Behind every new rapper is a video director with a flipcam and a YouTube account. But one up-and-coming director seems to be behind an entire city. Meet DGainz, the Chicago-based lensman behind viral videos that helped propel Windy City newcomers Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Reese and King L to major label deals earlier this year. The 23-year-old, real name Duan Gaines, has become the go-to director for the city's burgeoning "drill" music scene, known for its 808-heavy beats and violent lyrics, releasing videos at a seemingly inhuman rate over the past year. But it's DGainz' work with Keef — including the smash "I Don't Like," which racked up over 16 million Youtube views and landed Keef a deal after Kanye West remixed it — that's gotten him the most fame. And the most notoriety: With Chicago's murder rate spiraling, many critics, including fellow Chi rapper Lupe Fiasco, have called out Keef's Gainz-directed videos for their unflinching portayal of tattooed teens waving guns and using drugs. In a recent sit-down with BET.com, DGainz responded to the criticism, discussed Chicago rapper Lil JoJo's recent murder and explained how his videos are sparking Windy City rap's rebirth.
BET.com: How did you get into making videos?
DGainz: I fell into it. I actually started off producing and rapping a little bit. We started shooting videos for our little songs, and that’s how I got started. People kept saying how good I was, but it was really just a hobby. People kept hitting me up and I was like, I can really do something with it.
How did you hook up with Chief Keef?
He hit me up on Facebook, wanting to work with me. I went to DJ Kenn’s studio with Lil Durk and Keef was there. A week or two later we ended up shooting the “Bang” video.
The video for “I Don’t Like” has a whole lot of weed, a gun and a bunch of shirtless guys dancing around. What was that shoot like?
We were just chilling and [producer Young] Chop put on “I Don’t Like” and everyone started dancing. I just started filming. Everyone was high and drunk — even I was drunk. We only did like three scenes. We were supposed to shoot more but Keef went on house arrest right after. I didn’t want the gun in the video, but I didn’t even have enough footage to edit it out, so I just put it out as it is. I put it out at like midnight and when I woke up at seven o’clock in the morning it was viral.
A lot of people were shocked by the video — almost everyone in it looks to be under 18.
I grew up around it, so I wasn’t surprised. I started smoking when I was young, like 15, so I wasn’t shocked.
What did you think about Lupe Fiasco’s recent comments — that Keef and the "culture that he represents" scare him?
I understood where he was coming from. But there’s something like that going on everywhere — you can’t just pin it all on Keef. It does represent a violent culture, but at the same time it’s just music. They just talk about what they see and what they’re around.
Do you think your videos glorify violence?
I don’t think it's necessarily glorifying, but I have seen other people do the same things we do in their videos. I wasn’t planning on that happening, but it does happen. But we not glorifying — we’re just trying to make a career out of what we do best.
What did you think about Lil JoJo’s murder and the controversy surrounding it?
I didn’t know JoJo. I think it was just a situation going too far — someone lost their life. A lot of these kids don’t have guidance from their mothers, their fathers or any type of relatives, so they just out doing whatever with no rules. A lot of them feel like they don’t have anything to live for, so its kind of a game to them. These schools aren’t teaching them anything. So what do you expect when you’re not putting anything in front of them?
Your videos definitely seem to capture that raw side of Chicago, for better or for worse. Is the straightforward, gritty look to your work intentional?
I just go and shoot, that’s why they’re so realistic: It’s stuff that actually happens. I push record and I record what I see. I work with what I have — that’s why my videos are as simple as they are. When bigger budgets come, I want it to still feel natural. I don’t wanna do videos with big explosions and stuff like that unless it makes sense.
Your videos have been one of the main reasons that the Chicago rap scene is getting so much shine. How does that feel?
It feels great. I think it’s mainly because of the visuals, and then the music comes second. You could put out a song with just the audio and it wouldn’t as big as the visual itself. It’s the visuals that really made Chicago as popular as it is.
People are signing deals off your videos. Do you think you’re getting enough credit?
Honestly, no. My name isn’t brought up in a lot of the stuff that’s going on. I’m kind of in the shadows.
We noticed you produced “Tatted” for Sasha Go Hard. Now that your name is getting at least some shine for video direction — even if it’s not enough — are you going to parlay that back into production?
I love making videos, but it’s just a hobby, something that I know how to do. Music is what I really want to pursue. I’ve got a production company started, and I really wanna push to get a publishing or label deal. I’m trying to discover new artists and put my tag on them — like what I’ve been doing so far but on a major scale.
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