Public Enemy’s controversial video ”By the Time I Get to Arizona” may have grabbed all the media attention, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best — or most innovative-clip from the group’s latest album, Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black. The video for ”Shut ‘Em Down,” a hard-hitting indictment of corporate greed, is currently the No. 2 video on Yo! MTV Raps. The video’s pace and style mimics musical sampling — in which bits of songs are borrowed to create new ones. Sampling has often been compared to pop collage art, so it’s no surprise that ”Shut ‘Em Down” was made by a real-live collage artist, New York-based Stephen Kroninger. The artist, whose illustrations appear in many publications, including this one, teamed up with director Mark Pellington (who created MTV’s Buzz) and filmmaker Lewis Klahr to make a video from Apocalypse. ”We wanted the video to echo (P.E. leader Chuck D’s) anger and his message to the (black) community for economic empowerment,” says Kroninger, ”and we tried to accomplish this through a visual collage of performance and historical footage, stills, and animated sequences.” The video was itself made in quick-cut fashion: Last November, in less than two weeks, Kroninger prepared 2,000 tape collages for use in the animation; the final cut was ready at the end of that month. Here, the artist-cum-videomaker personally takes us through some of the paces:
A: The ”Shut ‘Em Down” titles are actually animated tape collages made from the lyric sheets that came from Def Jam (P.E.’s record label). Rather than set type, I enlarged the typed words so that the letters would break and I’d get the jagged texture and the sensibility of sampling. It’s intended to break up the constant assault of images and bring viewers back to the song’s message.
B: We selected nine African-American heroes, and from them I created tape- collage portraits like this one of Martin Luther King Jr. We then edited back and forth between these collages and words that were intended to capture their heroic qualities.
C: I ”sampled” the Black Panther Party logo, altering the image by changing the size and showing only a fragment of the words Black Panther.
D: Three separate images of Huey P. Newton were animated with the logo of a Black Panther Party newspaper. An overlay of three images created the composition.
E: A live shot of P.E.’s comic foil Flavor Flav, who was never quiet on the set, busy rhyming the crew’s names and shaking everybody’s hand.
F: Using blowups of U.S. currency, I created ”economic empowerment” dollars, having America honor its black leaders by placing their portraits on money.
G: Pellington chose locations for the live action that would match the lines and the movement of the tape collages. Chuck D was shot against both horizontal and vertical metal gates, and in black and white, to make clear the associations between that footage and the animation.
H: Muhammad Ali’s quote was taken from an old newspaper headline and animated with an overlaid tape collage of Ali. He’s used here as an archetype of African-American self-determination because of his belief in principles before profits.
I: Two images were overlaid to make this portrait of Malcolm X with one of his famous quotes. The animation was improvised as it was shot. We worked to the music, choosing the order of images as we went along, to follow the track’s rhythm.
J: We opened and closed the video with the question, “Where are the revolutionaries?” For this closing shot, we mixed live action of the “wall of money” on a Brooklyn playground with the animated title sequence, putting two kinds of motion side by side.