Before reality TV took over, cable networks like BET, MTV and VH1 (along with an assortment of broadcast programs) used to dedicate hours to airing music videos. Now, there are only a handful of such shows around and fans are more likely to watch their favorite artist’s latest clip online than on TV. With that said, the quality and concepts for most musicians have gone down. Gone are the days of the multi-million dollar video shoot that was more than a lip-syncing affair and produced mini movies.
Still in the midst of Black Music Month,BlackEnterprise.com takes a trip down memory lane with some of the most expensive music videos made by African American artists. You’ll also discover which famous family has a penchant for not only making records but breaking them (and budgets) as well. —Anslem Samuel
15) Kanye West feat. Lupe Fiasco “Touch the Sky” (2006)
Directed by Chris Milk, this five-minute clip features West as a Black version of legendary stuntman Evel Knievel that plans to jump the Grand Canyon in his “death rocket.” While Pamela Anderson plays West’s love interest, actresses Nia Long and Tracey Ellis Ross make notable cameos as well. The final price tag for the creative clip hovered around the $1 million mark.
14) Kanye West “Stronger” (2007)
Carrying an estimated $1.2 million price tag, “Stronger” was shot entirely in Japan over the course of several days. Directed by Hype Williams, the clip is an anime flick come to life with Japanese calligraphy, lasers, holograms and a cameo by electronic music duo Daft Punk.
13) Michael Jackson “Remember the Time” (1992)
Set in ancient Egypt, Jackson’s nine-minute video event was yet another visual treat from his musical catalogue. Starring comedian/actor Eddie Murphy as a Pharaoh named Ramsey, the clip featured Jackson as a mysterious sorcerer that seduces the king’s queen, played by model icon Iman. Earvin “Magic” Johnson also makes a cameo in this memorable video that cost a king’s ransom of an estimated $1.2 million.
12) MC Hammer “Here Comes the Hammer” (1991)
Hammer and his entourage enter a haunted house on a dare that leads them on a trip through time and space. With each room of the house being a portal to an alternate world, Hammer has dance-offs with various doppelgangers and the ghostly spirit of James Brown. Pulling off the eight-minute clip hurt Hammer’s pocket to the tune of $1.3 million.
11) Michael Jackson “Black or White” (1991)
Featuring an 11-year-old Macaulay Culkin as a rambunctious adolescent, Jackson’s 1991 clip was a multicultural smorgasbord of images that ranged from African and Indian to Native American and Asian. The song’s message of racial equality was carried home in the closing scene of the six-minute video as the faces of different subjects—including supermodel Tyra Banks—morphed into various ethnicities as they mouthed the chorus. Premiering simultaneously in 27 countries, “Black or White” drew in a reported 500 million viewers, the most for a music video viewing. The cost of the hi-tech worldwide event was a reported $1.5 million.
10) BLACKStreet feat. Janet Jackson, Ja Rule & Eve “Girlfriend/Boyfriend” (1999)
The concept for this pre-millennium jam is a bit muddled as it’s mostly flashing lights and green screen technology. Set inside a pinball machine Ms. Jackson, along with producer Teddy Riley and his band mates, roll through the larger-than-life game’s inner workings while rappers Ja Rule and Eve have aTron-like battle on digitized bikes. All the bells and whistles, plus Jackson’s on-screen appearance, resulted in a bloated budget of an estimated $1.5 million.
9) TLC “Unpretty” (1999)
Despite the song’s the title, the video for the TLC single was actually quite pretty. Computerized ladybugs and butterflies filled the screen as the trio sang out against self-hate and urban violence to the tune of a $1.6 million video budget.
8) Missy Elliott “She’s a Bitch” (1999)
With his fisheye lens in tow, director Hype Williams was at the helm of this big budget production. Including massive sets outfitted with electro luminescent lighting and matching costume designs, the clip also featured a bald headed Elliott complimented by several backup dancers. The end result totaled close to $2 million.
7) Will Smith “Miami” (1998)
Before he was a fulltime actor (and husband) Smith was still holding on to his musical roots and penned this ode to his favorite stateside vacation spot. Shot in Miami, the clip captured the day in the life of a guy’s getaway to the Sunshine State, complete with fancy cars, bikini-clad women, beachside parties and a night of salsa dancing. Smith’s future Hitch co-star Eva Mendes even makes a cameo in this $2 million production.
6) Michael Jackson “Bad” (1987)
In this short directed by celebrated filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Jackson plays Darryl, a boarding school student that comes home only to discover ne no longer fits in with his friends from the old neighborhood. A young Wesley Snipes stars as the main protagonist, who questions how “bad” Darryl is. The 18-minute production concludes with an underground dance off in the New York City transit system that’s a nod to West Side Story. The total video cost is in the $2.2 million range.
5) Busta Rhymes feat. Janet Jackson “What’s it Gonna Be?!” (1999)
Another big budget production helmed by visionary Hype Williams, this clip highlighted Terminator 2-like effects with Busta and Jackson transformed into liquid figures. The hi-tech features raised the budget for this sultry video up to a reported $2.4 million.
4) Mariah Carey feat. Jay-Z “Heartbreaker” (1999)
The plot for this playful video, directed by Brett Ratner, revolves around Carey discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Tracking him down with his date at a local movie theatre, Carey confronts the woman in the bathroom, which leads to a catfight. Although Jay-Z does not appear in the final cut the video’s budget broke the bank at upwards of $2.5 million.
3) MC Hammer “Too Legit to Quit” (1991)
For this $2.5 million video Hammer calls in James Brown to play his powerful godfather, who bestows upon him the dancing ability to dethrone the mysterious “gloved one” that has refused to give Hammer his “propers.” The pyrotechnic-heavy clip is non-stop ball of energy that lives up to its title.
2) Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes “Victory” (1998)
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, “Victory” finds Sean “Diddy” Combs (then known as Puff Daddy) playing a life-or-death game similar to the plot of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man. The eight-minute features Dennis Hopper as the corrupt president and Danny DeVito plays the game’s commentator. The epic undertaking cost a pretty penny at a reported $2.7 million.
1) Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson “Scream” (1995)
With a third of this most expensive music videos list including the name Jackson, it would make sense that Michael and Janet would join forces for the clip that tops them all. Costing a whopping $7 million, “Scream” was the sibling singers’ response to the media backlash Michael had received in the years leading up to the video. Taking place on a spaceship, the futuristic and aggressive clip featured Michael and Janet literally escaping the world to vent their frustrations in peace. Something like that is priceless.