SIDE HUSTLE: HIDJI WORLD
Side Hustle is a series investigating the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes lifestyle of what makes creative entrepreneurs successful: hard f*cking work.
Hidji moves around money-painted cardboard boxes to offer me a seat in his warehouse studio space.
One year ago I noticed walls throughout New York City marked with the same painted money. I was unsure of the artist, but enthralled with their existence; public outcry against capitalism. They have since disappeared, but the esoteric marking, AWGEST, can still be spotted on NYC sidewalks.
Around that same time in June 2018, hundreds of kids flooded the streets of Harlem in hopes of entering Playboi Carti’s birthday bash. The warehouse-skatepark-rave, thrown by A$AP Rocky and his cryptic creative agency, AWGE, marked the second time I found myself compelled to learn more about the artists and agency.
My fascination peaked, however, when arriving at ‘TESTING,’ a platform hosted via their Windows 1988-meets-PacMan-meets-anarchist website interface. The nostalgic user experience leads to rule #1 and rave-accentuated videos featuring exclusive content, from parking lot freestyles with Rocky and Lil Uzi Vert to private piano sessions with The Weeknd. Their hyper-stylized music videos for rap music’s current icons deviate from mainstream media with heavy digital glitches and inverted animations. The collision of aesthetics influenced by different genres and subcultures extend into multiple mediums including video, photo, and graphics, to name but a few. Ultimately, by interlacing and combining the abilities of artists, both musical and visual, AWGE communicates one vision, mindset, and movement.
AWGE’s work, which is characterized by fast-paced cuts, neon overlays, and RGB extractions, reflects the carefully calculated vision of multimedia master, Hidji. Standing as the agency’s leading director, editor, and visual artist, Hidji’s career trajectory originated with humble, relentless hustle. After a short-lived stint at Hardee’s and some ship work in Virginia, he rejected the authority of a conventional job in favor of the uncharted territory of pursuing his craft. The foundation of his film education: rap and hip-hop’s recap video club culture.
Hidji is endearingly oblivious to his own talent. He specifically attributes his success to hustling and manifesting. “Back in the day, we used to sleep on the top floor of this warehouse,” he explains. The initial aesthetic seeded in Hidji’s small, ‘back in the day’ recap videos now drive the forefront of video work for many artists, including Lil Yachty, A Boogie, Famous Dex and A$AP. Although Hidji modestly insists he is still waiting for his turn, his perseverance is driven by providing for his family and daughter. Above all, he quietly clarifies, “I’m just happy to be here.”
What was your first job?
I worked at this place called Hardee’s for two days. I quit because it was weird– people telling me what to do. It was bad.
At what point did you realize you didn’t want to do a 9 to 5 and you wanted to pursue a creative path?
Then. Or when I was 15, 16. Hardee’s was the only real 9 to 5 I had.
You direct, but you also paint. How did you get into these different types of artistic mediums?
I always wanted to be a director since I was a kid. My dad was always watching movies. When people started telling me what to do with videos, I quit and started painting. But now I’m coming back to directing.
What were your favorite videos growing up?
I remember seeing the Busta Rhymes video, Gimme Some More, in second grade. I would go over to my cousin’s house and watch it. He had it on VHS…I don’t know why he had it on VHS! As I got older, I looked to Ludacris videos. Those were so crazy growing up.
When did you decide to be a serious director and commit to a more difficult pathway than being complacent within society?
About 5 years ago. I used to work on ships in Virginia, but I quit that. I gave up everything and thought, I am going to do this. We were selling drugs to survive, but not like– we were just making enough to survive. You don’t need that much to survive.
I just gave up everything and came downtown, just started shooting. We were broke, but I kept shooting…editing on trains, editing everywhere. I saw it, it was there. You just gotta keep doing it.
What were some of the sacrifices you had to make when you first started making videos?
Not seeing my daughter. That’s it. We weren’t eating, but fuck it. Just not seeing my daughter. I think people are doing all this fun shit, but wake up when they’re like 49 and realize, ‘shit I didn’t do nothing.’ I was lucky I realized at a young age.
My daughter’s good though! She likes my videos, she’s a fan. She’s 7 and she thinks she’s famous!
What are the sacrifices you feel like you’re making now?
Myself. Trying to figure out who I am. Every day…What were we talking about?
Dntwatchtv: Sacrifice having fun right now to put the work in and focus.
We talk about work every day, 24/7, like a machine. You can forget who you are and get psyched out when you’re clocked all the way in. When you get too far into the machine, it’ll fuck you up. After you get stuck in that machine, it’s about taking a break. Then you party and realize, ‘fuck I don’t wanna be here no more.’ I don’t know, but I don’t care anymore. I’m just trying to make sure my family is good. My family sacrificed a lot so I want to work for them. I’m happy to be alive and where I’m at.
What side hustles and other work were you doing in the beginning?
Manifesting, daydreaming. Trying to figure out and seeing it. After this interview, I’m not doing any more interviews. I want the work to speak for itself. My friends inspire me because we’re all doing it.
Were you ever afraid of failing?
