The colorful animations of Chicago-based music video director Cole Bennett are providing rap’s post-internet generation with its squiggly, bursting, lively aesthetic. His clips for artists like Smokepurpp, Lil Pump and Famous Dex bring the SoundCloud class of 2017 to YouTube, using the quickly shot style of Chicago drill videos and blasting them with kinetic cartoon scribbles.
Raised in Plano, Illinois, Bennett and friends his would drive an hour into Chicago to check out the emerging rap scene lead by Chief Keef and Chance the Rapper, finding his way by shooting video of live shows. When he transitioned into music video – last year’s video for Famous Dex’s “Hit Em Wit It” has over 14 million views – he soon found himself working with a mix of established names (King Louie, Lil Bibby) and young upstarts. He currently runs the blog Lyrical Lemonade and has thrown shows in Chicago. “I just don’t want to make music videos,” says Bennett, “I also want to create and explore different sides of things.”
Rolling Stone spoke with Bennett about working with rap’s newest wave of stars.
Who are some music video directors you were looking up to before you started shooting?
I was huge into Chance the Rapper, who, at the time, had the city on lock. His director Austin Vesely was the one that made me wanna do videos. I remember meeting him one time, thanking him; and everyone around him – Chance, all them – were like, ‘Austin never gets recognized.’ As far as what I do, the type of run-and-gun video, man, A Zae Production is the one who paved the way shooting videos for all of these guys.
What’s the origin of the animations you have in your videos?
I was at DePaul University during my Sophomore year and I was studying for some big final. Me and my friends just drank a bunch of coffee, ready to work. I was like, “[I’m] so zoned right now, I wanna learn something.” YouTube tutorials is how I learned everything. [In] the Mac Miller video [“Welcome To America”] there is this line animation and I was always so intrigued every time I watched that. I stayed up all night and learned to animate and by the end of the night I had a fully animated video. It was really sloppy, but I was really excited.
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Who were some of the first artists you shot videos for?
I shot videos for a lot of really local people who never really ended up reaching that point. What really got me into the stuff that you know me for now, that all started cause I started to work with Famous Dex and, you know, when you’re in Chicago, he had a similar effect as a Chief Keef, where all of his videos get millions of views and he’s a huge sensation to everyone in Chicago. But the thing about Dex is that he had this flavor to him and he had this energy to him that nobody had ever seen, especially coming out of the Southside of Chicago. I eventually did a behind-the-scenes video for him with one of the directors that I know well. After that I had I did animations for a Soulja Boy video and [Dex] had saw and he was like, “Yeah I need you.”
After that video dropped how did things change?
I was being hit up by like all the Chicago artists I grew up listening to: Lil Bibby, King Louie, all those guys, and I was able to work with them, which was incredible. I went to L.A. and shot with Soulja Boy in person, shot a video with J $tash, which was really cool for me at the time. From there I wasn’t really trying to work with too many big artists, I kind of liked my pocket in working with these people where I could have my full creative direction on. You know, you work with these big artists, and I’ve worked Riff Raff to the Migos, but it’s nothing like working [with] these younger guys who trust me. It’s been a pleasure working with guys like [Smokepurpp] and [Lil] Pump,and you know having a full hand and creative touch.
What was the difference between shooting local Chicago artists vs. going down to Florida and shooting some of those younger kids down there?
Honestly, it was really similar in a sense cause people like Smokepurpp and Lil Pump, they’re hugely influenced by guys like Chief Keef and Famous Dex. They’re the ones that created the whole, “Let’s shoot a video in a basement, shot in slo-mo, cut it up and make it look cool.” When I went to Miami and worked with Smokepurpp and Pump and those guys, it was a similar vibe, and that point I had already created my name for being known for effects and things like that. … I just ran with it.
Right now you have a fairly successful YouTube channel, what do you want to do moving forward?
I’d just love to expand on everything and keep doing what I’m doing now but on a larger level. We sold out the shows and I’d eventually love to do a festival. We have a clothing line and that’s doing well, people anticipate the Lyrical Lemonade releases. Through the videos [I’d like] to take everything to the next level. I wanna bring back early 2000s music videos where everything is really thought out and everything is really well directed, and is very high budget, ’cause I feel like things were so much different then, and eventually I’d like to get to that point. But for now, keep with what I’m doing and inspiring kids.