French Montana ft. Rick Ross, Lil’ Wayne & Drake – Pop That
YouTube Views: 27,436,623
A visual accompaniment for the first single from French Montana’s upcoming Excuse My French album, featuring Drake, Lil’ Wayne and Rick Ross and produced by Anthony Lee. There’s not much to this video – it’s an elitist Miami pool party scenario doubling as an advertisement for Ciroc, Moet and TRUKFIT. Montana rocks a towel on his head for the majority of the thing. But with abundant eye candy and an all-star cast, it quickly became a hit.
Ne-Yo – Lazy Love (Explicit Version)
YouTube Views: 3,543,048
The video for the first single from Ne-Yo’s R.E.D. album, directed by Diane Martel, is an intimate, hypersexual tribute to that type of lovemaking that just makes you want to lay around the house with your significant other afterward. It succeeds in illustrating exactly what the track is meant to convey. We can’t completely disregard these R&B cats.
Miguel – The Thrill
YouTube Views: 252,134
A standout single from Miguel’s critically acclaimed Kaleidoscope Dream album, the video documents his current girlfriend Naz’ birthday party. This fast-paced black-and-white montage takes us from a house party to a club and everywhere in between, and the optimistic, carefree vibe seems to generally reflect Miguel’s recent success. It compliments the track well.
The Weekend – Wicked Games
YouTube Views: 7,579,124
The sparseness of this minimalist, black-and-white visual for The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games” perfectly compliments the existential tone of the track as well as its hedonistic subject matter. We’re made to feel the underlying sadness here, as well as the struggle to escape emptiness. It definitely leaves an impression.
Earl Sweatshirt – Chum
YouTube Views: 652,555
As previously mentioned, Odd Future’s art direction is always on point. “Chum” is the first alleged single from Earl Sweatshirt’s upcoming Doris album. This black-and-white video finds Earl floating through surreal inner city alleyways inhabited by enormous frogs, mulling over sullen thoughts and memories in his verses. These eerie visuals perfectly compliment the forlorn tone of the track, and the piece is a promising glimpse at what’s to come from this young talent.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Shame
YouTube Views: 447,811
In this visual for Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s excellent collaboration, we’re afforded a hypothetical, high-def glimpse into Gibbs’ old life as a coke dealer. We watch with keen interest as he deals with and to various women in his spacious but modest flat. Although there’s an underlying misogyny here, his onscreen presence and delivery on the beat are so smooth that it just comes off as Tony Montana cool. BJ The Kid ties the scene together on the hook, lingering on the balcony and in the hallway as Gibbs runs his shop. And he runs it well.
Mac Miller ft. Casey Veggies & Joey Bada$$ - America
YouTube Views: 316,555
Dropped on the 4th of July, this ominous, red-tinted video finds Mac Miller lurking in dark alleyways with Casey Veggies and Joey Bada$$, beckoning the viewer. A departure from Miller’s previous, more lighthearted work, the three young rappers seem to taunt the trappings of fame and success that face them, with cryptic Illuminati symbols and demonic features sketchily rotoscoped over much of the visuals. A perplexing take on patriotism, to be sure – but dope nonetheless.
Joey Bada$$ ft. Chuck Strangers - Fromdatomb$
YouTube Views: 373,680
Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era Collective member Chuck Strangers team up in the video for this standout track from Joey’s well-received 1999 mixtape, directed by David M. Helman. The duo seem to travel back in time to the Golden Era of hip-hop, functioning as high-definition characters set against low-fi, Betamax backdrops of New York alleyways, parks, basketball courts and subway systems. The nostalgia is undeniable.
Meek Mill ft. Drake – Amen
YouTube Views: 8,010,459
Simply put, the lead single from Meek’s debut Dreams and Nightmares album affords us common folk a glimpse of the lives of the most famous rappers and R&B artists in the world. Featuring cameos from a myriadof artists from J. Cole to Waka Flocka Flame, scenes shift between tour buses, clubs, private airstrips and sold-out stadiums. If anything, it’s important because it exemplifies the excessive lifestyle that so many of these artists have come to enjoy and promote in their music. Take from it what you will.
The Game ft. Lil’ Wayne, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa & Tyga – Celebration
YouTube Views: 11,160,002
The lead single from The Game's Jesus Piece LP, directed by Matt Alonzo, is a vintage West Coast affair with a Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony vibe. It depicts a sunny, carefree day in Game’s hood, where he and his friends and family celebrate over barbecue and kegs. Inspired by Dr.Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” and with features from Lil’ Wayne, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa and Tyga, this video was a guaranteed hit.
