How director Teeeezy C took Birmingham to Nairobi in the video for M1llionz’ Lagga
Overseas music videos have become a staple part of the UK scene of late.
From Mist and SL shooting in the mountains of Iceland to Nines flying the mandem out to Dubai. Out-of-ends backdrops are a statement of how far an artist is willing to push themselves – putting air miles on their artistic direction. Not to mention it’s a flex.
Birmingham Drill rapper M1llionz has topped the foreign location roster with his unapologetically raw song Lagga. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to galvanise the African Diaspora around the globe, he has taken it back to the motherland, filming in Kibera – an area in Nairobi and Kenya’s largest slum – directed by Teeeezy C.
Teeeezy C has become a household name in the scene. He is the Director of Photography to an armoury of heavyweight videos like SL – Bad Luck, Digga D – No Diet, M1llionz – B1llionz and the Mad About Bars series. A gritty undertone is often present in his work, which is seen in the opening shot to Lagga as machetes are slashed across the ground, a fully loaded pick-up truck skids through dusty terrains on the outskirts of Nairobi as locals brandish flags printed with black power fists. In short, this is a movie. So it was only right that we touched base with Teeeezy C to gain some insight into this year’s most audacious UK rap video and find out why fans are screaming “Lagga Lagga Lagga Lagga”.
Firstly, tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Teeeezy C, I’m a director by title but I’m involved in all areas of my content, including executive production, editing and grading. At the moment I’m trying to put together powerful and crazy concepts that get the viewer engaged.
What other videos of yours might we have seen?
I also shot B1llionz for M1llionz along with Unknown T (Aven9ers), Digga D (No Diet, Who?), SL (Bad Luck), Nafe Smallz x Gunna (Broken Homes) and every Mad About Bars episode…. ever.
Tell us about how you first linked up with M1llionz?
I first met M1llionz through one of my guys (Bills) who said he was working with a dope rapper from Brum, this was around North West/No Rap Cap times. Fast forward to like February or something we met at the BX19 shoot in London. There wasn’t a treatment or anything, just clean shots and M1llionz flexing in a Wraith, cutting through London. It was slyly ironic that a Birmingham rapper was cruising around a next city like it was his own, a statement I wanted to make with our first collaboration. Funnily enough, we got arrested on that shoot for filming the numberplate BX19 but that’s probably a story for another interview.
What did you think when you first heard the track?
The track had me screwing my face up like I just smelt something mad, the beat and the bars were absolutely disgusting. It was one of those songs that just catches you, the energy was infectious. When I heard it first, I knew I was going to have to put something special together, the term Lagga had to be coined in style. Equally, having shot B1llionz for him and receiving good feedback, I felt I needed to do something a bit more out the box. Ever since his verse on Year of the Real he has been top three rappers in the country for me – so I also felt like I needed to step up to the occasion and pattern up.
What sort of a brief did you get from M1llionz and his team?
I went back and forth with management about keeping it gritty and FK (TPM) said he wanted to fly out for this visual. Having been trapped in the UK due to COVID I was loving the idea, although flight restrictions had me thinking if it was even possible. Developing from those conversations and having deeply meditated with the song I put together some scenes with the titles of Militia, Trench Made, WD40 & Father, Guide Us which are basically the different scenes in the video.
Where did the idea of shooting in Nairobi come from?
Having shot in Africa a few times, I had some people in Nairobi I felt could help execute the vision, the framework I had built from my previous trips enabled us to move within the capital. Kiberia particularly is a special place to me and one I will never forget; it is the largest slum in Kenya and really captivated me when I first went. Kids were playing football with plastic bottles and despite how little they had, they were always smiling.
Tell us about Kibera and how you found that location and community?
