“I do this for my culture,” Kendrick spits in the second verse of “The Heart Part 5.”
Since 2010, the Compton rapper has periodically released these slices of his heart in song form. Ruminations of a Gemini. Tightly packed cultural reflections. Raw models of his lyrical ability. At 23, that meant a formal introduction. “I’m free, finally I can say I’m me,” he raps on “The Heart Part 1.” Then, he continues, “J. Cole runnin’ late/If he don’t show up, think I can take his place/Ladies start laughing… No pun intended, I ain’t being sarcastic.”
Five years after that, in 2017, “The Heart Part 4” was released about a month before DAMN., and Kendrick was in prophet mode: “The legendary status of a hip-hop rhyme savior.” A word he later officially untethered from on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Each iteration felt raw, and only the first had a video pairing—until now.
This time, after a five-year hiatus, the artist returned with an artful, up-for-interpretation approach for his quintan offering—a layered track whose visual pairing tells us another story all its own. The video is a one shot take featuring the faces of instantly discernible Black men as he talks on everything from clout to salvation and potential regret. It was a well-received homecoming for Kendrick’s day ones and it looks like The Recording Academy took a liking to it, too.
“To me, the award should go to the most impactful, and the thing that moves culture, and really is a talking point,” he tells Complex.
Ahead of the Grammys, we spoke to Jason Baum on the making of “The Heart Part 5,” what he appreciates about the work of the other nominees, and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
Everyone’s flying in for Grammy’s week. But it’s nice to just be here and be grounded, during this time especially. How are you feeling this week?
Feeling excited. Can’t wait to be there. Can’t wait to see all [of] the ceremony and, you know [laughs] maybe win.
Yeah. How many times have you been?
This is my fourth Grammy nomination, which is pretty crazy to me because I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t play an instrument, definitely can’t write a song. So yeah, feeling pretty blessed to have more nominations than way more talented people than me.
You’re just being humble. Obviously film is your realm. Have you been nominated for an Oscar yet?
Haven’t gotten the Oscar. That’s still on the goal list, but I have a nomination for an Emmy for my film Beastie Boys Story.
Sounds like you’re trying to get an EGOT.
One day. You can only wish.
So obviously you were Grammy nominated for your work on “The Heart Part 5.” Congratulations.For folks who are unclear of the differing roles that a director, executive producer, producer etc. fill or take on, do you mind explaining what you do, and what you were responsible for on this particular acclaimed project?
Sure. Producing is a lot like being a wedding planner [laughs]; I essentially am putting together an event. There is a bride and a groom, and that might be an artist on a record label, or a manager or director. And I’m trying to take their vision of what a day or a shoot should be and execute it. So I bring on the personnel to support that, hire vendors, deal with onsite support, logistics, and anything that goes into pulling something off.
“Producing is a lot like being a wedding planner.”
So, in a film or music video context, that’s what I do. I’m the first person to start. I put together a budget. I start hiring crew, help find locations, cast, and maintain the shoot, try and keep it on budget, see it through post-production, through editing color VFX, and then ultimately final delivery. Sometimes there’s some involvement about the release, but usually from the point of delivery, the label or the artist then takes that and figures out how they’re going to put it into the world, and then I just watch it grow.
How involved are you in the creative process, ideation and those parts of the process?
It really kind of depends on the director. If it’s a director that I’ve worked with in the past, normally there’s a little bit more creative involvement. As a director, it can be very hard sometimes to filter out what you’re looking to do, or what’s the best decision at times. And sometimes you need that collaborator to bounce off of and have a second opinion, so that you can form your own. So if it’s a director that I have a deep history with, and have a lot of past experience with, yeah, I do get a lot of input or at least able to express ideas or thoughts. If it’s a new director, a little bit less, it really kind of depends. Some people are very specific, and they just know exactly what they want, and others want that back and forth and communication.
How was working with Dave Free, and Kendrick of course?
Dave Free and Kendrick have such a history together. I might be mistaken, but I think they’ve known each other since they were teens. So, they very much know what each other likes, and Kendrick has implicit trust in Dave to see it through. I found them both to be very collaborative, and very willing to explore and find creative solutions. Because in “The Heart Part 5” it’s a little bit more simple in a way. It’s Kendrick against a backdrop, and there’s a lot of the effects work going on, and there’s a lot of thought and intention behind it. But we shot that along with another video, “Count Me Out,” that came out a little bit later back in December. And that had a lot of different vignettes and scenes that we had to adjust based on logistics and money. And there’s never enough money, and there’s never enough time. So there’s always little quick fixes that we have to do to make everything work.
I really enjoyed the video for “Count Me Out.” It felt like a tease… a further glimpse of the creative energy that you guys can clearly cook up together as a unit. What was one of those moments where you had to come up with a creative solution for something, whether it be on “Count Me Out,” or “The Heart Part 5?”