Danny Brown – Grown Up
YouTube Views: 1,886,520
Directed by Greg Brunkalla, “Grown Up” is a colorful, upbeat glimpse into Danny Brown’s childhood, with a little boy lookalike rapping his verses as he happily tears through his neighborhood and school. It also provides an explanation as to the rapper’s missing front teeth, as the young Brown crashes his bike and slams his face on the curb, only to spit teeth out and continue rapping directly afterward. The cartoonish track and video came as a surprising but welcome side note to Brown’s intensely adult-themed body of work.
Nas – Daughters
YouTube Views: 5,178,657
The video for the third single from Nas’ Life Is Good album, directed by Chris Robinson. The visuals directly echo the lyrical content of the track, whereupon he reflects on the growth of his now 17-year-old daughter and his involvement in her life. For the majority of the video we’re looking at Nas from her perspective, literally, from infancy to high school, as he reacts to her ever-changing behavior. The track has been nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance at the 55th Grammy Awards.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop
YouTube Views: 32,189,389
Directed by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Jon Jon Augustavo, this colorful, comical video perfectly illustrates the track’s subject matter. The duo meet up, shop at thrift stores then hit up clubs, meeting with approval from everyone they encounter. With more than 32 million YouTube views, this solidly shot and directed visual played a major part in broadening Macklemore’s appeal, contributing to his breakout success. The track is a single from Mack and Lewis' debut studio album, The Heist.
2 Chainz ft. Kanye West – Birthday Song
YouTube Views: 22,670,404
The highly anticipated video for 2 Chainz’ second single from his Grammy-nominated Based on a T.R.U. Story album. Directed by Andreas Nilsson, it’s a colorful, cartoonish manifestation of what a 2 Chainz birthday party might look like, complete with an booty-shaped cake, a fleet of scantily clad women and a clown getting beat down. With a mountain of hype and a feature from Kanye West, this couldn’t have been anything but a banger. It’s certainly original.
Action Bronson – The Symbol
YouTube Views: 414,420
Directed by Rik Cordero, the cinematic video for the first single from Action Bronson and Alchemist’s recent Rare Chandeliers mixtape is without a doubt one of the most hilariously creative of the year. It’s a period piece, with Bronson playing the role of a white Albanian antihero against a ‘70s blaxploitation backdrop. Toting a golden magnum, he verifies the purity of a large amount of cocaine, smacks up both a pimp and a prostitute, and foils an illegal card game with professional wrestling moves. He also blasts a crooked cop with a shotgun while dressed as Santa Claus at one point. If you don’t get some kind of enjoyment from these visuals, seriously consider reevaluating your life.
Tyler, the Creator ft. Domo Genesis – Sam is Dead
YouTube Views: 2,908,568
Tyler got on his Terrence Malick and directed this war-themed accompaniment to the 4th single from The OF Tape Vol. 2. Other than him and Domo, it features Earl Sweatshirt, L-Boy, Hodgy Beats, Jasper Dolphin and Lee Spielman of Trash Talk. Odd Future’s art direction is always on point, and legitimate cinematography and editing make this short film all the more “believable.” This is Wolf Gang meets The Thin RedLine, and it’s awesome.
Pusha T ft. The Dream – Exodus 23:1
YouTube Views: 3,962,275
“Exodus 23:1” was assumed to be a diss track directed at Drake and Lil’ Wayne. Directed by Samuel Rogers and featuring The Dream, the gritty, hood-oriented video was the perfect counterpoint to Drake’s pop leanings and Wayne’s departure from his previous street image. With documentary-style visuals of drug pushing and consumption, a cameo from Michael from The Wire and subtle samples from the Notrious B.I.G’s “What’s Beef,” the piece was so potent and foreboding it rendered retaliation from Pusha's opponents futile.
Rick Ross – Hold Me Back (Explicit Version)
YouTube Views: 10,771,573
The video for the secondsingle from Ross’ latest God Forgives, I Don’t album, directed by TAJ, wasinitially banned by BET and MTV for being too intense. The black-and-whitevisuals, shot in the Calliope projects in New Orleans, are a powerful, almostfrightening testament to Ross’ perseverance and devotion to family andbusiness. Ross, flanked by a gang of his associates, pretty much falls into afurious trance on the hook. Featuring cameos from the majority of the MMGclique as well as Swizz Beats, this video is an inarguable powerhouse.
