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Director X talks hip-hop evolution as YouTube Music launches in Canada

Last Updated Jun 18, 2018 at 5:20 pm EDT

Director X poses for a photo during the official Canadian launch of Youtube Music at the Aperture Room in Toronto on Monday, June 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

TORONTO – When Toronto’s Director X was helming hip-hop music videos two decades ago, he had to find art in the genre cliches.

“I came up in an age where hip hop was, ‘Get the Ferrari and put that girl in a bikini,’ and that kind of thing,” he said in an interview.

“So for us, the challenge was bring art to what we were being given: ‘All right, well look at this bikini, look at this design.'”

How things have changed.

On Monday, as the acclaimed director stopped by the official Canadian launch of YouTube Music, the recording industry was abuzz with news of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s weekend release of the surprise joint album “Everything is Love.” The video for the first single, which has unprintable profanity in its title, is chock-full of fine art as it features the power couple in the Louvre in Paris.

Meanwhile, Drake’s new music video for “I’m Upset” — on which Director X served as an executive producer — was also in the headlines for featuring his former “Degrassi: The Next Generation” castmates.

And Childish Gambino’s latest video, “This is America,” has sparked a widespread conversation with its provocative messages about race, U.S. history and pop culture.

“Hip hop has really grown into a very artistic, appreciative place,” Director X, who was born Julien Christian Lutz, said after speaking at a YouTube Music press conference in Toronto.

“The idea of Jay-Z and the Louvre, if you had said that 15 years ago, people would have looked at you like you were crazy.

“But the artists have grown, the appreciation and understanding has grown.”

These days, the hip-hop music video is a powerful, intelligent, artistic platform that can have a big impact on audiences and culture, he added.

“When the artist really takes control of their visual, that’s when you get the best reflection of who they are, because they’re bringing the sensibility they bring to their music to the visual side of it,” said the music video maestro behind Drake’s viral sensation “Hotline Bling” and Rihanna’s restaurant dancehall delight “Work”

“Childish Gambino, that’s one of those ones where that belongs in an art gallery just as much as it belongs on a music streaming site.”

YouTube Music is such a service, with features including full albums, singles, playlists, remixes, covers and live performances. The service is personalized to music tastes and allows users to search based on lyrics or a description of a song.

Monday also marked the launch of YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red) in Canada, with features including ad-free videos and music, and original series and movies.

Drake’s “I’m Upset” video is among the offerings on the service and was directed by 22-year-old Karena Evans of Toronto, who was Director X’s protege.

“Karena walked in as an intern, had real drive, showed us the stuff she’d been working on, had real talent,” said X, who hails from Brampton, Ont., and co-founded the production company Creative Soul.

Last month’s release of “I’m Upset” came amid a beef between Drake and rapper Pusha T and was finished and released within a matter of “days,” he added.

“Prepping it was wild,” said X, who recently directed a remake of the 1972 Blaxploitation film “Superfly” and created the Viceland series “Mister Tachyon,” premiering July 11.

“There were a lot of things to get together. The video shoot was another wild ride, and the speed that they finished and released was lightning-fast.”