Director’s Cut: How Dave Meyers Became One of Hip Hop’s Most Acclaimed Video Directors

The renowned director behind several classic rap videos discusses his love of hip-hop culture and his passion for filmmaking.

In a career spanning over 30 years, Dave Meyers has established himself as one of the premier filmmakers in hip-hop. With a filmography that includes more than 200 music videos and counting, Meyers is a prominent architect of the visual culture of rap music.

Throughout his storied career, Meyers has directed classic videos such as Missy Elliot’sLose Control,” for which he won a Grammy for Video of the Year, N.E.R.D.’s “She Wants to Move,” Travis Scott’sSicko Mode,” and countless others.

Expanding into advertising, Meyers was behind Apple’s iPod Silhouettes Campaign, for which he received several awards for his work.

In TV and film, Meyers has directed numerous commercials, the film “The Hitcher” in 2007, and all six episodes of the Netflix series “Sneakerheads.”

Keeping his pulse on the culture, Meyers remains one the most in-demand video directors in the game. spoke with Meyers about shooting with his first camera, his evolution as a director, and how rap videos tell hip-hop’s story, How did growing up in Berkeley inform your perspective as a filmmaker?

Dave Meyers: I think Berkeley heavily influenced the range of perspectives that I can express in my work. Berkeley was at the forefront of activism on all levels. We were among the first places to celebrate Malcolm X’s birthday as a day off from public school. We celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. I think Berkeley was one of the first historically to integrate public schools. There was activism in the water of the city. I credit Berkeley for being a great foundation for where I'm at today. Do you recall your first Hip Hop memory?

Dave Meyers: I remember I was in our sixth-grade breakdance show. I was a good backslider then [Laughs]. One of my earliest memories is when the radio station switched from playing songs like “Footloose” to BDP (Boogie Down Productions) almost overnight. We listened to Run DMC at school as hip-hop emerged and went bi-coastal. I was buying every record I could. Then, I loved Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. I remember always loving the genre.

BET:com: When did you first know you wanted to work behind the camera?

Dave Meyers: I fell in love with entertainment with Star Wars when I was four or five. I remember waiting in line, I remember the theater, and I had a very emotional reaction to the possibilities of what I could do as a director. A few years later, when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, I had an affinity for the creation process and got a camera in high school. I started making music videos with my friends, and the first video I made was for Slick Rick's “Children's Story,” which got me my first paid job years later. A couple of years ago, Rick called me for the first time, and it was such a full-circle moment to connect with him. We tried to do a project together, but the funding didn't come through. It was going to be something special. Hopefully, we can put it out one day. After establishing yourself as a music director in hip-hop, you began directing some of the most iconic videos.  One of my favorite videos of yours is “Do It Again” by JAY-Z featuring Beanie Sigel. What was it like to work with JAY-Z and the Roc-a-fella team at the peak of their powers?

Dave Meyers: Through F. Gary Gray, I started working with Cash Money Records. I did Lil Wayne’s first solo video, “The Block is Hot,” and Jay Z was a fan of Wayne. He contacted me, and when I went to New York to work with J, it was over. I didn't leave New York for six weeks [Laughs]. Working with J was a blessing because it broke open the gates, and suddenly, I was working across the spectrum of Hip Hop.

While working on “Do It Again,” he watched me to ensure I knew what I was doing [Laughs]. I could see him out of the corner of my eye. We shot the video in New York, and it was very cold. Those were the early days when all the extras were free and everybody was so excited to be in a music video, especially in New York. After the shoot, he came to see me in the editing room, and after he watched it, he liked it and that was all I needed. He hired me a few more times after that. Your love of storytelling is on display in Eve’s “Love Is Blind.” How was it to create a visual for such an emotionally charged song that addressed domestic abuse?

Dave Meyers: I love expressing emotion in the videos I direct. “Love Is Blind” was unique because it was more of a drama, and it speaks to something very real.  I was able to use that storytelling muscle that I love. I really enjoyed working with Eve. You also worked with DMX on one of his most popular songs, “Party Up.” Did you come up with the concept for the video?

Dave Meyers: You could feel all the tensions DMX was struggling with at the time. Very empathetically, I tried to get the job done in the best way possible. He just scrapped a video that he shot, then sought me out and hired me. He had a different working style than most artists, and that video was a little challenging, but it was the concept that he wanted to do. Ironically, he wanted me to do a version of The Negotiator directed by F. Gary Gray.  Being asked to do the music video version of Gary's work was fun. Your aesthetic as a director changed dramatically when you directed “Bombs Over Baghdad” by Outkast. What was it like to create with Outkast?

Dave Meyers: It's another F. Gary Gray story. He is one of the biggest reasons I got to work so much. He really looked out for me. At the time, he wanted to do “Bombs Over Baghdad,” and because it was a two-video deal and I was in the same company, I got “Miss Jackson.” Big Boi was superstitious and said that every first video they shot on their records had to be shot in Atlanta. For some reason, Gary couldn’t make it to Atlanta, and he was the top dog, so he chose “Miss Jackson.” So I got on a plane and went to Atlanta to meet Andre, and we didn't do Gary's treatment because he had some other ideas of what he wanted to do. Big Boi also had ideas. We quickly put it together, and that’s how it turned out. I was so thankful to Gary and OutKast. It was my first big-budget video because I got Gary's budget. I would not have gotten that good of a budget or that opportunity had it not been for Gary passing on it after it got the green light. I’ll never forget when I showed Big Boy the final cut when I was in New York, he said, “The world won't know what to do with you after this” [Laughs]. Your collaborations with Kendrick Lamar have been regarded as some of your best work. How did you forge a creative partnership with him?

Dave Meyers:  Kendrick sought me out with his partner Dave Free, and they told me they trusted me. They said, “Hey, do anything you have in your head; we trust you. We'll tell you in the edit if we don't like it. With “Humble,” he gave me a rocket ship. I don't even know if he knew that it was the rocket ship that it became. I felt more comfortable than I'd ever felt because there was always a bit of distrust from an artist or a disconnect between what they got in their head and what I got in my head. That led to a wonderful year with Kendrick, collaborating on several projects. Dave Free gave me a few ideas for “Loyalty,” culminating with “All The Stars.” I shot at Christmas time in 2017. That was the apex of the relationship that I was having with Kendrick. I could do so much in that video that I have wanted to do for years, and he empowered me to do it. Lastly, what advice would you give to upcoming directors and filmmakers?

Dave Meyers: You have to always be a student. I've had to learn that a couple of times over. Sometimes, if you have a couple of wins, you can't help but feel good, and you get that winning urge. But if you accept that surge of winning, you must accept a surge of failure. If you don’t learn from it, it will get in the way of you being a student.

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