Killer Mike ft. Bun B, T.I. & Trouble – Big Beast
YouTube Views: 364,792
Directed by Thomas C. Bingham, the video for this standout track from Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music album takes the cake for the most violent and gory of the year, if not recent memory. An armed thief gets his skull cracked with an axe, a gunman gets severed in half while leaning out a car window during a high-speed chase, and zombie strippers devour vital organs in their dressing room. It’s beyond badass. At nearly ten minutes in length, it’s more of a short film than a music video, playing out like a Tarantino flick. With incredible art direction, solid features from Bun B, T.I. and Trouble and a massive beat from Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P, it’s a southern gangster rap anthem to be reckoned with.
Nicki Minaj – Beezin the Trap
YouTube Views: 80,285,575
With more than eighty million YouTube views, this may technically be the biggest video of the year. Directed by Benny Boom, the visuals are as hypnotic as the Kenoe-produced beat, taking place in an abstract, strobe-lit strip club and a grayish-blue, dimly lit warehouse space. A goofy verse from 2 Chainz is all that distracts from the eerily sultry tone of the video. YMCMB label head Birdman makes an appearance, as does Minaj’s hype man, SB. It was the third single from her Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded album.
Kanye West & Jay-Z – Niggas In Paris
YouTube Views: 43,988,380
Although Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne was released in August of 2011, this video wasn’t released until February of 2012, and the song remained a huge hit for the better part of the year. Directed by Kanye himself, it’s a live cut of their performance at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on December 13th, 2011. The duo are known to perform the song as many as 12 times back-to-back, at the request of screaming fans. As of November, the single has sold three million digital copies in the US, and is nominated for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 55th Grammy Awards.
A$AP Rocky – Goldie
YouTube Views: 8,545,889
A$AP Yams co-stars in this unabashedly bourgeois video, set in Paris and directed by Rocky himself. It showcases the luxuries success has brought him: beautiful women, expensive jewelry, liquor and vehicles, the most fashionable wardrobe possible and the ability to travel the world. The video is as huge as the Hit Boy-produced track itself, and was the first single from A$AP’s upcoming LongLiveA$AP album.
Kanye West ft. Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz – Mercy
YouTube Views: 25,995,617
This highly anticipated black-and-white video was directed by Nabil Elderkin, who’s responsible for other Kanye videos such as “Paranoid” and “Welcome to Heartbreak.” Although surprisingly minimalist, it suits the song well, and both the video and the track are among the biggest of the year. It features cameos from G.O.O.D artists Hit Bo, KidCudi, D’banj, Cyhi the Prynce, Mr. Hudson and Teyana Taylor.
Kendrick Lamar –Swimming Pools (Drank)
YouTube Views: 20,173,043
The first single video from Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, directed by Jerome D. Detailing a family history of alcohol abuse as well as his own approach to drinking, he lingers in a condemned house, hits a club bathed in red light and falls Alice-in-Wonderland-style through darkness into a body of water. It’s a surreal, artful piece. The dimly lit and often slowed visuals compliment the tone of the track nicely, exemplifying drunkenness.
Frank Ocean – Pyramids
YouTube Views: 4,986,026
The second massive single from Frank Ocean’s acclaimed channel ORANGE album, directed by Nabil Elderkin. This eight-minute Lynchian epic follows a dapper, pistol-toting Ocean as he leaves an empty bar after drunkenly shooting it up and tears across a desert interstate on a motorbike, eventually ending up at an extraordinary strip club. The video, more of a short film, contains brief segments of his tracks “Pink Matter” and “Start” and features a cameo from John Mayer, who performs a guitar solo outside the strip club in front of a huge neon triangle set with an image of the Kabbalahian Tree of Life. This isan art piece, plain and simple.
HNHH compiles a list of the 25 best videos released this year. Watch them now, ranked in no particular order.
Things have changed since the days of Yo! MTV Raps. As professional camera gear becomes cheaper and more accessible, and with the free marketing potential of YouTube, more and more artists are producing quality music videos. They don’t necessarily need a budget of millions or major label support to put out dope visuals anymore. They don’t need heavy rotation on BET to get noticed, either.
Here you’ll find a mix of both major label and independent productions, and you may come to find that, as is often the case in Hollywood, some of the more modest entries are actually better than those with blockbuster status.
You be the judge, though. Be aware that there is a bit of overlap here from our Sexiest Videos of 2012 list, and that these videos aren't necessarily ranked in order from best to least best.