DaBaby is bringing fun back to music videos.
Visual storytelling comes naturally to the Charlotte rapper, and videos like “Suge” and “Carpet Burn” showcase his larger-than-life imagination, featuring hilarious sketches and outrageous characters.
DaBaby doesn’t do it alone, though. Reel Goats is a three-man directing crew that Baby relies on to bring his vision to the small screen. Together, they ideate and create wild storylines, often mimicking the style of early ’90s sitcoms.
The excitement and energy in DaBaby’s videos is a reflection of what happens at the shoots, which the rapper often refers to as “gangsta parties.” Reel Goats feed off of the chaos, incorporating a mix of fun and risk into every shot. “Music videos give you that opportunity to be creative, so why be safe?” one of the directors behind Reel Goats tells Complex, speaking for the group. “I want people to walk away from my set thinking, ‘Damn, I had a good ass time. I don't care how long it took.’ The crew, the cast, we don’t want anybody to feel like they didn’t have a good ass time on set. It’s positive. It’s fun. It’s keeping the energy.”
DaBaby and Reel Goats have already dropped some of the best videos of the year, but they’re just getting started. The trio of directors confirm they are working on new videos for DaBaby’s forthcoming project, which will take them to a whole new level: “If people like what we did before, they’re damn sure going to be fucking mind-blown with what we’re doing now.”
Catching up with Complex after finishing a shoot, Reel Goats shared stories behind DaBaby’s biggest music videos, revealed that the rapper once broke his hand during a shoot, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How did you first get in touch with DaBaby?
In 2015, I had a small rapper bring me to South by Southwest because that rapper was performing there. I was walking around by myself because the rapper was sleeping, and I ran into a guy giving out a flyer. So, I went inside just because I had never been to SXSW. Deniro Farrar had performed there and brought DaBaby [then known as Baby Jesus] out. I didn't know who Baby Jesus was. I guess now I know that was his first SXSW ever. I see him onstage performing a song, and I got him confused with the main act because I wasn't really familiar with concerts and the fact that other artists come in to perform. So, I’m thinking Baby Jesus is just a hype man. After the show, I go up to him. I'm thinking he’s a hype man for the Deniro Farrar, and I’m like, “Hey, can you give my card to Deniro Farrar? I loved that first song.” He's like, “Oh no, I’m an artist, too.” He gave me his CD, then I drove back to Kansas, and listened to all his music. After that, I was like, he’s dope.
I’m a raunchy motherf*cker, so I’ll push it as far as I possibly can.
DaBaby’s videos always have comedic and fun elements to them. How do you make sure to convey that?
Shit, if I’m laughing, then I know that it’s funny. If I just sit there looking at it, and I kind of grin, or second guess myself, I know it’s not working. It’s trusting that instinct. I’m a raunchy motherfucker, so I’ll push it as far as I possibly can. Then if it’s too far, we’ll come backwards. But if I don’t get a feeling of a grin, you can always tell with me. [DaBaby’s] like, “Every time you smile, I know we're doing something.” When I see it, I also rush the crew. Let’s go again because I see that people finally got it. It’s a risk. Maybe they won’t like it, but I don’t care. I have another chance. Music videos give you that opportunity to be creative. Why be safe? If you think that it’s going to be the last video you ever make, then you really aren’t in it for the long run. I want to work until I’m 80. Because of that mentality that I’m going to work that long, I’m going to make a bunch of mistakes, so I might as well try some stuff.
How would you describe the type of environment on set of DaBaby's music videos?
I’m going to use a word that he uses a lot, and it's simply “gangsta party.” Like I said, I’m raunchy. He’s raunchy. Everybody in the crew is raunchy, and we’re okay with being open-minded to how people are acting. We just want to have a good ass time. It’s a weird environment. I swear to God, one of the missions that I had when I was thinking about [Reel Goats] is I want people to walk away from my set thinking, “Damn. I had a good ass time. I don’t care how long it took.” The crew, the cast, we don’t want anybody to feel like they didn’t have a good ass time on set. That’s one of my missions every time I go out there. So, it’s positive, it’s fun, it’s keeping the energy. If there’s a negativity, we get rid of it. And if people don’t like us for the way we act, it’s like, “Cool. Go away. We don't need you.” We want people to want to be a part of this.
What would you say is the secret to the success of all of the videos?
