Kind of a different place these days.
Fab 5 Freddy: It’s ironic because when I did the video there the whole artsy scene had not yet come to Williamsburg. I’m from Bed-Stuy, which is just 10 minutes from there. But I never ventured that deep into [Williamsburg]. Especially those areas because it was heavily Puerto Rican when I was coming up, and I just didn’t go that deep into that hood. Williamsburg was still rough and dusty and very kind of edgy ghetto, so to speak. That little pocket [where we filmed] was residential, but it was poor. And then on the other side was Hasidics. But the immediate area was just poor, working class type dusty shit, you know. And we just went and got it in and just banged that motherfucker out.
What was the process of the actual shoot like?
Fab 5 Freddy: The key thing when you’re budget is that low is you gotta do it all in one day, and mostly under daylight because we didn’t have much money for lights. So it was basically a type of shooting that we call “run and gun.” It was all run and gun practically within a one-block radius. But I was able to get enough different looks to change it up and get a story. I remember going from one location to [another], runnin’ across the street, grabbing equipment going, “Come on, come on we gotta hurry up and get these shots!” We had a tight shot list and we need to get all these story elements, which were critical to filmically capturing all this shit with a bunch of non-actors. [With other shoots] you might have the leisure of getting three or four takes of certain shit. I didn’t have that.
MTV’s censorship of the content of rap music videos was a very big concern for the directors, artists, and labels at that time. Yet one of the things that’s most memorable about “Just To Get a Rep” is you managed to get around the issue of guns appearing in this video in a creative way.
Fab 5 Freddy: MTV was starting to come with these different [restrictions], like okay, you can’t show this, you can’t show that. And a lot of it was some bullshit. But you had to be [mindful of it]. I obviously had more info on these things than anybody because I was working at MTV. I was very savvy about [what we were able to show].
Everybody else was runnin’ around trying to be gangsta this, gangsta that in various videos. And what would happen was the video would come in and then they’d send it back and tell you: you have to cut this, that and a third. And a lot of time with small companies, since it was more money, it would delay the video for periods of time. So my whole thing was, I’m gonna have to figure out a way [to address this through] filmmaking. Okay, we can’t show guns. But nothing is real in a movie. Some guy points a gun at you and shoots – that’s not a gun. You don’t get shot. So how do I do this and keep all the elements of that real street shit? [And I decided to just] show this dude [in the video] pointing his finger. I felt like it would be just as powerful, and everything that happened as a result of it would still make a strong statement. You get the story.
How did that idea go over with the group and everyone else?
Fab 5 Freddy: I had to talk to them and explain that to the group and that we were gonna do this. Because if we wanna pull this off right, there’s no way we can do this and not have to blur the gun. So why fuckin’ do that? Let’s tell the story as if it’s theater on stage: Nigga, I point, you hear the bang, you fall. In the fuckin’ creative language of theater – of film, of storytelling – you understand what I’m telling you.
I’m going through all this emphasis of explaining it now because I still remember being on set, and motherfuckers are like, “Yo, what the fuck are you doing?!? Pointing the finger?!?” I’m like, trust me. I knew we was gonna cut that shit together and you would still get it. It’s like little kids – bang, nigga, you’re dead! And it was an ill thing that I went there, but I felt strong about it. Because the [rules of the network had led to folks] butchering videos.
What are your other recollections of working with Guru and Premier?
Fab 5 Freddy: I remember Preemo being a stickler that I had to get a shot of him doing those scratches. So that was one of the last two set-ups we did it. We had one turntable going and I had Preemo do those little things with his hands where we could cut the scratches in. I remember Preemo and Guru – they had total trust and confidence in me because they knew my steez and knew who I was.
I think another great thing about those dudes – and it’s fascinating when you think about it – is that Guru’s from Boston, and Preemo’s from Texas, but these dudes surrounded themselves with the right cats. And they absorbed all this energy to be able to tell these stories. And it’s a perfect thing that hip-hop does when it’s done right – where they can articulate the story [so well] you would think these dudes was [from Brooklyn] they way they did it. Growin’ up in Bed Stuy in the period when I grew up, Brooklyn in terms of every other borough was the home of the stick up kid. Like one of the street hustles that was most common. It was just something that was very, very, very much a part of the existence here. And [with “Just To Get a Rep”], it was just like, oh my god, they just caught the essence of some real, grimy New York shit. They damn sure did.