Through some methods that I don’t need to go into detail on, we were able to build a relationship with some Nairobi locals who were able to produce what we were after. Through the use of a producer and locals, mixed with the charm of a dope fixer we were lit. From my previous trip, I knew of certain areas within Kiberia and when coupled with a local crew with local insight, we were well and truly at home. I think this is also a key component in the authenticity of the video, nothing was forced, and the chemistry of the team was powerful.
From a production standpoint, how was it to arrange a shoot like this in the middle of a lockdown?!
Stressful and complicated. Travel restrictions at this current point are all over the place, despite having COVID tests we had issues at Heathrow that nearly destabilised our whole trip. Equally, in Kenya there is a 9 pm curfew for everyone so we had to be heading back by 8 pm every day, making it difficult to get night shots. If you have never had to stick one of those COVID test swabs in your nose, then you don’t know the pain.
What was the atmosphere like on set? Did everything go to plan?
The vibes were good, despite what you see in the video I felt comfortable being on set, this was my vision and all the locals were helping us to achieve it. Kenyan people are extremely welcoming and friendly and despite some moments of tension, everything was cool. In those situations, you have to maintain your full belief and confidence in what you’re doing. M1llionz was also very comfortable and mixed with the locals like he was one of them. Shooting on another continent where English is not the first language adds to the challenge, but I think we really enjoyed being up against it. Is greatness ever achieved within one’s comfort zone?
Talk us through the video from a technical standpoint – how big was the team?
The camera team was fairly small, we had a focus puller + Enos who was the operator, a couple lighting guys and a few more on art design and running duties. I worked alongside the producer Fuad to plan and prep scenes according to the treatment. From the management side, we had FK (TPM) and Gus (Groundworks) alongside M1llionz & his people: Izzy, Rimz & M Woo. Technically the video was very challenging. I brought the camera over from the UK and when we started working, I realised how ahead we are in terms of camera technology and access to kit. Equipment was widely available over there, but it was extremely expensive, I spent an obscene amount for a matte-box rental.
Throughout the process we had issues with focus motors, dust getting into the lenses and extreme terrain to work in, not to mention 100+ people to control. In addition to this we were fighting heavy traffic, minimal sleep and long hours. We were also attacked by someone we believe may have been into dark magic but the less said on that, the better. Drone operators coming to set without any batteries, last-minute cancellations and delays in kit, all under the looming 9 pm quarantine enforcement was an engaging experience.
There’s an amazing moment at the end where the kids sing along to the track, how did the young people respond to the music?
When I saw the rushes for that footage it made me think back to my first time visiting and I wanted to give that feeling to the audience. The kids were so friendly and full of energy it really makes you appreciate the privileges we have; these kids have far less and yet remain so kind-hearted. The kids there loved the song, all I had to do was play it and shout “LAGGA” and they would just start vibsing in their own way. Music plays a huge part in African culture and the way people take to music there is different. They move freely with it. Seeing the organic reaction of kids to the song was mad, just from the energy they were able to connect, even though they probably didn’t understand the words.
Why do you think it’s important to see new places and faces in music videos?
The world is a huge place with several billion stories occurring simultaneously. Music represents a language that can connect these stories together and give people an insight into what it means to be from another community. Lagga wouldn’t be what it is without the grit and rawness of Nairobi, nor without the energy of the locals and the kids who communicated the definition of Lagga with their performance. For that, I must say a massive thank you, on behalf of us all, to the locals who helped achieve the vision.
What’s the response to the video been like so far?
I think the video shocked a lot of people, the introduction is kind of crazy and I remember my first reaction to seeing it – “WHAT THE F**K HAVE WE DONE?”. It’s mad, when we were filming it almost felt normal but watching it in the edit was a moving experience, shout out Marta for the idea. From what other people have said they’re enjoying it, trying to comprehend what is seen on screen whilst taking in the poetry of what M1llionz says so effortlessly. It’s only been out for like a week so hopefully, the best is yet to come! I would also like to say a massive thank you to the people of Nairobi for opening their communities to us, without you this wouldn’t have been possible so from my heart… thank you!