Y’all really want to know how we do it? You want us to give them the answers? They're going to steal it. But I would say this: Take some fucking risks with your creativity and believe in your ideas because if you see something, that’s what it’s supposed to be. We fear as artists, a lot of times, that we’re not good enough. Even writers. You probably doubt yourself when you write. But it doesn’t matter what we think if we just trust our instincts. If we have that feeling that it’s bad, it’s probably bad. If we feel like it’s right, then it’s right. It’s overcoming your fears of putting your work out there and just showing yourself and being okay to make a mistake and have the whole world judge you and talk shit on you. Okay, cool. If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. The same thing, if you don’t like reading it, don’t read it.
What’s one thing that you really want people to know about DaBaby?
People don’t realize he is a true entertainer. He really believes in keeping the crowd engaged when he is on stage. He believes in keeping his audience engaged. He is really a true artist. As his new project comes out, they're going to find out for sure.
Can you walk us through the making of the video for “Suge”?
I heard almost all his songs on his album before it came out. We knew early on that one had to be something big because of that bop in it. For whatever reason when he said the Suge Knight thing, I thought of The Office. And I was just like, “Shit. You know how funny it would be to have known what Suge Knight was like in an office setting?” My mind was solely focused on The Office for a while and then he kept saying, “I want to be a mailman.” It’s so funny because this is how unattached I can be to lyrics when it comes from the melody. I was like, “What do you mean, mailman?” And he goes, “Backroom mail.” Oh shit. Okay. That makes sense. From there, I was thinking, how the fuck are we going to get that because we made the video so fast and we had three people. We need a neighborhood, we need an office, and we need a studio. Then I just started thinking it would be hilarious if we saw him performing here and people were getting beat up in the background. Then later in the day, I was like, “I think it would be funny if they were hanging him upside down.
The way it was shot was all thought of on that day. With the mailman thing, that was something that was really just improv because we kept thinking we hadn’t scoured the location. We got this neighborhood which was his manager’s neighborhood. We didn’t show his address. We literally showed up in front of it and that first shot you see, where it goes, “Oh Lord, Jetson made another one...” That was the first thing that we shot. Once I saw him walk with those things, I was like, “Hey, walk across this fence. It looks beautiful.” So I went with him and I just kind of start dancing like him the whole time. Whatever he was doing, I wanted to do with him. So I was free-flowing dancing with him. We were running up and down the street.
[DaBaby] broke some bones for a music video. That’s pretty epic. I don’t know any other artists who are breaking their bones.
Then we were like, “Man, we got to get a mail truck.” All of a sudden, we see one pull by and just stop. It’s like the whole idea of the universe working with you when you have positivity. He started performing and then the mail guy came back. It was so funny. It was during the take and he just didn’t care. So he just gave him a dab and we ran off.
The office scene is something that happened last-minute. That’s his real office. He rents that office in Charlotte. He had just got it and it was empty. I was just like, “Well, this is not what I see. I see cubicles and a lot of people and it's really busy.” Again, don’t let circumstances affect you. So, we’re like, “Okay. Fuck it. I guess we’ll use this.” There’s no point for you to spend more money and rent one. We’re in Charlotte and they don’t have L.A. or New York pre-made offices. I hit up a couple of people locally and we told them to show up at night. We made sure we had a variety of people who looked fun. I was like, “Hey John, just go from person to person.” That's when you see him going over and riding on stuff.
When he was recording the song, I remember seeing him do the dance he did in the video while he was in the studio. He just kept doing that, and I was like, “Dude, you got to put that in the video.” So right there, he started doing the dance inside and I was like, “Oh. This is fucking amazing. Hey, everybody else, start doing what he did. Start moving with him.” We did one more take on a different lens, which was the last take. After I saw him and everyone else doing the dance, I said, “Maybe we should pull you in the front and you act like you’re teaching them.” So they blocked everybody out of the way they were. They started doing it, and I was like, “Okay, this feels a little stagnant after one verse.” So I said, “Move.” And I had them start going crazy. We did four takes and we got it. The whole video was so natural. Those people had the energy at the time.
Did you ever expect the video to get this big of a response?
