This article first appeared in The Alt on July 12, 2018.
Photo provided by Melvin Williams
When a hip hop video drops onto your timeline from a local artist, it’s pretty likely that Melvin Williams is behind the camera. For the past two years, the 23-year-old videographer has been making commentary and music videos specially tailored for artists like Promise The Unbreakable, Chris Cool Peeples, Jumanji Beats, B Chiaps, their friends and their friends’ friends.
“It started with Promise. Two years ago, we did our first video for a school project, ‘Love Seat (Couch for Two),’ and from there it’s just been building up,” Williams said. “People have been coming to me because they see the dedication. It’s still building. I feel like I’m a word of mouth dude. You hear from me through people, so I’m getting up there, more and more.”
The Schenectady musician-videographer duo had been friends for years, which made their collaboration almost effortless. They had the ideas and musical content, Williams just needed to nail down the skills. He ended up at University at Albany for film, though he says YouTube has been the most helpful when it comes to exploring the outlet from a more creative lense.
“Even though I went to school for it, the school teaches you what you need to know–as in how to work a camera or editing news packages–which is boring. I just YouTube everything,” he shrugged with a smile. “That’s my one message to everybody. Google everything. That’s a whole book of knowledge, it’s amazing.”
When he and Promise first started experimenting with music videos, they were on a content run, looking to oversaturate rather than perfect.
“We went on a streak of 14, 15 videos in one year. We were just bombing, going out to shoot whatever, just to get better…Now my quality is like, 10 times better. I invested in myself,” he said.
Williams amped up his video equipment and began focusing more on the style of artists he was working with: What angles work best to portray one artist’s style? Can he loosen it up for another? When asked about his latest project, a vibrant and effect heavy music video for Word The Third Eye’s “Shake Well,” he smiled coyly.
“That video was more about just fun, just showing off,” he said. “I was trying to just have a nice feel to it, you know? With Promise, when I do his videos, he’s on his hip hop feel, that aggressive wave. Every video I try something different.”
Where he can shoot dark and intense videos for Promise the Unbreakable, he can balance with some kaleidoscopic haze for Chris Cool Peeples or goofy skit work for Brian Chiappinelli.
“It’s cool because working with Chris, Promise, Howard [Word The Third Eye]–it’s a good energy. Each of them are different artists so it helps me create more, to be creative more.”
While Williams’ work keeps him busy in the music scene, he says he still has wandering interests to explore. He talks about larger possible projects with a sudden energy, like turning on a faucet at full blast.
“I feel like I do a lot of freestyle videos so it don’t push my creativity too much, there’s no planning. But I’m working on short films here and there to build that base up. That’s what I want to get into,” he said, Somebody tried to tell me, ‘You should find one thing and do it,’ but me, I’m more versatile. I want to do freestyle videos, movies, short films, webisodes, all that stuff.”
Mixing up his portfolio, Williams hopes, may even introduce him to a broader variety of subjects, giving him the ability to continue working in the hip hop scene in a larger area. Or, giving him the opportunity to jump from genre to genre.
“Right now, I like being here and I love the people here, but I just want to be one of those videographers that travels state to state to do other people’s videos. I want to be nationwide. I want to venture off and do different things with different people,” he explains. “Honestly, once I start getting into more cinematic films I want to branch off and work on more rock videos, country, all that. I want to get into everything.”
He’s already begun working to bridge his interest in short films and music with two upcoming projects with Promise the Unbreakable, scripting and storyboarding a cinematic music video set to a track from the artist’s upcoming mixtape as well as a narrative adaptation of a very early song, “Delicacy the Pope,” which tackles the rapper’s environment and upbringing.
From there, Williams is interested in incorporating more “skits and such” into his music video work, and collaborating with more local videographers.
“I’m trying to still find myself, as a videographer, first,” he said after a pause. “This is something I didn’t think I would ever be getting into. It just happened unexpectedly and I’ve got a love for it now because I’m an artist as well.”
As overwhelming as it can feel to build and manage his film business, Williams is happy to have had the support of artists who look to him to provide content. It’s his key piece of advice for up-and-comers:
“It’s best to find an artist that you think is dope. Shoot for ‘em for free, build that connection, put that content out. Eventually everybody is gonna start grasping. As people start grasping, [your] clientele is going to get bigger, all from word of mouth. When you do a video, their homies are gonna want to know, ‘Who did this?’ Find someone you want to shoot for all the time and build your craft. It’s a cool thing.”