The music-video maestros helping put Milwaukee’s sound on the map.
The opening shot of the gloomy music video “Doomsday,” released in January 2015, finds Milwaukee rapper WebsterX rolling his head while ascending an old freight elevator. That image turned out to be quite prophetic, as the city’s burbling rap scene became part of the national conversation in 2015. That rise was primarily thanks to WebsterX’s immersive hip-hop collective New Age Narcissism, which came out with a stream of ambitious projects throughout the year. But perhaps as vital were the two sets of eyes behind the camera, a team that brought narrative depth, high production quality and an unshakeable confidence to local musicians’ music videos.
“Doomsday” was picked up by news outlets across the country, marking a milestone for its directors, Cody LaPlant and Damien Blue. But the roommates didn’t spend much time congratulating each other, because there were so many requests from artists who wanted to collaborate. They directed two more WebsterX videos and a handful for Lex Allen, IshDARR and Reggie Bonds to similar acclaim. They found work outside the state as well – LaPlant traveling as far as Boston for a shoot. Each video was stylistically different, yet they shared that clean cinematic quality, a feat considering their budgets were often close to zero.
“I owe them the most for making me look good on your computer screen,” says WebsterX (real name Sam Ahmed). He cites LaPlant and Blue’s beguiling visuals as a “total influence, if not all the influence” on the wide-reaching scope New Age Narcissism experienced last year.
Accounting for much of the videos’ Hollywood looks is the duo’s Sony Alpha a7S, a compact interchangeable-lens camera that captures professional-looking images and retails for around $2,100.
“It’s actually scary how good a small camera like that is,” LaPlant says. This essentially evened the playing field for LaPlant and Blue, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee film alumnus and a current film student, respectively, who also work as wedding photographers to pay the bills. But even with high picture quality, something captivating needs to fill the frame, and whether it’s wardrobe, extras or shooting locations, it all costs money. For this LaPlant and Blue rely on their hustling skills, offering up trades in lieu of monetary compensation. It’s a grueling process, but plenty of establishments are supportive.
“We would not be able to shoot at any of these spots if we lived in New York or Los Angeles,” Blue says. “If it weren’t for living in Milwaukee and having that kindness, the camaraderie and the connections, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”