I try to outdo the work. I’m afraid of not working enough. I can’t fail. I’ve got no choice, but to keep going, but it always works out. I know that failure is the opposite of something, but I don’t know what that is. What are we doing here? Get to work!
What has been one of the most difficult aspects for you as a creative?
The hardest thing is not getting my vision out how I wanted. I have to keep practicing on that. Working with other creative people, it’s like a mindfuck. They let you work, but then they tell you not to do your work! It’s a learning experience.
It’s easy getting out of my ego, me and my pride. I didn’t go to school. I learned out there, on the streets, to get to where I’m at. I’m “unorthodox.” It’s good to listen with your eyes and your ears. You just have to wait your turn. Other than that, everything is good so far!
What were some of the first pieces you were making?
A lot of recaps outside. We were doing everything and anything! If you scroll all the way down on my Instagram, you can see it. My first dope video, I was doing recaps, was OG Maco. That was dope and led to a lot of shit.
In the beginning, I was asking people how to take photos and they didn’t want to teach me! I don’t copy, I was just asking. So I just took my camera and started taking photos– now the people I was asking are asking me. And I’m like what are you talking about? I was just asking you!
You just got to do it yourself. If you want to do something, you just gotta do it. People that go to school and say, “I hate school,” are taking the wrong class. If you take the right class, you’ll be sitting in front. Just keep working– I forgot the question, but keep working!
What was the first creative video that you did? Did you get to pitch the video?
It was for my man, DP, Flight Risk. We shot that shit in the crib. But, my first big production video was Magnolia for Playboi Carti. Even though that dude showed up late as fuck, I got about a good 75% of what I wanted to do in there. And then working with Flacko, you got to have your shit together. He gives a lot of opportunities– too much opportunity.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on this interview for Milk! See music right now… there are new artists coming out so fast. I’m more of a relationship person. I know these rappers and we shoot and clash, but we’re friends.
But, this summer we are doing events and shows, the first one was in April. It was crazy! Everybody was there. The next one is in July, and then in August, we are throwing a BBQ. We’re doing more events where people can come together.
Can you talk about your creative process with your paintings? I noticed you have a lot of commentary on Capitalism, especially with money.
I do. I don’t watch a lot of shit, but my friends and I, we talk about whatever is happening. I make pieces about the issues I can relate to that.
Dntwatchtv: His style is really spiritual and flowing. He’s used to the director flow– it’s layers of emotion. You can see how the words are the final touch to the meaning behind it. It’s a lot of expression and raw thought.
What has been one of the most rewarding aspects of following a creative path?
First of all, just having a career. Coming from where we came from, just having a place to call ‘house.’ And I would say for my daughter. It’s her knowing I did these videos and being able to Facetime any rapper she wants!
We forget, we work so hard– it’s not even to get famous. We don’t see that shit because we’re focused on the next project. When we sit down and think about what we’re working on, it’s like ‘oh my god.’ It’s rewarding being alive and able to do what I’m doing.
Everythings rewarding! This interview is rewarding. Just being able to do what I’m doing for other people. Hopefully, kids will understand that you don’t got to be ‘this’ or ‘that.’ That’s what we do it for: other people. Just being able to inspire somebody.
What would you tell other people who wanted to pursue a career like yours?
Don’t stop what you’re doing. It’s good to daydream, but just do it. The harder it gets it’s because you’re going somewhere and nobody else is doing it. Like going to sleep at 8pm while everybody’s out. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s only going to get harder because it’s not comfortable. Even if you’re doing the completely wrong thing, you’re on to something and you’ll learn to do what’s right. Everything comes back. That fast life? It’s fucking everybody up right now.
Fast things happen that fuck peoples heads up. They forget the three year rule. You have to be in your craft for three years, before you can get to that next place. You got to trust the process. What we do right now is not for today, it’s for next week. Whatever we did last week are the results for today– that’s why you’re here! Just keep working, believe in yourself because nobody else is going to believe in you.
How many drafts of a treatment do you usually go through?
If I’m really going to write one, it’s a process. You can either make something flashy or you can change the world. I know what video means to a person like me growing up… I want to have that same impact. It’s tricky. Everybody wants to chase the dopest rapper, but the dopest videos are well thought out. I am trying to work on that aspect– proper organization.
Do you have any favorite directors right now?
I always liked Kid Art, but I like my homies. I like seeing Dexter Navy, always seeing the dope shit up his sleeve. He writes his treatments for like three years though! Dexter, YGA, us– AWGE. Other than that, everybody else is competition! I mean I compete with my friends, but we’re family.
What do you hope to be working on in 5 years? Or where do you hope to be?
I can’t even tell you what I’m doing next week… If you asked me five years ago what I would be doing, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be painting. So I might be a rapper! But, I don’t know. Hopefully alive and healthy and still in the race. We’re going to be working and doing the same shit. Better everything. Hopefully, the struggles ain’t that hard. Hopefully, I won’t forget these steps. I’m just happy to be here.
Art Director: Gabriella Plotkin
Designer: Lauren Gorsky
Photographer: Joseph Rayo
Stay tuned for Milk for more Side Hustles