To be honest, when we were shooting the video, we knew this dance was going to make it go viral. When I edited it, it looked like it would go viral. At the time, the only video that we had that was popular was “Walker Texas Ranger.” So, we were thinking, as long as you get a million in a week, you did a good job. After 20 million [views], I stopped paying attention. It’s amazing to feel this way, but I definitely didn’t think it would do that. I think he believed it, but I don’t care how viral it goes when it comes to creation of these videos. My intention is to make them go crazy. But as far as how big? That’s up to the risk-taking.
What’s the most memorable moment from the “Carpet Burn” video?
Oh my God. we decided to do that shoot at 11 p.m. the day before. There was a shit load of pressure, and he really wanted to get it done. “Carpet Burn” was a song that he felt like he needed to do. The second part of it with the whole skit aspect, we developed that on set. He had just gotten in that incident, where the guy just kept going at him. That whole song, “Deal With It,” talks about Baby, and the fact that he could take your girl. We wanted to put some context to the fact that we had a girl in the video and he was just a plumber dude—a regular ass dude—that can steal a girl like that. That's how much swag he has. When he fucking put that fat suit on, I was dying.
We couldn’t finish the video that night. It was so late. The crew was so tired. So we decided to pick it up on another day. The part where he starts running from DaBaby, we shot in L.A. We had to rent out this building. It was the J.W. Marriott. He comes fucking running out the building and we started rolling the camera. His brother, like his longtime friend, decided to play him. It’s cool that his brother is so big that he actually has a similar shape in terms of his hairstyle and the way his face is.
For the cone sequence, we found a bunch of cones in the parking lot and just put them all over. I was like, “Just zig-zag in and out of there.” He's like, “I want to really fall. Really hit me. I really want to fall. Fuck it, I do my own stunts.” That’s what he said. So we did it and he falls. He had just gotten into that fight, so his hand was really swollen and sensitive. That”s why he had that wrap on there. He really fell down super fucking hard and I could tell that he fucked his hand up. I didn’t want to stop recording, because it would’ve been for nothing if I would have. As he got up, he’s like, “Ow, God Damn. I fucked up my hand.” He ended up breaking it. He shattered it, and that’s why he had that cast for so long. He fell right on top of that shit and broke it. He broke some bones for a music video. That’s pretty epic. I don’t know any other artists who are breaking their bones.
Most artists are trying to be hella careful so they don't.
Yeah, they're bougie as hell. That’s one thing about him. That's why he's going to be a superstar because he cares. That's why his videos are creative. He just keeps going. When you're filming him, don't look away. He's going to do some shit you've never seen.
What was the most memorable moment during the making of “Baby Sitter” with Offset?
That house was Offset’s old house. He actually lived there. He hooked us up with his broker. Offset was really eager to work with us. That was one thing I respected about him. I’d never met him, and he wanted to talk to me. He actually called and talked to me for 20 minutes about the video and gave me his ideas. That was really cool for me as a person. I’m not a fan boy, but I respect [the Migos]. The fact that he wanted to do that was surprising. Most artists don’t give a shit, so that was really nice. When we were shooting it, seeing them together was such a cool dynamic and we wanted to do more, but again, it was that idea that once you have it, you have it. We created the environment for them and they just had fun. We bought all that food for that scene and no one ate any of it.
If people like what we did before, they’re damn sure going to be fucking mind-blown with what we’re doing now.
Was it really in front of a live studio audience? I know it said that in the first cut.
No. That’s the creativity. They wanted to do a skit together. I feel like we bring the best out of these artists when they want to work with us. Every time I’ve worked with other artists, they just want to show up and be in front of the thing. The fact that we’ve created such a cool wave, brings their creativity out. I saw the best in Offset for the time that we had him. I gave him a toy, like a toy money gun and toy action figures, so they had fun. They improvised that.
What is your favorite video that you’ve made so far?
I’ll tell you what, every single video that we’re going to do on this next project. I’m really excited to show the level that we’re taking it. If people like what we did before, they’re damn sure going to be fucking mind-blown with what we’re doing now. So, my favorite video is all my future videos. Every time I do a project, it’s my favorite one. It’s just because we're getting better.
As far as the ones that we’ve done so far with him, I think “Walker Texas Ranger,” because that’s where it began. If it wasn’t for that video, we wouldn’t be doing videos now. I wrote the whole idea of him driving and then flying off the cliff and then making his way to some meth-heads that are sitting there. They live in the woods and he fights them and kills them. Those two people you see there are my brother and the other guy, Gem and I. We shot all of that in California. Once I saw it, I saw the new vision of where we were going. I felt like it was so on point to his brand. After he saw it too, we just knew that we had something special.
