In the late ’90s, record labels were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to create the most artistic music videos for rap artists. Many rappers did mind the hefty price tag, even bragging in interviews about how much the visuals cost. But not Jay-Z.
The Grammy award-winning artist was not only one of the top lyricists of that era but was a boss, watching the pennies spent by his Roc-A-Fella Records which was in a joint venture with Def Jam Records. While he too liked to floss, he just was not throwing money to the wind.
Hov, who is now a billionaire, reminisced about the marketing for his second project, “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1,” recalling Hype Williams’ fantastic concept for the lead single “Sunshine,” which came with a hefty seven-figure cost.
The Million Dollar Idea
According to the “Hard Knock Life” recording artist, Williams, who had previously filmed videos for The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, and 2Pac, told him that to bring the “vision” for the song to fruition it would cost $1.8 million.
Williams had a “circus” theme that included “elephants” and a lot more.
“So there was no way I was spending that sort of money,” Jay-Z said in an interview with Complex published this week. “He pitched this really grand idea that was amazing … I think he may have given the idea to Busta. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I remember being blown away by it. And then he said the number, and I think it was, like, $1.8 million or something. And I was like, ‘Hype, come on, bro.’ Like, I got mad at him. Like, are you trying to play me? You think I’m dumb?”
At the time, Williams charged labels anywhere between $75,000 to $1 million to do videos for them, and over the past 20 years, he has amassed an estimated net worth of $14 million.
While “The Roc” flashed the signature diamonds and seemed to be always dripping in luxury, at that time the budget for videos was only $20,000.
The two compromised the vision, adjusting the video concept to meet the independent label’s needs. When the video was delivered, it was not what he expected.
He said he learned something very important from this episode. “Don’t condense ideas,” the Roc Nation founder said. “Either shoot the brilliant idea or move to another idea. Don’t take a brilliant idea and make it less, and then expect brilliant results. That’s not how life works. We broke down the idea and it looks like a cheap version of what we were trying to shoot.”
“I remember receiving criticism from that video,” the artist said.
It was a learning lesson for Jay-Z, who was then growing into the mogul that he is today. Despite the backlash, the “Sunshine” video did not hinder their professional relationship.
Afterward, Williams would go on to produce “Big Pimpin,” which is debatably the first $1 million video ever made, according to HipHopDX.
He also would go on to be the mastermind behind “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé and “Gold Digger” by Kanye West.