And Lamar is not the only music artist who is pushing the music video form to new levels of self-expression. We’re currently in the midst of an upheaval in black cinema, where the kind of provocative and challenging images that director and cinematographer Arthur Jafa has tasked himself and his contemporaries with creating can be found in videos by artists such as Lamar, Solange, Beyoncé, and Kamasi Washington.
Each of these artists has been using the power of this medium to create imagery that reflects the multifaceted interior lives, as well as the sociopolitical lives, of black people. What makes these artists’ videos stand out is their experimentation with form; their commitment to weaving a visual narrative that doesn’t always directly correspond with the lyrics; and their invocation of images that draw from the rich history of black visual artists, including photographers, painters, and filmmakers.
In the meditative, expansive 14-minute short film for jazz musician Kamasi Washington’s “Truth” (2017), there is a segment that recreates the 1954 photo Ellington Session Break
by Harlem artist
, the first black photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. As the song proceeds, the camera pans deeper into the scene, so that we can see the musicians move and live within the frame in a way we couldn’t with a still photograph.
It’s thrilling and touching to see this modern jazz musician connect with one of the pioneers of jazz, Duke Ellington, while also paying tribute to one of Harlem’s greatest artists and documentarians.