On “Count Me Out,” the hard thing was that we had all these vignettes that were just very unique. And if we had unlimited money and time we would just do maybe four vignettes a day, and stretch it out, and really go to the exactly perfect location and do it, but we didn’t. So, we had to find a location that could offer us three or four things. So it’s like, as much as Dave and Kendrick had a treatment together that had a specific thing that they were after, I would have to be like, “Well, I know this is what we wanted it to be, but hey, here at this location, maybe with our department or looking a certain way, maybe this could be what you want.” Even though ideally we would move to a specific spot. So it was more like trying to figure out how to take their 30, 40 vignettes and fit it within… I think we did it over maybe three shoot days or something.
Where was that space? Where Helen Mirren and Kendrick were sitting on “Count Me Out.”
For locations, we normally have a location manager that helps us find ideas. I don’t know if I want to reveal exactly where it is, but it’s a house in Pasadena. And yeah, it’s a really beautiful place.
Do you guys have some other videos in your pocket to release attached to that project?
Not for myself. They’re a very secretive camp, so I’m sure they have all kinds of things in their back pocket, but nothing that I’m working on currently.
What are you passionate about that you’re working on currently?
I always try and pick projects that I would want to watch as an audience. That’s always really important to me. Because producing can be… very stressful, but it’s very time intensive as well. And so, if it’s not something that you can be honest with yourself and say, “I would watch that if I wasn’t involved in it,” then I don’t think it’s worth your time I guess, or putting my time towards it. But no, I don’t have anything specifically lined up at the moment. I’m definitely trying to develop my feature filmmaking career and expand to bigger, longer things. But I’m not one to turn down a good interesting music video or something if that comes across sometime soon.
“This is definitely high up there in all the things that I’ve done.”
As you move forward to other projects, including other documentaries and full length feature films, where does this project sit alongside the rest of your body of work for you?
That’s quite a question. I think it’s pretty high up there. I mean, it starts with the song. The song is so incredibly moving. I think everyone on set when we heard it for the first time—and we were hearing it essentially playing off a phone because we were concerned about leaks and privacy or confidentiality; so, I didn’t even hear it in its real quality—but I could still tell how incredibly emotional it was. So, I think I’ll always hold that experience really dear. And yeah, I think when I stack up my work, a lot of it is the emotional connection that I had while working on it. So this is definitely high up there in all the things that I’ve done.
Rankings are very hard indeed, we do many. So I know.
Oh I’m sure, yeah.
Wait, so whose phone was it when you listened to it? That’s a great memory.
I think Dave, it was either Dave’s phone or he passed it to our sound guy, which is pretty common on a large music video. People are just very secretive these days and really have to lock down files. But it wasn’t something where even I have the file sitting on my hard drive or something.
Right. Yeah. I feel like Beyoncé and Kendrick both operate on a particularly high level of secrecy. How far before the public were you privy to the song? And how does that gap feel between that moment and the project’s release?
I mean, I think it’s gone even beyond that. I guess maybe whenever the first surprise Beyoncé drop happened, all these artists were like, “Oh, that’s what we should be doing. We should hold this very close and not let anything spoil.” Everything has become such a surprise in terms of release it seems. I actually don’t know how long they [worked] on the project before the release necessarily. But we did “The Heart Part 5” [about] a month before it came out. So there’s not a lot of lead time usually.
With a project like this, so many people are involved. Obviously when the win is announced on Sunday, typically only one or two people walk up. Who are some people that come to mind that you think you would also want to highlight in this moment or shout out?
Well, obviously, hopefully if we do win, we get to go up and we get to thank most of the people. But each project comes with 50 plus crew members that help make it, at the very least, I would say. So we’re only as good as everyone who works on the project. So, if they were ever to grant us the amount of time, like sure, it’d be awesome to either have everyone there, or to say everyone’s names. But hopefully everyone knows how thankful we are of their contributions and their work. But yeah, ideally the whole crew gets to celebrate in it.
”The award should go to the most impactful, and the thing that moves culture, and really is a talking point.”
We do this list every year where we look at who is being nominated in every category, including best music video, and assess who should win and who will win based on past patterns, et cetera. Obviously you think you guys should win. Who do you think will win?
Well, I like to think positively, and I like to manifest things. So my vote would obviously be for Kendrick. I think it’s culturally the most impactful video that’s in the group, and I think that’s important. It is comparatively simple in a way. I mean, obviously it has a very complex VFX aspect to it, but otherwise it is one shot. And it is actually one shot, it’s not stitched together or anything like that. So I could understand that it’s simple, compared to some other videos. But to me, the award should go to the most impactful, and the thing that moves culture, and really is a talking point.
In terms of the other nominees, obviously Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” short film music video is very epic in scope, and I always respect a musician artist that directs their own stuff, and really has that specific unique vision that they’re trying to get across. So, I respect what she does. Otherwise, I think all the videos are strong. But I think those are probably the two top contenders. And I don’t know if it was an upset, I do really love the Harry Styles video. I think it’s really beautiful.