RESPECT. The Creators Of “Yonkers” Video

It didn’t take long for Tyler, The Creator’s “Yonkers” video to hit a million views. In fact, it is currently sitting at 14 million. In this online exclusive, RESPECT., goes behind the lens and talks to the creators of the critically-acclaimed viral.

Previously: RESPECT. Interview

It was the video that changed everything for Tyler, the Creator; his barfing silhouette is already iconic.  To create ”Yonkers“, Tyler had a little help from his friends, industry folk far too old for an Odd Future membership.  RESPECT. talked to the team behind “Yonkers”: the producer Tara Razavi, the director of photography Luis “Panch” Perez, and Tyler’s “creative godfather” Anthony Mandler.  After the jump, find out what went on behind the scenes — like, did he really eat that bug?

Tyler, and the Creators of Yonkers

Tyler, the Creator gave three days warning; “YONKERS Video Drops Friday. oddfuture.com GOBLIN ; April; 2011” he tweeted on February 7 of this year.  Three days later, as promised, the OFWGKTA YouTube account uploaded the music video that would rocket the young rapper into popular consciousness and solidify his place in hip-hop history.  The brief and shocking clip — three minutes of contorting, hurling, and hanging — was Odd Future’s tipping point, the moment when fame became inevitable.  Coupled with the infamous Jimmy Fallon performance a week later, it was a one-two knockout.

Yet “Yonkers” sticks out from the group’s prior homemade repertoire.  Notorious for his strictly in-house regimen, Tyler had newfound money to his name since signing a deal with XL Recordings after endless negotiations.  His manager, industry vet Chris Clancy, assembled a team of professionals to translate Tyler’s vision to the screen for his big label début.

Clancy put in a call to Anthony Mandler, one of today’s most popular music video directors, who is no stranger to pop culture controversy.  His latest clip is Rihanna’s “Man Down,” which has drawn heavy critique from the Parents Television Council for its depiction of a violated woman who murders her offender in vengeance.  Mandler served as Tyler’s “directing godfather,” guiding him into a “world of possibilities where we have equipment, we have cameras, we have tricks, we have techniques….  It’s just about presenting him with options and putting things in front of him, and then he goes, ‘I like this.  I like that.’”

“He comes to me with six lines….  ‘I’m sitting on a chair rapping, I’m playing with a bug, I eat it, I throw it up, my eyes go black, and I hang myself,’” Mandler says, “That was his treatment.”  In his mind, Tyler had each spectacle timed to the exact moment in the song.  Once everything was in place, he led Mandler, Clancy, and the production team at Happy Place, Inc. down his morbid checklist on a conference call.  “It was really low budget, like it’s probably something we usually wouldn’t touch,” says Tara Razavi, owner of and executive producer for Happy Place, “but I don’t know…  I just learned immediately that Tyler is a creative genius….  Now, he’s new as a director, so as far as the lingo of explaining the shot, or understanding — there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know.”

Other than Wolf Haley, only one name is tagged to the “Yonkers” video on YouTube.  That’s Luis “Panch” Perez, the seasoned director of photography who got his start working under Hype Williams in the early ‘90s.  Tyler is outspoken in his disinterest in old school rap, but Perez spent the golden era working in its “nucleus”: New York City.

As a “hip-hop head…I was like, thank God somebody’s thinking a little bit out the box and giving us something nice,” he says, “Creatively, we came together almost like it was a laser beam sharpness.”

Once on set in downtown Los Angeles, Perez showed Tyler different lenses and lighting techniques until they agreed on a formula.  He suggested the tilt-shift lenses that anxiously throb in and out of focus, aiming for an aesthetic reminiscent of “if Nine Inch Nails and Ol’ Dirty Bastard had a baby.”  “I think the objective was to try to sell a piece that had no gags,” says Mandler, “We didn’t want you to feel like we were cutting at all, we were doing stunts at all, there were effects or no effects.  It was all clever old school filmmaking, and the tilt-shift is a really nice way of making people feel unsettled.”

Then came the cockroach.

“It came in a box with holes in it.  It shows up to set, and he was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do this,” Razavi says, “It took him 30 minutes.  We were like, ‘Why don’t you just go sit with the bug, hang out, get used to the bug, just get comfortable.  And the funny thing is Hodgy [Beats]…just walks in, doesn’t say a word, picks up the bug, puts it on his face…and I was like, This kid is crazy.  And Tyler was jumping around, and finally he got used to it, and it’s hard to make a bug cooperate — so that time, we had to do a few different takes.  Sometimes it would just sit there; sometimes it wouldn’t walk.  Sometimes it walked too fast, and Tyler would be like ‘Oh, shit!’”  The production team, of course, won’t divulge if Tyler actually consumed the creature.  “All I know is when he bit into the roach, he actually gagged.  That’s the take you see,” says Perez.

