Hip Hop and Music Videos: A Love Story

NOV 8, 2017

Personally, I find hip hop/rap artists produce some of the best music videos in the music industry. They also tend to be fairly progressive from a filmmaking perspective, especially in their use of post-production techniques. Here, I have chosen a few of my favorite videos with interesting visual elements and attempted to recreate their effects with some of our own footage. These are all techniques that I think, from a filmmaking perspective and within a certain context, could be used to add interesting visual elements to a video.

Masking in Magnolia-PlayBoi Carti/Hidji Films

The masking effect is used multiple times in the video as a transition between separate cuts but it also creates an interesting, collage-like visual effect on its own. This was done with the subjects, masked out of their original shots, overlaid onto a second shot. The masked overlay runs for about 1 second before the original shot is cut to with the subject as they are in the frame. This can be seen in the video, as the outlines of the masks are not drawn perfectly, and the background from the masked shot can be seen around the subject, such as in this screenshot here.

I chose to use Adobe After Effects for this process, although this can be produced in Premiere as well. To reproduce this look, I used a clip of a basketball going into a net, overlaid onto a shot of the Toronto skyline. The net was manually masked out using the pen tool, since it does not move in its original shot. However, to mask the motion of the basketball I used a difference matte, a tool often used to separate dynamic objects from static backgrounds. This worked as an automated alternative to manually masking the ball in each frame and, with some minor refinement, looked pretty clean when I overlayed the masked layers.


Flashing Color Key in Feels-Calvin Harris/Emil Nava

Although this isn’t technically considered a hip hop/rap song, it features both Pharrell and Big Sean so I’m going to give it a go-ahead. The use of color keying can be found all over this video. This technique is very similar to ones used in conjunction with green screens on a film set but on a less intensive scale, as trying to match lighting is less of a concern here. It is most notably seen on the water in the pond and the foliage behind Big Sean, as the blues and greens are replaced by various colors.

Working with this in Premiere was much simpler than I initially expected. Reproducing this look featured the use of a color key and a color balance on two identical layers. Simply put, the color key work by selecting all pixels of a particular color for manipulation. Using a clip shot at a beach this past summer, I keyed out the grass along the beach in the first layer. I used the color balance effect in a separate identical layer to create an overlay that would rotate between different hues over the whole shot. When stacked on top of each other, the changing colors are only shown on the grass which was initially keyed out. This gives only the grass the color changing effect seen here.

beach vid_1beach vid_1

Datamoshing in Yamborghini High- A$AP Mob/Shomi Patwary

Perhaps the most visually intriguing and simultaneously disturbing of all 3 effects, this video features a technique known as datamoshing. Before discussing the process itself, I need to quickly explain the difference between I-frames and P-frames. I-frames are stills within the video, capturing the scene as if it were simply a picture. As changes occur within the scene, such as a moving object and slight camera movement, P-frames are introduced; these are similar in composition to the initial I-frame, but only pixels that are different from the I-frame actually change. Anytime a new scene is introduced, so is a new I-frame. Because P-frames are much smaller in size than I-frames, the overall size of a video file can be much smaller as well, helping to decrease render and processing times.


This effect is seen anywhere in the video where there is pixel lag and discoloration between shots. This type of datamosh is known as I-frame destruction. It works by removing I-frames from the video, causing P-frames from one scene to mosh with those from the next. This usually results in individual pixels with coloring from the first scene carrying over with the movement of the next scene. There are other forms of datamoshing like P-frame replication that are used sparingly in the video, but I chose to focus on I-frame destruction.


I first needed to put together a sequence of clips to datamosh, which I did in Premiere. Reproducing the datamoshing effect, however, required the use of Avidemux 2.5.6, a free video editing software. This particular software produces the best datamoshing result, as it allows users to detect and manipulate individual I and P-frames from the video timeline. Once I brought my sequence into Avidemux, I simply went through the video and deleted all of the I-frames. After my first attempt, I did notice that the order and types of shots affected how the datamosh would look; cuts between clips with no motion to clips with lots of foreground motion produced the best effect. After I reordered and tried the datamosh a second time, the result was much closer to the effect seen in the original video. I should also note that the footage used here was shot in 4K, as the smaller pixel size helped produced a cleaner datamosh.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting look into the use of effects that produced an array of aesthetically interesting visuals. Although they may not fit into some or even most videos, I am very interested to see where I will be able to use some these in later projects. In case you’re looking to try some of these yourself, I have included some linked below to provide some more information on all of these techniques.


Colour Key