Music Videos Changing the Game:
Behind the Scenes of “Angel Dust.”
Interview with artist Hasan Salaam,director Mark Carranceja, and actress and model Ameena Dove
Interview by Rebecca McDonald of B FRESH Photography and Media
“…one of the main issues confronting our youth is teen pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS. The number of people infected is on the rise, so it is important we get the word out…we have to continue to reinforce protection and testing.” -Hasan Salaam
The underground Hip Hop video genre has been quite disappointing lately- forgettable, in fact. Now that video equiptment is affordable, and rappers have aspirations of becoming actors, everyone and their mamas think they can shoot a quality video. No more is the Myspace rapper–now you must watch out for the YouTube rappers. But think again. It takes true passion, innovative thinking, technical skill and a dope team to pull off a quality production that will leave you wanting more, and waiting for the next video to drop.
Since their collabo-cameo on the scene with “15 Minutes,” people have quietly waited to see what they would come up with next. They brought it to the next level with “Angel Dust” off of Hasan Salaam’s album, Children of God. Think Cops meets Quentin Tarantino meets Wong Kar Wai.
“Angel Dust” is a voyeuristic tale of survival. The fusion of Salaam’s lyrical prowess and Noisemaker’s edgy technical vision create the dark and mysterious world of Angel, dominated by red hot passion and gripping pain. The team pulls viewers into a world of real life consequence in less than six minutes.
On Saturday, January 23, 2010, the “Angel Dust” world premier will be held in Brooklyn, NY at Public Assembly(Facebook RSVP: http://bit.ly/7ysnZ5). The party will double as an HIV/AIDS awareness concert, for Hasan Salaam’s intention is that “…one of the main issues confronting our youth is teen pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS. The number of people infected is on the rise, so it is important we get the word out…we have to continue to reinforce protection and testing.” The team is working with LIFEbeat on this event, and it is a moment not to miss in the history of the underground Hip Hop music video genre.
I sat down with the three powerhouses this week to give you a glimpse into the world of “Angel Dust.”
B FRESH: Describe “Angel Dust” for those readers who are not familiar with the song.
Hasan Salaam: “Angel Dust” is a collaboration between me and Lord Jamar on my second album, Children of God. It was a story I had been wanting to tell for a minute. Jamar let me hear the track and what I had written already fit perfect and the rest of it just flowed.
BF: Brand Nubain’s Lord Jamar produced the track, and also sings the hook. How did you two link up?
HS: We linked at a show in Richmond VA a couple years back.
BF: Since “Angel Dust” is based on a true story, can you describe the unique experience and challenges of rapping about topics such as stripping, prostitution and HIV/AIDS in a substantial and meaningful way– a way that is frequently void in Hip Hop, even among conscious rappers.
HS: Everything is true except the part about her having AIDS, which I wrote as a precaution. We have not spoken in years. I was with her through all of this. We used to be on the hustle together, so her story, in some ways, was mine as well. I was there for the drugs, the hustle–we were supposed to start a business together and make flicks but we chose different paths, I wound up making music she went out to Cali to pursue the dream of making it in the sex industry.
BF: You state that “Angel Dust” is about “…outlining the painful story of a stripper who is destroyed inside a web of her own escapisms.” The video illustrates a very fine line between stripping and prostitution in the world of Angel. What does her world look like?
HS: Her world is just that, escaping her past of abuse with the idea that if she controls the sex, she can control the men. The stripping was just a way to meet clients. She chased the money ‘cuz she felt the money vindicated her troubles, almost like it was medicine for the pain, not realizing that the pursuit of that caused her more pain due to what she was doing to get the money.
BF: When did you first decide to do a video for this song?
HS: Right after we recorded it. My engineer Mike Marvel was like “Yo! You gotta shoot a video for this one!”
BF: How did you and Mark Carranceja of Noisemaker Media link?
HS: We first started building on the set of the video for “Broke and Proud” w/ Rugged N Raw off his Truth Serum album. I was impressed with Mark’s work from the filming, to the editing, to the final product. After that, we shot the video for “15 Minutes.”
B FRESH: When Hasan came to you about this video, what was your first reaction?
Mark Carranceja: Hasan approached me with “Angel Dust” right after we shot “15 Minutes.” I felt honored to work with Hasan again, considering that there are other music video directors that were probably barking in his ear at the time. After my work on “15 Minutes,” I knew that he trusted me with my vision and believed in my skill as a visual artist, and I knew that Angel Dust was more than just another video. This is the first video that allowed me to visualize a world within a world.
BF: What technical challenges in filming the video did you face? How did you resolve them?
MC: Finding the perspective of the story was definitely a challenge that I needed to overcome when I started filming. I wasn’t sure if I should’ve told this story from Angel’s perspective, from Hasan’s point of view, or from a third person. I shot from all three perspectives and I kept finding myself going back to a voyeurist’s point of view. It felt comfortable and it allowed me to film loosely, meaning that I would shoot without a treatment and without the hassles of shooting in a coverage-based fashion. I took some cues from Wong Kar Wai and Lars Von Triers’ technical approach to filmmaking– I allowed for actors to explore improvisation instead of having some set direction that they needed to follow as if the actors were trained circus animals. [Laughs] Overall, Angel Dust is largely built on improvisionational technique. It was imperative that I established a narrative perspective because it sets the tone and cadence for how the story is told.
BF: The glamorous and dark sides of this lifestyle are touched on in a span of about six minutes. Describe the directing and editing process.
