A look at twelve of the most inventive music videos of 2018.
2018 has been a special year for fans of hip-hop music. We’ve received some standout projects from new and veteran artists alike. Most musicians placed a focus on the quantity of content they put out this year; with our generation's dwindling attention span, that wasn’t the worst strategy. That fact actually shined an even brighter spotlight on music videos. If an artist decided against releasing a new song altogether, they often opted to drop a dope video to promote their existing material. In the last few years, we haven’t created “Best Of” lists for videos but 2018 offered too many quality visuals for us to pass on.
In an effort to keep this list concise, we’re leaving out some pretty notable clips: A$AP Rocky’s “A$AP Forever,” Kali Uchis’ “After The Storm,” and Kelela’s “Frontline” all narrowly missed the cut. The aforementioned works are worth your time and if you haven’t already seen them, check them out once you’re finished with these twelve.
The cinematography, editing, social commentary, or else all these factors combined made these videos stand out from the rest. Have a look at our top picks for Most Creative Videos of 2018 and let us know your favorite music video of the year in the comments.
12. Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake - "King's Dead"
Kendrick Lamar is well-known for his extravagant music videos. Usually, he’ll collaborate with Dave Free to release some of the most innovative video work in the music industry. The TDE team struck gold with the Kendrick-curated Black Panther soundtrack as a decent number of the videos shot for it could have made this list. “King’s Dead” is the strongest choice for a few reasons, though.
For starters, the cinematography is on point. We start off with an establishing shot and the moment vocals are introduced, the camera zooms into Kung Fu Kenny as he’s perched atop a palm tree. We move into a chaotic and old-school newsroom where Kendrick sits with his feet up on the desk and a tie around his head, as the camera zooms out. Future looks wildly out of place behind him as he stunts with his chains on, clearly not getting the wardrobe memo. There’s also an insanely cinematic zoom into a barbershop where Jay Rock is getting a fresh line-up, which is probably worthy of its own thinkpiece. Obviously, this was directed by Dave Free… but was that really a question? "La di da di dah," indeed.
11. Kanye West & Lil Pump - "I Love It" (feat. Adele Givens)
While the execution of Kanye West and Lil Pump’s music video for “I Love It” may not have been the most complex, it leaves a memorable impression and thus retains a lasting power more than most clips released this year. We’ll still be talking about how ridiculous “I Love It” is for years while other videos will fizzle out. The rollout of this song only helps to highlight its creativity as it was premiered at the Pornhub Awards, of all places. An Adele Givens cameo opens and closes the video, lamenting about the “old days” and saying that women can be much more upfront with their sexual partners today.
Kanye and Pump are finally introduced, rocking their ludicrous Roblox-inspired costumes, which ended up being an insanely-popular Halloween outfit this year. Kanye has on a goofy smile much of the time as he clearly can’t contain his childlike excitement. There are only a few scenes, but where this music video lacks in storyboards, it makes up for in general hilarity. Produced by Spike Jonze, the mind of Kanye West can be thanked for the direction of the video as he collaborated with Amanda Adelson.
10. Anderson .Paak - "Bubblin"
I’m not gonna lie, I was really surprised when “Bubblin” wasn’t included on the Oxnard tracklist. The track serves as somewhat of a James Bond-esque theme song for .Paak and, but for whatever reason, it was left off the album. That doesn’t mean that the song didn’t get the attention it deserves though. If anything, it’s probably one of .Paaks most popular songs ever.
The clip has a similar vibe to J. Cole’s “ATM” as a slew of cash is thrown around by a busted ATM machine. When Anderson .Paak discovers that the ATM will just continue spitting out money, he hijacks it and drags around the city with him. While many music videos show your favorite rapper stunting with a fistful of cash, this executes the same idea in a much more inventive way. The artist dives into a pool filled with bills and a woman acts as the ATM’s therapist, saying she admires the machine for not being “afraid to spill it all out.” Unfortunately, the ending is a little morbid as a six-armed Anderson gets crushed by the cash dispenser, calling for the end to the Calmatic-directed video.
