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How Cole Bennett became SoundCloud rap’s go-to music video director

Director Cole Bennett’s psychedelic, colorful bursts of animation have become the official animations of the new generation of rap, captivating the audience through a mixture of low-budget, organic treatments combined with abstract Fear and Loathing style animations.

Now Bennett, with his YouTube channel and blog Lyrical Lemonade, has the platform to break new artists. Not only is he providing the visual aesthetic of SoundCloud Rap, Bennett is now a tastemaker as fans clamor to see which new artists Bennett blesses with his visuals.

Bennett has shot for artists like Lil Pump, Smokepurpp, Lil Xan, Xavier Wulf, Trippie Redd, Ski Mask The Slump God, and $teve Cannon, but his movement started around his hometown of Chicago.

After shooting videos for Chicago artist Famous Dex, Bennett, who is from a rural suburb about an hour outside the city, recognized there was an opportunity to reach fans and offer a platform to artists around Chicago and beyond.

He told Pigeons and Planes about starting his blog and throwing his first events in Chicago:

“I knew that I could only do so much with just videos when I started out. I wanted it to be bigger than that. So I made the blog and I would come home from high school and just write like five to ten blog posts a day and do interviews here and there. Then I threw my first show in the city—a free show—like 100 person capacity show.”

Since that first show, Bennett’s live events have grown in size and profile, with Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Xavier Wulf, and showing out.

The shows and his blog have taken on a life of their own and any artists Bennett works with will get a natural boost in popularity, as music industry people are now looking to Bennett for guidance. Bennett told Pigeons and Planes about the scope of his platform:

“Beyond the videos themselves, people want the platform and a way to get heard. I was in New York a couple weeks ago, visiting with some labels, and they told me they were keeping an eye on my channel because we were breaking new artists on there. That was crazy to hear.”

While Bennett’s events and live shows have helped him break new artists, it’s his music videos that are truly shaping the look and aesthetic of the new generation of rappers bursting onto the scene.

Every Bennett video is littered with trippy, mind-bending animations, despite the fact that the actual set of the video is often limited to one nondescript location.

Early in Bennett’s career, he realized he didn’t have access to limitless budgets or sets so he decided to use animation to take his visuals to the next level and make them stick out. He told Pigeons and Planes:

“When I was getting started, everyone was shooting these little videos here and there and just throwing them together in 45 minutes, even with the editing process.  thought there was an opportunity to take an extra step and have some more fun with it. When I was starting off, I wasn’t getting crazy budgets or anything like that, so I figured out how to use my creativity and computer to take things to the next level. I didn’t have crazy sets or anything, so I had to figure out another way to make things special.”

The psychedelic animations pair perfectly with the new genre-bending, drug-addled subject matter of many of the artists Bennett works with.

And while his animations separate Bennett from most other music video directors, the “run-and-gun” video technique was inspired by a couple videographers from Chicago, Austin Vesely and A Zae Production.

Bennett spoke to Rolling Stone about his influences:

“I was huge into Chance the Rapper, who, at the time, had the city on lock. His director Austin Vesely was the one that made me wanna do videos. I remember meeting him one time, thanking him; and everyone around him ­– Chance, all them – were like, ‘Austin never gets recognized.’ As far as what I do, the type of run-and-gun video, man, A Zae Production is the one who paved the way shooting videos for all of these guys.”

Chicago drill has influenced contemporary rap to such an extent that Bennett’s own inspirations were also those of the Miami rappers Smokepurpp and Lil Pump.

So when Bennett moved beyond the Chicago hip-hop scene to shoot videos for other artists, their mutual influences meant there was no creative learning curve:

“Honestly, it was really similar in a sense cause people like Smokepurpp and Lil Pump, they’re hugely influenced by guys like Chief Keef and Famous Dex. They’re the ones that created the whole, ‘Let’s shoot a video in a basement, shot in slo-mo, cut it up and make it look cool.’ When I went to Miami and worked with Smokepurpp and Pump and those guys, it was a similar vibe, and that point I had already created my name for being known for effects and things like that. … I just ran with it.”

After shooting videos for Smokepurpp and Lil Pump as those two artists quickly ascended to the top of the hip-hop food chain, Bennett found himself shooting for virtually every young rapper on the rise.

Bennett is in the rarified air of being both artist and curator, providing the visual aesthetic of SoundCloud Rap and also having the platform to break artists.

In this sense, Bennett understands the landscape of contemporary hip-hop more intimately than many who have analyzed and critiqued the new wave of rap.

But Bennett is frustrated by some of the misconceptions of the artists he works with, he told Pigeons and Planes last year that artists like Lil Pump ain’t no joke and deserve to be taken seriously:

“A lot of people view it as a joke and they view it as something that’s not realistic and don’t think it has longevity. People don’t understand that Lil Pump isn’t just fuckin’ taking Xans all the time or whatever it may be. He knows how to market himself. He’s going to make a million dollars by the end of 2017. These are real entrepreneurs. People don’t see that, and that’s what frustrates me. That’s why I’m excited for this to get bigger. I want to see more types of music and I want to see it grow and evolve in different ways. I want to see progression.”

As Bennett’s platform expands and his budgets get larger, his visuals are sure to become more polished and calculated.

But regardless of where his art goes in the future, Cole Bennett’s videos have already become the de facto visual aesthetic of contemporary rap.

We’ll be watching to see what he does next.

Peep his latest feature on Forbes: