The hottest, most controversial video of the summer was a public service announcement about one of the most fundamental activities in which people can partake. Reading. But when does a PSAÂ go from being an agent of change toÂ an offensive, patronizingÂ teachingÂ tool? The author of "Read A Book", Bomani Armah, and the video directors, Tyree Dillihay and Brendan Burch, sit down to discuss their much talked-about collaboration with T.A.N., author of the blog, theassimilatednegro.blogspot.com.
KING-MAG.com: How did the different members and parts of the "Read A Book" video come together? Which came first: the song or the PSA video request? How did BET get involved?
Bomani: The song came first. I teach creative writing and song writing classes to young people here in D.C..Â After telling a fellow emcee named Haze (Marcus Richardson) I wanted to do a crunk song he gave me three rules.
1. Be repetitive
2. Be confrontational
And lastly, curse as often as possible.
Brendan: Tyree was already working as a Director/ Art Director at 6 Point Harness.Â Denys Cowen, of BET's newly formed animation division approached 6PH with the song and asked if we would be interested in producing the video - of course we agreed!
Tyree: After picking up our jaws off the groundâ€¦ I put together a proposal animatic to approximately 1:30 of the song. We presented it to BET, who laughed their asses off â€¦ and voila!
How involved were you, Bomani, with the making of the video?
Bomani: I was not as involved in the making of the video as I would have liked at the time, but it ended up being a good thing because the song is about more than me and it was cool letting someone else interpret it.Â I stand behind it 100%.
The video is packed with imagery that skewers the black community. The lyrics of the song begin with a cultural commentary but then the lyrics diverge into broader criticisms, i.e. drinking water and personal hygiene. Was this directly aimed at the black community, or youth/hip hop culture, or any community in particular?
Bomani: This was meant for who ever is listening.
Tyree: The skewering is directed at the mainstream hip hop community, not the black community. I just wanted the piece to be really critical and reflective on the state of hip hop today to make the viewer see just how buffoonish this shit is.
In talking to folks about the video, there's universal acclaim for the booty-popping girls with the "book" pants in the first chorus. Did you guys do extra research or pay special attention to that? What are your favorite sections?
Brendan: That's all Tyree- seems like the first idea he mentioned when we started the project! My favorite section is the painting on the magazine cover.
Tyree: I like the whole intro into the chorus. One of the magazines said "BLAXIMâ€ instead of MAXIM. A lot of people are getting the "Raphael De La Gettoâ€ High School reference in the beginningâ€¦shout out to Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Many are surprised BET would touch a video like this. Did they need to be persuaded?Â Were they hands-on?
Tyree: During actual production, BET was very hands off because I gained their trust in the animatic phase. I've always come from the notion that to build new things you have to tear old things down. To do that, you gotta come hard and that's why the BET of today is airing a video they call "the anti-PSA.â€
What's your opinion on using the "n" word?Â What do you think about censorship and other censorship related issues in regards to imagery and language?Â
Brendan: I'm a white dude- and repulsed by the "n" word.Â I think in this context, and how over the top the piece is, all the offensive material in the song and video give it the punch it has.
Bomani: All government censorship is bad.Â If something is hurtful and harmful to the community at large the community will find it's own ways to censor it.
Tyree: I was raised in Inglewood, California. "Niggaâ€ is just one of those words that just becomes part of your everyday 'hood vocabulary. However, I also graduated from college with an English degree and I know when to leave the 'hood language where I found it... in the 'hood.
When I posted the video I received an interesting note from one commenter: "How is this video going to effect change in its supposed target audience? Perhaps it is satire, or perhaps its just entertainment disguised as a racially meaningful message.â€ What are your thoughts?
Bomani: The debate is worth more than the song.Â I'll let people take from it what they want and have fun watching them.
Tyree: It's been brewing in the minds of the hip hop community for a very long time and finally with the help of some negative press from the media, hip-hop is being forced into a long overdue makeover. Songs like "Read A Bookâ€ instigate change.
Brendan: I think that if people can learn while laughing, the video will be effective.Â It's a catchy song and the message is pretty blunt. This message is important for all races to hear.
When's the last time you read a book?
Tyree: Two months ago, The Millionaire Mind by Thomas J. Stanley.
Brendan: I read a few at a time these days- just finished the newest and last Harry Potter, and loved it.
Check out the video!