9. Denzel Curry - “Clout Cobain”
Denzel Curry released one of the strongest efforts of the entire year. His three-part record TA13OO has prominent themes that carried into the visuals presented for the project. “Clout Cobain” is a favorite from the album, getting its own video in July of this year. Considering how far Denzel strays from the rest of his “SoundCloud Rap” contemporaries, fans were interested in seeing how his vision would translate onto our screens. Thankfully, he did not disappoint.
The transitions are spooky, the make-up and costumes are haunting, and the overall energy is pretty spectacular. Aside from splashes of red blood and colorful face tattoos, the entire video has been shifted to black & white, popping things that are meant to be the focus on the screen. “Clout Cobain” is unafraid of critiquing what rap has become to younger generations. Denzel ends the circus performance by shooting himself in the head, shocking everybody in the audience and literally closing with a bang.
8. 2 Chainz - PROUD (feat. YG & Offset)
When you think of a typical rap video in 2018, you likely picture expensive cars, bikini-clad women by the pool, and rappers stunting with lots of cash. 2 Chainz and Howard Ross had a different idea when they were directing the video for “PROUD.” While there’s nothing extraordinary happening in terms of cinematography or editing, “PROUD” earns a spot on the list for the concept.
Instead of filming themselves flexing in front of muscle cars, 2 Chainz, Offset, and YG’s mothers respectively are all the stars of this video. Their cameos make the “PROUD” video equal amounts adorable and hardened, as they actively outperform their rapper sons.
How can we write about this video without shouting out YG’s momma too? Her energy was on point the whole way through as she ferociously lip-syncs along to her son’s lyrics. Seriously, it feels as though she wrote the verse for him.
7. Valee - "Womp Womp" (feat. Jeremih)
“Womp Womp” inspired many rappers to imitate Valee’s infectious flow and the video was also pretty inventive. The clip starts out with Valee and a woman in bed as they try and figure out what to watch on TV: typical. Telemundo is settled on, which ends up being a major theme in the video.
The visuals for “Womp Womp” are straight out of a DVD rental store as it skips between cutscenes, giving options to watch developments like “Heist,” “Throwdown,” and the hilariously misspelt “Resturaunt.” To give it even more of a cheap cinematic vibe, credit sequences roll out and the viewer chooses between English, Spanish, or “Womp Womp” as their preferred language. Much like the next entry on the list, Valee and Jeremih execute their concept in a near-flawless manner as work was obviously put in while planning this video.
6. Vince Staples - "FUN!"
There’s something special about choosing a video concept and fully dedicating yourself to it. That’s what Vince Staples did with “FUN!” as the Long Beach native selected a theme, stuck to it, and ended up with one of the best videos of the entire year. “FUN!” is ridiculously simple; somebody explores Google Earth images of Vince’s neighborhood and falls on plenty of hilarious scenes. While it isn’t as eye-catching and flashy as some of the other clips on this list, “FUN!” piques your curiosity as you want to explore more of what you’re seeing. Fights break out, a robbery occurs, a few kids comically dance in the front yard. There’s so much going on in this video and most of its charm is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. These things are treated as though they happen on a regular basis.
The real-life blurriness of navigational software as it’s loading is accurately mimicked as scenes take a few seconds to fully start. It was definitely fun to discover Norfy, California with Vince Staples. Until next time.
5. J. Cole - "ATM"
J. Cole’s “ATM” video sees the North Carolina rapper become a gold-clad Santa Claus as he flies through the sky on his throne. Instead of reindeer, he’s followed by a handful of children who sit atop a bottle of codeine cough syrup, chasing after a dollar bill. It all follows the K.O.D. themes to a tee.
Cole gets inventive in his display as he quite literally critiques how people are willing to offer an arm and a leg for their material possessions. He transforms into a used car salesman, a miniature version of himself living inside a money bag and, most memorably, a crazed individual sitting in a room lined with money while wearing a straitjacket.
The Scott Lazer-directed flick is not only on this list because it’s memorable though. “ATM” earns a spot because it’s so effective in communicating the story it set out to tell. J. Cole echoes the fact that you have a choice when it comes to consumerism, a tone that is fully apparent in the visuals.