MC: As a filmmaker/music video director, I prefer to shoot for the editing room, meaning shoot as much as I can on set so I have options to play with. Allowing myself to film loosely and giving the actors room for improvisation gave me the opportunity to shoot as many takes as I wanted to. I already have a reputation for being a perfectionist, so having more control over what I wanted to see seemed like a dream come true for me, and a nightmare for the actors I worked with. Filming loosely also kept true to the voyeuristic nature of the narrative, as it allowed me to use the lens of the camera as an eye looking through a peephole of a world corrupted by sin, indulgence and debauchery. My approach to editing this music video was done in a non-linear fashion. Since the video is heavily driven by the narrative, a non-traditional approach to editing a music video had to be taken. I was forced to edit this video in the middle, at the most integral part of the story. From there, I worked my way outwards and started filling in the blanks.
BF: What was it like working with Ameena Dove, who plays Angel?
MC: This is my second go around working with Ameena Dove. She, too, is a perfectionist and I enjoy working with an intensely passionate individual like herself. She always came prepared on set and showed that she was emotionally invested in the character from the first to the last take. I look forward to working with her on a future project sometime this year.
BF: What was it like playing Angel Dust? What did you need to do in preparation for the role?
Ameena Dove: Playing this character was challenging at times because Angel lives in a secret world that is taboo to speak of, much less live in. The research to prepare for the role wasn’t easy to find. I wanted info on the hard core lifestyle, so I watched quite a few documentaries, read plenty of articles, walked the strip and of course picked Hasan’s brain to find out what she was really like. I loved playing the character because she has so many elements: She’s strong, sexy, yet weak and vulnerable.
BF: Have you worked on other films or videos and how does this experience compare?
AD: I played an exotic dancer in a short film called Calamity, but it was a very brief part and much different. The other roles (besides these 2) were PG-13. Angel was different and pure due to all her characteristics.
BF: What is your investment in this video?
AD: Well, it’s my first feature film, so hopefully if film makers/directors enjoy it, I’ll receive more leading roles. I’m happy, of course, to have worked with Hasan & Mark again– they’re family so they make it feel like it’s not just work. [Laughs]. And considering the premiere is helping to aid in HIV/AIDS awareness? I couldn’t ask for more!
BF: There is a point in the video where you are crying. Talk about the emotions and process of bringing to life issues that Angel faces, and how you address them.
AD: [Laughs]. Crying was interesting! I played Nina Simone’s “Spell On You” over and over and thought of something completely different to get the tears flowing. When I heard “ACTION!” Angel took over me. It was an outer body experience… It felt amazing.
BF: What was the feeling on set while shooting “Angel Dust?”
HS: It was blessed. Everybody was focused and sincere with their performances. Nina, who played young Angel was amazing! Her first time on screen and she was the most professional one there. It wasn’t your steryotypical video set despite the wardrobe and subject matter– everyone was respectful and understood the message.
MC: As a director, I was focused on getting what I needed to get done, so I am usually numb to any extraneous pressure that occurs on set. I was fortunate enough to work with like-minded individuals who believed in the greater good of the project.
AD: It was shot in many different locations but over all–it was a little of everything. The set was glam at times, raw and raunchy, depressing, uncomfortable, realistic, funny… Most of all… Productive!
BF: What challenges did you face while filming? What victories?
HS: No budget, no permits, but we never have those, so fuck it!!!
MC: Wrapping up another collaborative effort with like-minded artists is always a victory. As a director, I am eager to show this video to the public and present a fresh perspective to the music video genre that seems so… uninspired.
AD: Challenges were the RT 1/9 scene in Jersey City. It was very cold because we shot in the winter so we (the girls) froze our butts off in those little dresses! [Laughs] For me personally, it was making sure I portrayed her exactly the way Hasan wanted. There is a fine line between strength and vulnerability, so finding that balance was crucial. The victory of it all was also on RT 1/9 when a cop thought the street walking scene was real and asked us to stop filming because we stopped traffic all the way to the Pulaski Skyway! That’s when I knew we had something utterly genuine.
BF: You all made noise on the scene with the video “15 Minutes” off the same album, Children of God. In contrast, this video looks like a movie. Was this intentional, and did the production of the video feel like a film?
HS: The intention was to make this one better. That’s what we shoot for every time. Since this is a true story, we wanted it to have more of a film feel to it.
MC: Hasan wanted a film-like look to the music video, so he choose me to direct the project because of my penchant for creating work that has a cinematic aesthetic to it.
AD: It definitely feels like a film because of Mark’s remarkable camera angles, technique and editing. Match that with Hasan’s innovative ideas and soundtrack… I say we have one hell-of-a movie!
BF: What was your favorite part about filming?
HS: Watching all of the other artists whether it be Mark, Dove or any of the other actors make my vision come to life. At certain points it was like life re-lived.
MC: Overcoming uncertainty.
AD: Crying and most definitely watching my niece act for the first time! I’m EXTREMLEY proud of her! She’s an amazing kid, so intelligent and in-tune. She stole the show with her performance as a young Angel Dust!!
BF: What do you want people to walk away with after watching the video?
HS: The sense that we are all children of God. No matter what we do or where we are in life– that’s who we are. Also, there are consequences for our actions, people make mistakes and we all have a story to tell. Some are more harsh than others.
MC: I want viewers to feel like they entered a world. And I want music video directors to step up their game.
AD: I want to remind everyone that no matter what our path is, we are all CHILDREN OF GOD. Thank you Hasan & Mark for allowing me to take part in that message. PEACE.