How did you first get into music video direction?
I was a Journalism major in college, and I hated the news. I knew I didn’t want to do news broadcasting, and we didn’t have a film program at all. I was in Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and my brothers wanted to make a music video. A the time, DSLRs were starting to come out, and they were kind of popular. I never used one before, so I went to Best Buy and bought a Cannon T3i, a little cheap kit lens. We shot a music video for them and edited it together. Everybody was so blown away by it. I didn’t really know why, but they liked it. People around the city wanted me to start shooting videos for them. Then I realized I could freelance, even if it was for local people. It was just local acts, really small towns, but that taught me to how to direct artists and know what they wanted.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I really focus on the creative first. I love inspiration from other music videos, but I definitely never want to copy. I want to be inspired by it, but I don't want to copy it. I watched a lot of ’90s things and I loved sitcoms, and Family Guy. Most of my inspiration comes from the sitcom era. When I think about it, I feel like it’s just trying to have fun and entertain. Keeping that first and knowing that it’s the artist’s brand, then the audience enjoys that. So, [the videos] style themselves. It’s risk-taking creativity.
“every video, [DABABY] gives me one or two thoughts. I go back and I write, and then I present it. He trusts me so much now, I don't even have to present a treatment.” -REEL GOATS
How involved are you with video ideas from the beginning?
With any artist I’ve ever worked with, I always want to know what the tone of the video is and what they want to get across to thier audience. I always ask them first, “What do you see when you're recording?” They tell me a few things, and if I feel like it’s not the right tone, then I focus on the melody. What is the feeling that I get when I hear the song? Then, I try to infuse that feeling, no matter what the idea is. With me and Baby’s relationship, it’s actually one of the most creative relationships I’ve ever had with an artist. He trusts me so much to say some shit that sounds so ridiculous. Then it's like a bounce back and forth. I say something, he sees something, he says something, I say something, and it gets built.
For the most part, every video, he gives me one or two thoughts. I go back and I write, and then I present it. He trusts me so much now, I don't even have to present a treatment. This year, we had an idea and we just went and did it without even thinking. It’s like the freestyle approach. As we were shooting, we were developing ideas along the way and improvising. A lot of it is coming from improv and a lot of it’s coming from that collaboration between him and I and my brother and another member of Reel Goats. It’s three of us. It’s a heavy collaboration amongst everybody and a large team effort.
With that improv, what are some challenges you may face?
The challenges come when you have an idea and then all of a sudden, some external force stops that. Sometimes other talent doesn't show up or the crew is being slow or whatever. When you’re improvising, people have to understand that you’re trying to get people to see it as quickly as possible. When they don’t see it, you have to go in solo in the dark and trust yourself. It’s more about, “I've never done this before. Let me just see what happens.” The more we do it, and the more times we take those risks, the confidence is that much higher, and it’s going to come out the way that it’s supposed to. It’s no longer like, “I wanted it to be this way.” It’s, “This is how it’s supposed to look and feel from the get-go.” Discovering that during the creation, you’ll have the right mentality. We’re listening to the song countless times to make sure that we understand the beat and the melody and the breakdowns and we understand the artist’s meaning. Everyone has to trust each other. So, the challenges are there, but they’re external challenges that we overcome really quickly because we don’t let that shit bother us.
Are there any other artists that you're working with now on future videos coming out?
I’ve been working with Chance the Rapper. I’ve talked with Rico Nasty. I’ve talked with Slim Jxmmi. I’ve talked with Boosie. Chance is the biggest one that we’re going to have fun with. It’s going to be a crazy, crazy ass video. It’s exciting to get the respect of someone like him, to say he’s a fan of our work and to say that he wants us to do something for him. There’s another one that I would say, but I feel like I probably shouldn’t. Just know that we have intentions. We’re cool with people that are the best. We don’t want to work with anybody that we feel isn’t up to the standards that we created with DaBaby. If people don’t love what they do, then we don’t want to work with them. We’re not here to get a check. We’re here to create. The business side is something, but that’s not why we turn down people. We turn down people if we don’t like their motivation and if they don’t make the music that we feel people love.