Hype Williams: The Videos Volume 1
Alongside frequent partner Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, director Hype Williams has come to symbolize the empty flash of an era in which the rap-music video seems to be the sole domain of Cristal-spilling, model-fondling, money-throwing big willies with budgets as big as their egos. Williams' ultra-flashy, highly stylized visual sensibility helped push hip-hop into new realms of excess, but he soon became a victim of his own success, as his innovations morphed into tired clichés. By the end of the '90s, Williams was reduced to churning out limp variations on previous triumphs, while his visually stunning but incomprehensible film debut, Belly, suggested that his Midas touch didn't extend to the big screen. Hype Williams: The Videos Volume 1 collects 10 of Williams' most prominent works, although the glaring absence of seminal clips from Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliott, and 2Pac and Dr. Dre suggests that licensing issues and money played a substantial role in determining what made it onto the disc. Beginning with the low-budget but evocative video for Wu-Tang Clan's "Can It Be All So Simple," Volume 1 traces the director's evolution as rap video's premier visual stylist. On the DVD commentary track, Williams often speaks of adding "size" to rap music, and at his best, he crafts larger-than-life cinematic fantasies that still reflect his artists' personalities. Williams has always favored style above substance, but in his early work, he experimented with color, texture, and editing while still appealing to the medium's populist instincts. As his career developed, however, he seemed to become less interested in pushing the boundaries of the medium than in lovingly depicting the hedonistic player lifestyle he helped popularize. Consequently, celebratory videos like Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin," Ja Rule's "Holla Holla," and Ma$e's "Feel So Good" look like they were fun to make, but aren't particularly fun to watch. In addition to the almost perversely uninformative commentary, in which Williams mainly gushes about his own creative powers, the disc includes a similarly uninteresting interview that looks like it was recorded in one clumsy take. Compiling Williams' videos is a terrific idea, if for no other reason than to document the career arc they capture, but Volume 1's execution leaves much to be desired.