The shoot was briefer than usual, spanning a few rehearsals, around 15 takes, and 10 hours.  Post-processing work was minimal, says Razavi.  Tyler’s puke was enhanced, and the footage (which was shot in color) was reverted to black and white and colorized.  “Really what you’re looking at is very simple: you’re looking at a 19-year-old kid sitting on a stool rapping to the camera,” says Mandler, “but what we did with the lighting, and what we did with the tilt-shift, and the way the camera moves, and the chaos of him — the whole thing puts you on the end of your seat, and it creates a horror movie without doing much.”

Immediately, the crew knew they had something special.  Perez says, “It was such an interesting moment in my career and in Tyler’s career, period.  Even management was looking around; we were all looking at each other like, I don’t know how this is gonna be received, but everybody was excited, and that was beautiful.  When we started doing some of the technical things that were needed to allow him to puke, to eat a cockroach and hang himself, it never felt like we were doing something silly.  It felt momentous, in the sense of — here’s a guy who had an idea and for the first time in his young life, he was doing something that he knew that was exactly what he wanted….  It was like the genesis of a moment — and I hate to sound über-romantic about it, but that’s how it felt.”

“When we were making it, we turned around and said two things,” says Mandler, “One, this video’s gonna piss a lot of people off.  Two, Kanye West is gonna be jealous as fuck.”  Sure enough, on February 23, Kanye tweeted a link to the video followed by a cogent co-sign: “The video of 2011.”  15 million views later, “Yonkers” is still a contentious conversation piece.  “We can talk about all kinds of ways to intellectualize the piece,” says Perez, “but he himself said it: it’s like, Stop trying to fucking find meaning into it.  I just wanted to fucking do it.

Tyler, the Creator’s co-creators are all but effusive about his artistry, and the team reassembled to shoot the clip for Goblin’s second single, “She.”  “I think he has a really powerfully creative mind and his kind of ADD chaos allows him to not get hung up on things,” says Mandler, “and that sort of rambling style of creating, that free-flowing creation, can be really beautiful, harnessed the right way.”  Yet Razavi admits, “It’s so weird jumping from Odd Future into all these other artists.”  For Perez, “No matter what happens for the rest of my career, I can always look at [“Yonkers”] and say, you know what?  That was a moment where a few people put something together that forever will be ingrained in pop culture.

Though MTV refuses to play “She” without a slew of edits, Tyler is still dreaming of a VMA.  “I had a private conversation with him when we were shooting ‘She’,” says Perez, “and he was talking about concepts he wanted to do the next video with.  And the funniest thing — he kept talking about a talking ostrich.  And I’m like, Dude, we have to do it.  I can’t wait.

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21 Comments
  • The Hater

    “…solidify his place in hip-hop history”. Stop reaching, he still has some things to prove.

  • yo

    ^i mean he kind of did though. even if you’re a one hit wonder you solidify you’re place in hip hop history. i.e. vanilla ice, mc hammer (not really a one hit wonder), etc.

  • yo

    …and the video is undeniably iconic.

  • dms

    You can have things to prove and still solidify a place in history… The Hater…

  • COLD DEATH

    SUBURBAN KIDS, SKATER FAGGOTS AND EMOS! THAT’S ODD FUTURE! THE WEST IS A JOKE NOW!

    NEW YORK WINS AGAIN!

    WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

  • mac DIESEL

    THAT COCKRAOCH SCENE BUGGED ME THE FUCK OUT!!!! DEFINITELY A DIFFERENT KIND OF VIDEO FROM THE NORM!!!! I’LL GIVE ‘EM THAT!!!! BUT I STILL DON’T KNOW WUT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THESE NIGGAS!!!!

    DON’T HATE ON MY OPINION!!!!

  • Scott D

    West Coast is still alive baby!
    http://www.mediafire.com/?96ro72672vd4751

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  • WiscoFinest

    Tyler is the new Diddy to Earl’s Notorious. Great promoter, …..and a rapper too kinda.

    Free Earl

  • http://rapradar.com spliggidy splash

    Uh, Tyler raps a tad better than Diddy ever did. Nice try though.

    Earl is a rap prodigy. That kid is nice.