4. Travis Scott - "SICKO MODE" (feat. Drake)
Much of the mastery behind the “SICKO MODE” video has to do with the work that was put in in the editing room. From the filters used in post-production to the glitchy effects, superimposition, and creative additions of twerking women in places you wouldn't expect, “SICKO MODE” shows even more evolution from Travis Scott. La Flame has access to all the resources he may need in order to make a memorable video and he did so. Somehow, Travis manages to please everybody with this effort; he’s got ladies shaking their asses for the traditional hip-hop video fans, vivid colors for the obscure art geek, and glitchiness for the modernists among us.
Directed by Dave Meyers, the same man that was behind “Stop Trying To Be God,” “SICKO MODE” is surreal. It jumps from every corner of Trav’s imagination while still somehow paying homage to the city of Houston. On paper, this shouldn’t work. One scene has Travis acting as a professor in front of a giant chalkboard and the next has him mimicking the actions of a vintage soul star. “SICKO MODE” is an ode to Travis’ hometown and a wonderfully extravagant world in itself.
3. Lil Dicky - “Freaky Friday” (feat. Chris Brown)
Before releasing “Freaky Friday,” Lil Dicky teased fans by admitting that it was the best work of his entire life. He also gloated that it would be the “best music video you’ve ever seen.” While that’s a huge claim to make, LD didn’t disappoint. Sure, the concept of the video has been executed before but Lil Dicky breathed new energy into the idea by taking some of his famous friends along for the ride: Chris Brown, Kendall Jenner, DJ Khaled, Ed Sheeran, etc.
What’s truly creative about “Freaky Friday” is how the story is told in correlation to the song. Zooming, superimposition, and goofy acting all helped Dicky garner tons of attention, racking up over 447 million views at the time of publication. Lil Dicky and Chris Brown swap bodies for a few hours as Breezy strolls around town in his Ferrari, flexes his dancing ability, and hangs in the VIP section of the hottest clubs. This video is hilarious, inventive, and unlike anything else that was released this year. It may not be the best music video of all time as Dicky promised but it sure as hell is an entertaining five minutes.
2. Childish Gambino - “This Is America”
As Donald Glover begins singing the now unmistakable “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away,” we first see* a huge warehouse. Surrounded by industrial pillars, an empty chair with an acoustic guitar is in the middle of the shot. A man walks over and starts playing when Childish Gambino appears from behind a column, dancing awkwardly with his shirt off before making his way over to the seated man. The guitar player is now without his instrument, sitting still with a hood over his face as Gambino randomly pulls out a handgun and fires the trigger.
The scene describes “This Is America” perfectly as it has become somewhat of a running joke for Donald Glover. The chaos truly begins after Childish discards the gun; cars race throughout the warehouse, children join him in a choreographed dance, and smoke fills the air. Each shot was well-thought out and executed to perfection, ensuring the end result is nearly flawless. From the elaborate tracking shots to the original use of long takes, the attention to detail everywhere is highly respectable.
“This Is America” is one of the most viewed videos on this list. It really strapped a rocket onto the accompanying song, making it one of Childish Gambino’s more popular tracks ever.
1. Tierra Whack - "Whack World"
Out of everybody that made incredible first impressions this year, Tierra Whack is one of the only artists to have done so through audiovisual means. Whack World is much more than just a music video. It’s an album, a short film, and a piece of art. Everything from the editing, mise-en-scene, makeup and costuming make this fifteen-minute work of art so special. Each track on the album is filtered through a unique lens. It’s difficult enough to tell one effective story through visuals, but the rising Philly product managed to do just that over a dozen times in Whack World.
For many, this served as the formal introduction to Tierra Whack, and it was an extremely powerful one at that, proving to an unfamiliar audience that she could ascend to a Missy Elliott-type level. Tierra wears many hats in the clip, taking on the role of a dog groomer, a disco trailer girl, and a flashy aerobics student. Wacky indeed. Director Thibaut Duverneix did a phenomenal job bringing Tierra’s vision to life. The rapper earned a spot on our Breakout Artists of 2018 list and it’s really all based on the creativity displayed in Whack World. If you haven’t watched it yet, check it out. This is easily one of the best clips of the entire year.