Let me be very clear, I love Belly. I love love it. When Mary J. Blige sang about “Real Love” in 1992, a whole ass six years before Belly would be released to the masses, she had no idea that she was singing my soul’s affinity for Hype Williams’ best music video ever. And what’s not to love? For a person like myself, who is almost always with the shits, Belly was ‘pacifically crafted for me.
On November 4, 2018, Belly will turn 20 years old. I think 20 years old is a good age to do some serious reflecting on its place in history, for it stands firmly as the second greatest music video of all time, right behind Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” easily the best music video ever because of its innovation, execution, style, Vincent Price’s laugh, those contact lenses and Mike.
I hear you looking at me; why do I keep referring to Belly as a music video? Because B, it is. In Hype Williams’ feature film directorial debut, he basically did everything he’d do in making music videos and sewed them bitches together to make what he called a movie but was pretty much the world’s longest music video.
And what a music video it is. The cinematography! The wonderful, Juilliard-level acting job by Nas, T-Boz and Taral Hicks. DMX, oh DMX, what a gem of acting he did. DMX was Earl acting as DMX acting as Tommy. From the moment the music video opens up with easily the best movie intro of all time, you know you’re in for a ride you want to go on. When DMX starts spitting those gospel poetry bars of pillage and plunder, you strap on the seat belt.
And the visuals. The color scheming of which I don’t know what to call in film-school parlance. The strippers. The Soul II Soul “Back to Life” a capella laid perfectly atop the scene. Hell, I don’t even listen to the original version of “Back to Life” anymore; it might as well not even exist. Then you get the epilepsy-inducing light work, gun play and white-masked robbery, which, I have absolutely not seen one like that in a while…have you?
I mean, it was the best time of our lives!
While every scene in the “film” doesn’t have music playing, every scene is blocked like a music video. And the scenes that do have music playing in the background? Hype could have released them all as a sizzle reel. Even MTV News makes an appearance. Nas aka Sincere, even goes to Somewhere In Africa, which is a very music video thing to do!
Further, while the credits say “Written & Directed by Hype Williams” I’m pretty sure “written” is the loosest use of the term ever. I’ve seen a lot of movies that don’t have a script, but this movie even seemed to test the limits of improv. I feel like Hype told everybody what he wanted the scenes to look like, but had no idea what he wanted to hear and let the “actors” have free reign. Luckily, DMX is so good at being himself that it seems like he literally had a script while everybody else was just saying shit. Whatever came to mind in a scene, they said out loud. Wash, rinse, repeat!
I really could go on and on about what makes Belly so awesome and why. From the Nation of Islam and Tommy’s rebirth, to the trip to Jamaica to, I mean….OMAHA (really New Jersey) and Tyrin Turner eating a banana in a perm and coke-bottle glasses. It was crafted wonderfully, if you watch it as a music video. Low-key, I feel the same way about Outkast’s Idlewild.
The entire movie could have run D’Angelo’s song “Devil’s Pie” in the background and it would have worked. It was also a movie that when heard on the proper speakers takes the viewing experience to a whole different level. I’m just repeating myself now.
If “Thriller” didn’t exist, I’d say it’s the best music video ever, but Mike went and did that and set the standard. So here we are, a few days shy of the 20th anniversary of the release of Belly celebrating its rightful place as No. 2.
To Belly, one of the greatest videos to ever do it (with one of the best soundtracks of all time).