I feel pressure working with artists because they’re entrusting me with something as important as their image, which in a way is almost as important as the music.
Who’s the most intimidating artist to direct?
There’s nobody more intimidating than Jay-Z. There’s nobody who puts you to it more than Jay, as far as accountability and doing what you say, and creating the video that you say you’re gonna create. He’s the master of getting performance out of people on the other side of the camera. He really demands the best and I love that. The last thing I wanna feel is that an artist cares less than I do.
What can you tell us about the concept for Drake’s “Over” video?
I can tell you that it’s not gonna be what you expect. Drake and I were very conscious about trying to push the limits and trying to push things forward. He came to me because he wanted to throw away the conventions of a medium, and take chances and be daring and take certain themes that are relevant to him and try to visualize them in not the obvious way.
Did he have a lot of input?
We spoke at length about his whole story, about the concept of the record, he played me some other tracks, sent me some images, and I went back and did my own images, and started to craft a treatment and voilà. We kinda just met head on. We work really closely and he has Oliver, who’s his creative director. Oliver is a really smart casemaker and he comes in and lends a third opinion. It was a great collaboration between the three of us. There was very little label influence.
Is it true he wears all white in the video?
Not true. Don’t start going at me with symbolism and Illuminati and all types of stupid shit. Can you imagine what they’d say if I started putting people in all white? I’m already the “satanic, devil-worshiping Illuminati, Jewish kid from L.A.” People are so bored.
When can we expect to see the final product?
Probably within two weeks.