In the past two weeks, musing over how Jamie Foxx got a puffy-eyed Ron Howard to feature prominently in the music video for his latest Autotune-addled single may have all but replaced mindless chatter about the weather. Directed by Hype Williams, the lure of Foxx's "Blame It (On the Alcohol)," which features verses by T-Pain (Foxx's voice is so tweaked-out that the two are indistinguishable) is easy to pin down. A thread of absurdity runs through several elements: the video busts at the seams with movie star and comedian cameos improbable as Ron Howard's and at first nearly convinces the viewer that it is the trailer to a feature film; the camera gravitates to top-shelf liquor with industrious frequency (rows of Grey Goose, a lone bottle of Stoli, Patr√≥n being poured into an actress's mouth, and a bottle of Nuvo--the "for her" pink sparkling liqueur that T-Pain totes on his shoulder through most of his verse); a gimcrack panda mascot-head finds its way onto the heads of both Pain and Foxx. But as every bit of this weirdness is ostensibly the product of Foxx's Rolodex and budget, anyone familiar with the history of Hype Williams's work--known for bearing Hype's own brushstrokes quite visibly--wonders where and why the director is hiding in "Blame It."
A faux-trailer, the overture for "Blame It" shows a Rolls Royce carrying Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx and Ron Howard--Jake Gyllenhaal is behind the wheel--creeping forward. The men exit the car, and a buxom young lady ushers them to their destination--a decadent red-lit nightclub. The rest of the video unfolds inside this club, with stray shots of celebrities in crowds of nameless video girls and dancers. The last-billed star, Samuel L. Jackson, is shown about four times, always apart from the crowd in the same position: slow-burning clove cigarette clenched between his lips, face flanked by titties.
As the video progresses, with little visual excitement apart from the Where's Waldo effect of trying to spot each of the stars in this redlight-drenched party scene, we get caught up in how Foxx managed to pull such a guestlist of actors, comedians, and one music exec, Quincy Jones--no rappers allowed. Not even the few featured on the remix. The lineup jeeringly claims that, with the clout of an actor Foxx can get anyone--from Ritchie Cunningham to Ashley Banks--on his set. Amusing as Foxx's peacocking is, it leaves no room for his director to leave a mark without completely overwhelming the viewer.
Hype, who listens to a track upwards of 100 times before going to work on a treatment, told iD, "It becomes our song rather than their song while we're working on it." This creative control and emotional attachment has been largely apparent and consistent in his work. With a videography creeping toward 200, which has created most of the iconic images of hip hop from the mid '90s through early aughts, Hype has relied on an incredibly small yet enduring grab bag of conceits. He birthed the party-scene-as-video, the first among these being the Biggie suite, "Warning" and "Big Poppa." He clung to the gratuitous use of fish-eye lens that cemented Missy Elliott's and Busta Rhymes's cartoonish antics in viewers' brains. His videos rang in the shiny-suit era of Puffy and Mase. Most recently Hype popularized a unique take on the widescreen frame, injecting secondary scenes into the otherwise unused top and bottom slivers of the screen. Of course, these tricks were always gimmicky, often clung to for years after having lost their novelty, but they leave the unmistakeable mark of Hype Williams.
For all the glitz of recognizable celebrity and brand-name drinks that we see in "Blame It," the video itself is anonymous. The saturated color is classic Hype--the red light of the party scene does pick up on the red cast of the crowd shots in 1995's "Warning,"--but his heavy handling of the frame, his kiddish distortions and play are all gone. While the chance to see Ron Howard raising a glass of champagne at the behest of T-Pain does not go unappreciated, the video makes a somber statement about the fadeout of that old dogged attachment--the willingness to lord over a project, creating images rather than having them dictated to you--that Hype Williams's music video direction was so known for.
STEPHANIE POTTINGER B'09 believes the hype.