Jaquell's New Video is Profoundly Nostalgic & A Must-See [Exclusive]
It’s a pretty big year for Jaquell, the Harlem-raised rapper who recently relocated to San Diego. His debut mixtape, NEXT LEVEL, is brimming with bangers including “Sports Car”—premiering here on Milk—which he worked on with NYC-based director Marvin Van Buren, a wunderkind whose debut short film, Solace, premiered at Cannes. We talked to J and Marv about the video, the role of representation in music, and their biggest influences.
When did you start making music?
Jaquell: I was always into music, but I didn’t really start creating music until the end of middle school and high school. I’d be with my friends and we’d skip school every fucking day and just smoke and freestyle all day. When I say every day, I mean every day—I remember I got in trouble once for skipping a whole month, but I got out of it. At one point I was like, damn, I can freestyle well but I gotta learn to write a song. That was when I really sat down and started trying to write. I was about 14.
Who were your biggest influences back then? Have they changed?
J: I guess they’re the same, but I approach inspiration in a different way. Definitely Kanye West, Cash Money, Mannie Fresh. I first started really thinking about music when I was about eight years old; my first favorite song was “Spaceships” off The College Dropout.
It’s interesting how you grew up in New York but not all of your influences are from the area.
J: Yeah, the internet has really influenced my generation’s taste in music; there are no more regional barriers. And through the internet, through Soundcloud, I met a lot of people I collaborate with. I met my current producer through Soundcloud—we only just met in person.
How did you and Marvin meet?
J: Through my good friend Rose, who is really active in the city as a musician and organizer, especially uptown and in the Bronx. Marvin heard the song I did with Rose and reached out to me, so we got to working on the “Sports Car” video.
Marvin Van Buren: We came up with the concept for the video as a 1998 Rough Riders video, with a Cash Money entourage vibe. We combined it with docu-style footage, because that’s the style I work with. The video took a couple days to shoot because we wanted to get a real uptown feel. When we were shooting, the first day, we realized this wouldn’t really visually match a Rough Riders video, so we needed to add something to make it seem not so contrived. My video producer, Connor, who was one of the main producers for my feature film, found some archival footage. We integrated it into the video, and it added this level of analog versus high-definition, retro versus new.
And lyrically, the song has a duality to it, too.
J: Yeah, I talk about both materialistic things—sports cars—and other things that are actually important in life. There’s a balance, but you still want to obtain these materialistic goods.
MVB: What attracted me to J creatively is that a lot of rappers don’t know how to execute wealth as a form of cognitive dissonance. There’s an M5 BMW in the video, but the song is more than that, it’s more contemplative. The entire album is really contemplative and talks about this generation’s aspirational mentality. And “Sports Car,” and hip-hop culture more broadly, speaks to people of color who collectively didn’t have a lot of money until recently. Wealthy people of color in this country are a new phenomenon because of its history of systemic racism. So you see people talk about their ice and stuff because it’s a new facet of our existence—at least in the western world. “Sports Car” can be a radio-friendly hit or a street level banger, but it’s also more than that.
And J, why do you always wear orange?
J: I wanted to tie an image to myself. It’s like a video game character. I like the idea that when people see orange, they’ll think of me. If red is powerful, then orange is ambitious. And it’s an eye-catching color; they use it on traffic cones to be like, I’m here!
My friend Sophie Day, who I did my release party with, told me every photographer will hate me because of the orange. But I’m gonna keep wearing it.
How was your release party?
J: For the party I wanted to do something different. My album is all guys, except for Rose—there aren’t a lot of other female artists I’m involved with. Sophie has a women’s arts collective, and they were all at the party. I wrote out the concept for each song and each artist did an original piece based on the concept for the song, which were presented at the release party at my studio in Williamsburg in July. Some are photographers, some are painters and writers, and we displayed everything. Sophie made booklets with the lyrics to “Sports Car.” Each artist approached my art in their own ways—they showed their perspective and their own expressions of my songs.
Featured image by Milo Selchaif. All other images via Soundcloud and courtesy of Jaquell.
Stay tuned to Milk for more titillating premieres.