He’s been in a living painting. He’s walked with an actual Jesus. He’s been murdered with a shovel, wandered around a toy store that’s coming alive at night, been an athletic puppet and smooched with his topless wife on a moving motorbike, which infringes numerous sections of the Highway Code. As an artist just as visual as he is aural, Kanye West’s videos have often been show-stoppers. Here’s our top five…
5. JESUS WALKS, 2004
Three videos were made for Kanye’s ‘College Dropout’ breakthrough tune, but it was the $500,000 second clip that had the most impact. As Kanye rapped in a burning corridor resembling the oak-lined road to Hell, director Chris Milk’s weighty imagery of chain gangs and drug busts played out around him, culminating in a hard-hitting sequence where a Ku Klux Klansman chases his burning cross as it tumbles down a hill, then carries it in flames back up to the peak.
“His hate is so all-consuming that he tries to carry the burning cross back up the mountain,” Milk said. “That’s the physical manifestation of his hate, and he wants it to get to the top of the mountain for the world to see. He’s so blinded by his hate that he doesn’t [consider that his robe will burn]. But God forgives him and causes it to rain, therefore extinguishing [the fire], and that’s a sort of baptism; washing away his sins. I doubt anyone’s anyone got all that, but it’s nice to at least make an attempt to build in some layers.” Kanye would go on to use a similarly punchy cinematic approach to the blood diamond trade in the video for ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’.
4. BLACK SKINHEAD, 2013
More Klansmen appeared in this pioneering promo for the first single from ‘Yeezus’, in which Kanye was transformed into a faceless computer-generated version of himself surrounded by devil dogs, like Second Life in the dark. Occasionally his skin becomes studded, his trousers fall off and he turns into a weird futuristic spike warrior that only Björk would fancy.
3. MONSTER, 2010
Inspired by Jacko’s Thriller, Frankenstein and torture porn movies like Saw, the Jake Nava-directed video for ‘Monster’ came in for accusations of misogyny due to its depiction of lifeless, hanged or decapitated zombie corpses of models in provocative poses, but is a striking and disturbing piece nonetheless, not least for Nicki Minaj’s show-stealing section in which an S&M vampire Minaj tortures her Barbie counterpart.
Besides Rick Ross going Patrick Bateman and Jay Z rapping in front of a naked woman he’s presumably tried to stuff down the back of a sofa, one of the video’s central images – faces at a glass door behind Kanye – was based on a supposedly haunted painting called The Hands Resist Him by Bill Stoneham. Owners of the painting claim that the children figures in it move, and even crawl right out of the painting, in the middle of the night.
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2. STRONGER, 2007
How to upstage your sample of a legendary Daft Punk song? Get them to star in your video as android scientists running your body through an ultra sci-fi CGI 28th century scanning machine. Let’s just say that the monstrous budget for the Hype Williams-directed epic didn’t go on Kanye’s famous shutter-shades, premiered here. Kanye spent ten obsessive weeks in expensive editing suites trying to get the video right. “Kanye almost had a brain aneurysm, editing this video for three months,” said his manager Don Crowley. “Then he still was not satisfied, so he shot more footage in New York. […] Kanye put everything else on halt. He was in the editing suite till 4 or 5 in the morning. He went way over budget editing, sitting in them expensive editing suites. He kept going — and not only kept going, but he wanted to shoot more footage.”
1. TOUCH THE SKY, 2006
Not only did the clip for ‘Late Registration’ stand-out ‘Touch The Sky’ cost $1million to make – the 25th most expensive music video ever – it almost cost Kanye a whole lot more. Based on Evel Knievel’s unsuccessful attempt to jump over Snake River Canyon in 1974 – right down to its ’70s blaxploitation title sequence – it starred Pamela Anderson, Lupe Fiasco, The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air’s Nia Long and an entire brass band in a story involving Kanye, as Evel Kanyevil, trying to fly a rocket over the Grand Canyon. It was among Kanye’s most memorable videos, not least because it prompted him to make one of his first award show stage invasions to complain about being beaten by Justice Vs Simian at the EMAs. “[My video] cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons,” he ranted. “If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility.” Worse still, Evel Knievel later issued a lawsuit against Kanye for using his image in the video, which was only fended off when Kanye visited Evel personally and charmed him out of it.