Beneath a highway overpass in Chicago, a black Scion gets pelted with projectiles. Blue dust puffs into the summer air on impact. Standing beyond the haze are Acumental and Term K. Together, the two Chicago rappers are The Palmer Squares. They’re the ones throwing the make-shift dust bombs. But that’s because we told them to.
Below, you’ll find a music video that I’m lucky enough to have written and co-directed.
It was early last year when I first heard ‘Never Had Nothin’, which to me is an ode to underdogs. It’s about embracing the fact that there’s a lot you don’t have. This theme would go on to effect the tone of the video as a whole, and the approach to making the Palmer Squares into these hobo characters that guide our main character toward a happier life.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Palmer Squares, I’d like to direct you toward the last video we did with them,
Pass the Potion. This substance fueled track lead to a video that is a great demonstration of their duality as artists. We’re practically seeing a left and right brain illustrated as the rappers’ personalities (in this case, Term K being the right brain, and Acumental being the left). But not all of their music hinges on their dynamic this explicitly. With Never Had Nothin’, the two personalities want the same thing. They want you to take a cue from their proudly bum-like appearance, shake free the shackles of materialism and chase he life you really want.
The main character is someone who was referred to in the script only as “The Driver”. He’s a victim of settling for less in life, and before his run in with Term K at a gas station, we see his struggle at home. Piles of bills and a feeble relationship lead him to a job picking up weirdos and giving them rides as a Guber driver.
The idea of the main character’s unfulfilling job went through some significant changes. The concept was originally a barista who was watching his life roast away with every cup of joe he slung. Then, he was a construction worker, doing real manual labor but still not making enough of a living. When considering the urban environment we were going to shoot in, and how we wanted to root the story in a specifically modern day scenario, we steered toward a fictional taxi service called Guber. Co-Director Josh Stone decided to utilize his own car as the vehicle that the Squares commandeer. As you can see in the video, smurf-blue dust was hurled liberally at the car, and one scene called for the car to be wrecked and left abandoned. Although we ended up cutting a closer shot of it, sticking weeds and branches in the grill and adding fog around the car parked gently against a pole was particularly satisfying.
For a lot of the scenes where the car is on the move, we had Go Pro cameras set up inside the car. And for a few of the scenes where Justin is picking up passengers, as well as his defiant middle finger drive by at the end (one of my favorite shots we pulled off), I’m actually hunkered down in the back of the car. I had my cell phone on speaker so that when "Action" was called everyone in the car knew when to go. In addition to that, I was directing them on what to do/where to drive/etc. while trying to stay out of sight of the cameras. We found that this was an efficient way to communicate and reset shots in a timely fashion. A lot of the crew including myself also doubled as extras for the various passengers that the Driver picks up.
There was a point on the first day of shooting where we split up into two crews. A smaller group went off with the car to get additional passenger footage. The rest of us were on a loading dock with a jib getting one of two performance set ups that would be featured in the final video. This was the time to focus on the lyrics and capturing the attitude of the song being spit by the Squares themselves. The loading dock, the crashed car area, Term K jumping on the hood, all those locations were in the same underpass area, as well as a lot of the Go Pro passenger shots.
For the other performance under the bridge, we showed up to that location just as the sun was setting. We were drawn to it partly due to it already being decorated with mattresses and old furniture. We brought along a de-strung pink guitar for Ac to pluck around on in some shots.
The song is care-free, and anarchic in the most charmingly dirty way. This shoot felt like it accompanied that tone very fluidly. We were on the streets, under bridges, exploring where homeless folks have dwelled. While those unfortunate people are not equipped with a steady job, that's another side of the coin. You should take pride in what you don't have, because that might just make you realize everything you DO have. With this music video, we couldn't be happier with the final product, and let me take this opportunity to thank everyone involved, and I mean everyone.
And as for us collaborating with the Palmer Squares, there will be more.
We'll be the first to tell you when that day comes.