Thursday, June 16, 2005

Kanye West's New Video Is A Slight Disappointment

In the past year, Kanye West has made himself known not just as a great hip-hop artist, but a great music video artist as well. The videos for such songs as "Through The Wire," "All Falls Down," and "Jesus Walks" eschewed clichés and showed that hip-hop videos can be creative and artistic. He has even created great music videos for others by directing videos for G.O.O.D. artists John Legend and Common. With such a wonderful music video pedigree already, Kanye tried to top himself with the video for "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," the first single from his highly anticipated new album Late Registration. However, Kanye falls just short of creating another masterpiece.

The video for "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" made its world premiere on Wednesday June 15 on BET, during their Making The Video-esque show Access Granted. Shot on location in Prague, Czech Reupublic in black & white and directed by Hype Williams, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" looks wonderful. The Old World look of the city and its architecture fits perfectly with the song which samples Shirley Bassey's James Bond movie theme "Diamonds Are Forever." The European look and feel immediately sets it apart from other hip-hop videos and the cinematography is top-notch. While the scenes of Kanye walking and driving all over Prague are nice, the problem with the video comes with its other main element involving the "blood diamonds" of Sierra Leone.

On the Access Granted special for this video, Kanye noted that Q-Tip told him about the bloodshed going on in some African countries regarding diamonds. Kanye wanted to address this in some way (Q-Tip told him about this after he had already finished the song) and decided to do so in the video (and title) of this song. The video opens with scenes that presumably take place in a diamond mine. Children are shown working in the mine with a voice over in French (it's subtitled) explaining their plight. More imagery is used throughout the video to represent their plight but unfortunately, that imagery is the weakest in the video.

Most of the imagery that represents the "blood diamonds" is muddled. After the opening, the imagery starts off promisingly enough with a chilling sequence involving a woman wearing a diamond ring. After that, things get confusing. The most confusing sequence involves Kanye West himself. He's driving his car when he turns around and sees one of the children from the mines. The child isn't really there but he jumps from the moving car and it crashes. Suddenly, you see a group of the children help Kanye up. They run away and then he runs after them. You then see a nicely shot scene where Kanye and the children are running. What is the meaning behind this sequence? Is Kanye dead and that's why he sees the children after he jumps out of the car? Do they help him up because he has conflict-free diamonds? Why do they run? Nothing in the video gives you any hints and as a result, the sequence seems pointless.

Overall, I have to give Kanye West and Hype Williams credit for trying. This video is blissfully free of thug posturing, the exploitation and/or objectification of women, and the glorification of sex and violence. It looks more like an avant-garde short film rather than a music video. I must also commend them for bringing attention to a cause that few know about. However, I think that Kanye overreached just a little bit with this one. This video had the potential to be not just good or very good but great. In fact, another session or two in the editing room could make that happen. If any other hip-hop artist (or artist in general) had created this video, it would probably be the best of their career. This video is far from bad and there is a lot to like. Considering the superb catalog of videos Kanye West already has, however, the video for "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" is a disappointment...but only a slight one.

NOTE: One thing I didn't touch on in my review was the appearance of red dots at the sides of the screen periodically throughout the video. I don't know if this was done intentionally (to possibly represent the blood of the blood diamonds) or not. I also don't know if this was because of an issue with BET (my television was not acting up at the time). If it was intentional, it contributes to the problems with the way the blood diamonds are represented in the video. The red dots were annoying and temporarily took your attention away from the video for the wrong reasons.

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