  • Marko-V

    I cosign. Earl was dope from wat I’ve heard. This video made me pay attention and give dem RESPECT.
    @markomnia

  • JD

    HEY @COLDDEATH.. LET ME CLUE YOU IN ON WHERE THEY “ARE” — THEY JUST PLAYED A SOLD OUT SHOW IN MANCHESTER.. WHICH WAS AFTER SOLD OUT SHOWS IN NORWAY, DENMARK, 2 IN LONDON, PARIS, IRELAND, AND GERMANY.. WHERE U AT?? ALSO THEY HAVE A TV SHOW STARTING IN SEPTEMBER… WHERE U AT? ALSO ABOUT TO LAUNCH A NATIONAL TOUR.. HMM I WONDER HOW THAT WILL SELL??? WILL YOU PAY ATTENTION OR JUST BE IGNORANT? OH YEAH.. THEY GOT WELL OVER A MILLION FOR THEIR OWN LABEL WHICH “THEY” OWN,,,,, OK ONE LAST TIME.. WHERE U AT?
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH KEEP HATING.. IT FUELS THOSE WHO LOVE IT!!! PLS KEEP HATING…
    OH YEAH.. TYLER’S ALREADY WORKED WITH ALL HIS IDOLS.. HE’S 20… WHERE U AT??? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WHAT A JACKASS

  • JD

    OH SHIT.. HEY @COLD DEATH.. HAVE U HEARD OF FRANK OCEAN?? WELL HE’S IN ODD FUTURE AND HAS 2 SONGS ON WATCH THE THRONE, 1 ON BEYONCE’S AND 1 ON JAYS NEXT ALBUM…. OH YEAH AND HE HAS ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED ALBUMS OF THE YEAR… OK 1 LAST TIME FO YO DUMB ASS… WHERE U AT???

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAH DUMBASS

  • Gian

    @colddeath is an idiot.. does he have any idea about the buzz that Frank Ocean has? he’s in odd future– where u at?? ha

  • saywatuwant

    OK so this shit ain’t been done in a Marilyn MANSON or 9 inch nails video when did it stop being cool to act black? This new generation ain’t nuffin but gumps aka fags and weirdos and I’m 28. Soft ass niggas man ppl crying about bullying an shit from words being typed? Try being robbed at knife point or wit a gun on ur way to school cuz ur Hood was beefing wit another and I’m not having no nightmares about that shit cuz sumwhere along the line they got dealt wit these niggas is cold weak out here I swear lmao never wud I have thought from back in the day this is wat rap wud come to

  • crackhead

    ^^ and what if you’re black but have nothing to do with the hood or being robbed?

  • saywatuwant

    u aint gotta be from the hood to have heart its like they say a coward dies a thousand deaths if u show em u aint weak theyll respect u i aint saying im no superthug or nuffin like that but its getting ridiculous if u stand up for urself then theyll think twice about it but how can u get bullied by a couple key strokes when all u gotta do is turn the computer off see wat i saying

  • http://airblog.sneaker-blogs.de/ Brent

    And where is the facebook like link ?

  • Yep

    Whish we had an odd future growing up. Earl is the true star of the group.

  • Yep

    I’m 27 and think Odd Future is refreshing. Can’t jump on the bandwagon though, too old. Just whish we had an Odd Future growing up. Sadly, we had Brittany, Nsync, Nelly, Master P, Ja Rule, Snoop ( yes snoop is lame) and other wack artist :/ Eminem was pretty good, but because he’s a white cracker racist who hates black women, I really wasn’t feeling him like that. This generation of African Americans ( 90’s babies) have more cultural freedoms. It okay for the ghetto black boy to skate, do crazy suburban white boy shit and still be cool. I love it. 90’s babies this is your time. Don’t let any of us old farts tell you anything different. The 80s baby killed hiphop and now the next generation is here to revive it. Man, even todays fashions are more interesting…………..back in the day we had lame ass old Navy and Fubu ( yes you niggas were wearing the hell out of fubu) yuck. The late 90’s and were a fucking waste.

  • Yep

    JD you sound like a dick ridder. Stop it. Anyway, I’m 27 and think Odd Future is refreshing. This generation of music is a hell of a lot better than the crap we listened to in the late 90 and early 2000-2004. Whish we had an odd future growing. I grew up in the south and was subjected to all kinds of nonsense like Master P, 8 Ball and The Hot Boys featuring an underage Lil Wayne. I hated music back then. Oh and don’t get me started on Pop music. Brittany and Nsync made me want to kill myself. RnB singers sounded like dying cats. Creatively it was a terrible time. I can’t tell you how many sleep overs and parties I attended where I was forced to watch Master P movies………..like “Bout It” and “The last Don.” I really admire this generation, as far as Music and Fashion is concerned. Because of the internet, you all have the privaledge of choosing what you want to listen to and not what MTV tells you to listen to.