If the domain of music videos were to have a ruling monarch, then it was surely Hype Williams who laid claim to the throne during the late 90s. In the era of flash and booties that followed, the natural heir was Hype’s understudy, Little X. Now, the one rockin’ the crown is Filipino filmmaker Rik Cordero. Creating visuals for the likes of legends such as The Roots and indies including Joell Ortiz, the versatility of his vision has been comprehensive to say the least. GIANT caught up with the director as he shot his latest project and one of his biggest singles yet, “Arab Money,” by the equally prolific Busta Rhymes.
GIANT: What do you make of the “Arab Money” dance?
Rik Cordero: I didn’t really know too much about the dance—I just knew how they invented it on the Tim Westwood show. Then I went on Youtube and I saw instructional videos to really teach you how to do it. It’s funny—it’s a craze. I think Busta has always been known to push the boundaries of creativity and I think this is the first time there is a full-blown dance that he created. He didn’t do it as a gimmick—he was just vibin’ out and it happened. I think it’s dope that a guy who’s been in the game so long is able to generate something fresh and just have fun with it.
GIANT: What is the concept of the video?
RC: The concept is basically Busta and Spliff Star walking through this lost, deserted city, and they come upon a really wealthy prince who lives in this mansion. As soon as they walk in, the prince showers them with gifts and brings them into his world. The prince and all his friends are these wealthy people from somewhere like Dubai.
GIANT: How will the concept come together?
RC: (Pointing to the green screen) There’s a mansion right there (laughs). I’m not known for a lot of effects work, so this is my first official stab at doing something like this. I think it works for what the resources are. We’re not doing it because we’re lazy—this is what we have. For me, it’s not gonna look like something you’ve probably seen before because I’ve never done it (laughs). It’s definitely gonna have a different kind of feel. I think it’s gonna be surprising to a lot of people how we pull this off.
GIANT: How are you staying respectful of the Arabic community?
RC: What we’ve done is really stayed away from any stereotypical Arabic influences. Obviously, there are lyrics that can be taken offensively, but I think in hip-hop, it’s more metaphorical. You’re always making metaphors for things in other cultures. You’re not making fun of it but just identifying it, and that’s what Busta does.
It’s not trying to go over the top with a bunch of people in turbans, trying to offend the Arabic people or Islam. It’s similar to how we approached Nas’s “Be A N***** Too” video. We could have easily just went over the top with it, but it became more than that—it became a visual metaphor of people united. For this, it’s just celebrating how well the Middle Eastern culture is doing in places like Dubai where there’s also a heavy Western influence. And what’s cool is Busta does have ties to the Arab community who support him and know him personally. He’s really respectful of the culture. The guy has met the King and Prince of Saudi Arabia. It’s just cultures coming together. He just made a song identifying—not mocking—the culture. It’s celebrating what some of these guys actually do, like being great businessmen.
GIANT: How have you been able to elevate yourself to the top of the music video game?
RC: I don’t know about that, but give me a couple years. It’s really about being able to contribute something to the culture and being a hip-hop head who really has been inspired by these artists—whether it’s the artists that are coming out now or artists that I grew up on like Nas, Busta, Q-Tip, The Roots, or KRS-One. These are guys that I’ve shot and just been like, “I can’t believe it.” And they know they’re in good hands because it’s more than just a job for me—this is what I do, this is what I think about, this is what I feel. This is more than just a job, so I’m always gonna do more than what’s expected because I really do care about these artists.
When I was a kid, they did so much with their music and made me feel a certain way when I was at home DJing, trying to rock a party, or in the car with a bunch of friends. There’s nothing like that feeling. When you get in the business, you lose that sometimes because it just becomes about work. But whenever you meet these guys, it all comes flowing back to you.
Some of these guys, like Nas, are good friends. He invited me to dinner a couple weeks ago and I met Kelis. He didn’t have to do that—he didn’t want anything from me. I wasn’t like, “Yo, when are we gonna do your next video?” It was just straight up respect. I didn’t say anything the whole time, and I was like. “Yo sorry, I’m not much of a talker.” He said something like “A good man listens before he speaks”—just some real insightful shit. It’s cool because when you respect an artist like that and try to just be real cool individuals, it makes everything worth it. It makes going that extra mile when you don’t have a whole lot of money to work with worth it. And the smart ones know that. They stick with you and do things like take you out to dinner (laughs).