By Ross Scarano
The last two weeks have seen two significant video drops from the biggest artists in contemporary rap. With little hype, Drake released a very smart video for "Practice," one of the lesser songs from his masterful sophomore LP, Take Care; soon afterward, the partnership of Jay-Z and Kanye West offered a companion to "Niggas in Paris," one of 2011's best singles. Performance is central to both videos, but only one is worth talking about.
Drake's video, uploaded to his blog, is a single take, three minutes and fifty-eight seconds of video vixen Kyra Chaos dancing to "Practice." While it boasts crispier images than the average YouTube video, it's basically just that -- a YouTube video, something a rabid fan would post.
Long-take rap videos are rare. J. Cole has one, but it's flashy and loud. The video for "Practice" is closer to an Andy Warhol film -- there's a real sense of time passing. The viewer is made to watch and wait. But wait for what? Despite Chaos' impressive shape and charming awkwardness, the video is sort of boring. She mugs at the camera and the mirror, but most of the action comes from her ass and hips. She performs for the camera and for herself.
Then Drake walks in.
If you haven't seen the video, I'm sorry -- I've ruined the best part. After three minutes and twenty-five seconds of waiting in the wings, he struts in. He steps to Chaos in middle school fashion -- crotch meeting butt before eyes meet -- and after some feigned surprise, they fall into bed, kissing playfully. They move out of the frame. Drake wears white athletic socks and there's something sweet about that.
"Practice" is karaoke, Drake doing Juvenile's immortal "Back That Azz Up." But Drake is a lady's man, thus his "Back That Azz Up" is a slow jam. Drake is the dude you get a little annoyed with at karaoke because he won't play it straight. He's got to have his way with the song, holding the notes longer than the teleprompter recommends, dropping in ad-libs. This isn't a karaoke bar, though, and this shit is real smart.
Jay-Z and Kanye, on the other hand....
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...dropped a video that consists of the duo performing "Niggas in Paris" live. Whereas the video for "Practice" shellacs an extra layer of meaning atop what was before a flimsy ditty, the video for "Paris" supplements nothing. With an epilepsy warning and kaleidoscopic panthers, the video for "Paris" is lazy, a dull spectacle -- the opposite of "Practice," where form and content interlock. "Everything for a reason," as the song goes.
Maybe Hov and Yeezy are tired. After all, they've been performing the song as many as ten, eleven times in a single evening on the "Watch the Throne" tour. The magnetic camaraderie that makes the "Otis" video so special is nowhere to be found among the technical shenanigans. This shit is not particularly cray.
But the moment when Drake walks into his film and the song winks at the video, and Drake winks at the viewer without having to look at the camera lens, and everyone feels good about having bought tickets to the "Club Paradise" tour? That is.