On this day 15 years ago, Harold "Hype" Williams released his first and only feature film, Belly. Williams rose to popularity during the '90s on the strength of his innovative approach to music video direction, creating some of the most exalted visuals to date with videos for Missy Elliott ("The Rain [Supa Dupa Fly]"), Busta Rhymes ("Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See"), Tupac ("California Love"), The Notorious B.I.G. ("Warning") and ("One More Chance"), Craig Mack ("Flava in Ya Ear" [Remix]) and LL Cool J ("Hey Lover", "Doin' It" and "Loungin'"). You can watch 10 seconds of any of these and know that Hype Williams was behind the camera.

In 1998, he made his big screen debut with Belly, a sleek crime drama starring DMX, Nas, Taral Hicks, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, and Method Man. Though much of the story ended up on the editing room floor and it was widely panned by critics, it's become a cult classic. Despite the film's many issues, Williams was able to harness DMX's raw energy, Nas' ripe wisdom and the personality that made Method Man the most accesible member of the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as a formidable actor in the making.

Though flawed from a storytelling standpoint, Belly is a visual masterpiece. From the breathtaking opening scene (filmed at the legendary New York City nightclub the Tunnel) until the redemption of DMX's Tommy "Buns" Bundy in the final moments, Belly employs many of the styles and effects that made Williams such a runaway success as a music video director. Though considered a failure by many outside of hip-hop culture, Belly was the apex of Williams' methodology. 

As we remember the film on its 15th anniversary, we examine how Belly sums up Hype Williams' catalogue of music videos. Step into the Tunnel (in slow motion, of course) once again.

Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)

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