The first is a visually stunning mainstream hip-hop video, while the latter is a cheap - slightly corny - indie production. Slim Thug looks cool coasting in his shiny new car with his "wood grain wheel," accompanied by stylish cinematography and a fantastic brooding beat. NYOIL looks awkward in his wife beater, and the silliness of his introduction is distracting and unnecessary. Yet in many ways director E-Hab's low frills and poorly executed video for "Unreal" is an excellent commentary on Slim Thug's more accessible work. Together they provide fresh perspectives on tired subjects and common iconography.
Both videos are very much about staying true to yourself and the places you come from. As Slim Thug rides through his hometown of Houston, the pictures are often faded or intentionally worn - implying the laidback rapper hasn't forgotten his roots. In many ways he represents himself as a hero out of the past, like a character in Grindhouse, or an extension of the classic cars he drives.
The video works because it tells a story while creating a compelling and beautiful world around it. The tale is very familiar - my neighborhood is rough, baby mama drama and "hey, I'm rich!" - but it's told with such flare and fits so well with the music that it clearly distinguishes itself from the pack. Slim Thug's city, as seen through the reflections of shimmering car doors and rear view mirrors, becomes a surreal vision of typical hip-hop culture.
Yet essentially it's built around the biggest cliche of the genre: the ride. Not only is Slim in his vehicle most of the time, but there are countless shots of tricked-out Cadillacs swerving in parking lots in the background. NYOIL's nostalgic look at coming up in the rap game is also conceived entirely around the rapper's mode of transportation, but it serves a very different purpose. It begins rather predictably: the rapper in his leather-seated car, cell phone rings, and an agent calling. Yet the minute we realize NYOIL's car isn't a super expensive indestructible dream car - but rather one that breaks down just like normal people's - we know this is going to be a unique hip-hop video.
The car is made the focus here in order to comment on the vanity and cosmetically obsessed messages of contemporary music. NYOIL wants to say hip-hop is about more than that - that it's about people coming together for a cause, self-expression and the American spirit of hard work. The acting is forced and the finale is cheesy, but the anachronistic image of a rapper pushing his own broke down dreams with the help of complete strangers is more than refreshing. Slim Thug's world is prettier, but NYOIL's has a tangible and important message of self-confidence. Now why is it that these two categories of hip-hop videos always seem to be mutually exclusive?