Photo C/O Hype Williams’ IG
For Complex’s Hype Williams Issue, Jay Z chatted with Complex’s Aria Hughes in a rare interview to share personal anecdotes on collaborating with the hip-hop visionary, including the first time they worked together on “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, the rumor that he was supposed to play DMX’s character in Belly, and much more.
Jay Z on his first time working with Hype Williams: “Can’t Knock The Hustle” felt like cinema. We also have to talk about Malik [Haseen Sayeed], the cinematographer Hype worked with. The cinematography was just so beautiful and the way it was shot it just elevated it to another level. We weren’t spending that sort of money then to finish the pyrotechnics. So when the limousine blows up it’s really janky, you know. But the vision and the cinematography was just beautiful and his eye was just different. The combination between Hype and June [Ambrose] elevated our look and feel. I remember people talking about how great a video it was.
Jay Z on the rumor that he was supposed to play DMX’s character in Belly: That’s a rumor. Again, because of how guarded I was, I hated acting. This is why I don’t act, because I would get in my way. I would be thinking, “No, I don’t wanna do something that I ain’t gonna look cool.” But you know, I was young and immature. Or I was young mentally. You know, if you see our own movies, I was in for like 30 seconds and I wasn’t even speaking. I had no idea how Nas did that because I felt like he was in the same place as me. But he did it and he made it work. But I never was meant to be in Belly. I don’t even know where that came from.
Jay Z’s thoughts on Belly: I felt like Hype wasn’t ready for cinema at the time and I felt like he blew a huge opportunity. When someone goes from our space to another space, I’m rooting for them. I want them to kill it because they open the door for all of us, right? I don’t know if he took it seriously enough. I don’t know if he was ready for that moment at that time. And I felt like he was so brilliant and I wanted so much more. I don’t know the behind-the-scenes of it. I don’t know what the budget was. I don’t know if they stripped down his original ideas. But the final product is a hood classic for us. And we loved it.
Jay Z on Hype’s contributions: I would say that Hype could take credit for 50 percent of the success of the music at that time. If not 55 percent. We gave people an audio experience that they imagined in their mind and when he put those visuals to it, it took it to a whole new level. I remember hearing “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” on Hot 97 and thinking this song is crazy. We played it 1,000 times that night. But when I saw the visual, I was like, oh, this is a rock-n-roll record. This is way bigger than a nice club song. This is a cultural moment for us.
Also in the issue Missy Elliott, DJ Khaled, June Ambrose and other key collaborators share stories of Hype Williams’ iconic work. Check out the full feature here !
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