Ricky Shabazz Interview

Lights, Camera, Rappin: Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys Present Hip Hop for the Eyes

Boom. That’s the kick of the bass drum. Bap. That’s the snap of the snare. Boom Bap. That’s the beat for the b-boys, DJs, emcees, and hip hop heads. Without a dance move, an MPC, or a microphone, a skilled young man from Manhattan has managed to maneuver his way into the ever-expanding hip-hop community. His instrument of choice – a video camera.

Presenting Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys.

Sitting between two clowns on a wet bench, a man with an umbrella drinks a cup of coffee. He stands, and when the men in makeup follow him, he turns, throwing his coffee at one, and punching the other in the face. Soul Khan starts rapping. Shirt bloody, he’s running through a park fending off crazed clowns with his bare hands and a crow bar. Capturing it all, safely behind the lens, is Nick Heller, director and CEO of the production company responsible for some of the most provocative new music videos on the ‘net. But don’t mistake the young video producer for his wily guise; Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys is just the brand name.

“A general misconception is that I am Ricky Shabazz. I am not. Ricky Shabazz is a character I made up, and I am just one of his Boom Bap Boys. I consider anyone who has ever worked on one of my projects to be a Boom Bap Boy (or Gal) as well.”

Ricky Shabazz productions began during Heller’s junior year at Emerson College when he bought a Canon 7D video camera and started making no-budget video shorts. Shooting his early videos in the Boston neighborhoods in which he lived, Heller turned toward music videos after graduating in the Spring of 2011, and has since moved to Brooklyn, New York. Initially unsure how to approach music artists, Heller caught a break when C-Rayz Walz, a legendary freestyle rapper from the Bronx, looked past his lack of music video experience and collaborated on a video for Walz’s song “Destroy.”

Since then, Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys has become a household name in the underground hip hop scene. Aside from dropping a mixtape titled Free Shabazz (presented by Fameless Fam and UGHH.com), Heller has worked with an assortment of rap acts in the past two years including Apathy, Juan Deuce, Falside, Fresh Daily, Ceschi, The Doppelgangaz, Reks, Soul Kahn, R.A. the Rugged Man, Homeboy Sandman, and Moe Pope.

“I started to fall back from doing short films because rather than paying to make my own video, I was now getting paid to do other people’s videos that would get far more views with [the artists’] popularity. I don’t think I could have gotten my name out otherwise.”

Aside from being Heller’s favorite type of music, hip-hop is a genre well represented in the cyber world. The wide variety of websites and blogs act as promotional forums for his often-shocking visuals, allowing Ricky Shabazz videos to go viral. Be it a half-naked girl chained up by Moe Pope and his band of droog-esque zombies (“Grateful Dead of Night”) or bloody images of open-heart surgery looming above the car Juan Deuce drives around in “Guts”; Heller likes to “push the boundaries of appropriateness,” he tells me. Taking full advantage of the censor-free nature of the Internet, Heller shows off his creative latitude, steadily creating the edgy, artistic videos for which he’s known.

“If the video is dope, people will see it.”

The video for “Stop What Ya Doin” by Apathy featuring Celth Titled begins with a striking black and white shot of the song’s producer, DJ Premier, introducing the track while casually smoking a cigarette. Later in the video, Heller cuts to another black and white shot in which periodic backward footage seems to show Premier inhaling and exhaling smoke to the rhythm of the vinyl scratch. Backward shots, bizarre color filtration, and drastic cuts and camera movements are common to many Ricky Shabazz productions.

“The best is when I hear a song and I can visualize a treatment within seconds after,” he explains. “I don’t necessarily even need to be a fan of the song to be inspired immediately. When an idea doesn’t come to me miraculously, I like to sit down with the artist and hear more about the deeper meaning of the song. Hearing their interpretation will normally prompt me to take it in my own direction.”

Artists who have worked with Heller say he’s a brilliant young talent and very easy to work with. Homeboy Sandman, who has collaborated with Heller on a few projects including videos for his songs “The Essence” and “Strange Planet”, says Heller thinks outside of the box and has a knack for telling a story with visuals in unexpected ways.

“Shooting a music video with Nick Heller feels a lot more like shooting a short film than it does like shooting a music video,” Boy Sand told me about the experience. “Making the ‘Strange Planet’ vid was a ball. It was Heller who came up with the idea of using the wolves looking for the egg as symbolism of Nazi Germany. And Nazi Germany being representative of the type of madness happening on this planet.”

Through his keen sense of visual narrative, fans of film and music alike have come to love and identify with Ricky Shabazz productions. With a quickly-growing Twitter following and video views reaching toward the millions, Heller no longer depends on artist popularity to promote his company. In fact, the notoriety of Ricky Shabazz and the Boom Bap Boys has inverted Heller’s role in the hip-hop community.

“I get a lot more satisfaction out of doing a video that really helps an unknown talent than doing a video for a bigger act that is destined to get a shit ton of views no matter what,” he says about the role reversal. “If the video is dope, people will see it.”



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