If there’s a music video that captures the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of June 2020, it’s YG’s “FTP” — which, obviously, is an abbreviation of “f— the police.” The song and the clip are an homage to N.W.A’s legendary 1988 song of the same name as well as “FDT (F— Donald Trump),” YG’s 2016 collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle.
The “FTP” clip — filmed in Los Angeles on June 7 at a demonstration that saw Black Lives Matter, with YG and the BLD PWR organization, drawing a crowd that BLM estimated at nearly 100,000 people, one of the largest in the city’s history — also features several notable figures, ranging from academic and Black Lives Matters’ Los Angeles Chapter cofounder Melina Abdullah and actor Kendrick Sampson to Justin Bieber/Ariana Grande manager Scooter Braun [seen at the 1:52 mark], who also sort-of manages Kanye West.
The video was directed and turned around quickly by Kariuki (who prefers to go only by that name), founder of Denied Approval, which is also a YouTube channel and a clothing line. Variety caught up with him about how the clip came together — and how he feels about criticism from rapper Chika and others who felt that YG exploited the march to make a video, and more.
How did you get your start in the industry?
It started off at this A$AP Ferg concert — I saw my homie skip the whole line [because he was] shooting photos. I was already a photographer, but I didn’t know that was a thing. So two weeks later I was at the OVO Fest in Toronto and thought, “Let me try to sneak in as a concert photographer, see what happens,” and long story short, I got in and met Drake, Kanye, Rihanna that night, and that was my introduction to the game. That’s what Denied Approval is about: “Don’t wait for anyone’s approval to do what you want to do.” Even when I was trying to do videos in high school, they always told me “You’re not going to make a career out of this sh–.”
How did you end up directing the “FTP” video?
Denied Approval’s Youtube is the rawest form of culture. The other day, I went out to film the riots — shot a bunch of stuff, edited that night, uploaded it. It got 200K on Instagram, which was pretty cool because I’d never had a video go that big on IG TV. YG’s team reached out to me like, “Yo, YG saw your video and he really wants you to direct this new song, ‘FTP’.”
I really wanted to show people the realness, but also a perspective change. The song’s called “FTP” so it’s clearly biased, but I wanted to give logic, understanding, and emotion to that bias and show the realest, rawest sh– — make people feel like they’re there, seeing people getting hit in the mouth with a stick by the cops.
Talk about capturing the riot footage, you were there in the heat of what was happening?
I’m actually in the video, [3:06] mark, so I had a first-hand experience. Personally, that felt so good: All that built-up aggression was left there at that [burning] cop car. Now, I feel like I can move on mentally. I don’t hold this hate in my heart for police like I did, but I still don’t like what’s going on.
At the time, I didn’t know how crazy it was because we’re so on-the-go. But it’s like whoa, this is bigger than me — this is a real, worldwide thing happening, a feeling of unity.
How many cameras and people were used to capture video?
I shot all the performances, all the riot b-roll, then we pulled news clips from YouTube. We asked the kid who got that famous drone shot if we could use that. So ti was 80% me, 10% news, 10% random people who were there. I used one camera — I own one camera, one lens. No crew, all my videos are run-and-done, too.
How long did the video take to make?
After we were done shooting, I Ubered from the rally to the airport — I had to go to Sacramento to shoot another music video, we shot from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., then I hopped on a 6 a.m. flight back to L.A. and went straight to YG’s house. We were up for two days straight, there was a good four hours where he was right there next to me. He didn’t want to go to sleep — he said “I’ma sit here. If I fall asleep, wake me back up.” [laughs]
Talk about the celebrities who came out to support: Melina Abdullah, Kendrick Sampson, Scooter Braun.
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t notice it — everyone had masks on. I didn’t realize until after, but it’s still super-empowering to have these people you look up to.
You said Braun hit you up during the editing process?
Me and YG were sitting there, he’s on the phone with someone for 25 minutes, then he passed me the phone. YG said, “You know who that is, right?,” I’m like “Nah, who?” “Scooter Braun.” We’re looking at each other like damn, that’s crazy. It seemed YG was even a little surprised he’s trying to help him out with this.
What was that conversation?
He’s saying that he really loved the way the video’s going, and if we’re going to do it right, we have to make sure it’s on point. Scooter said “I’m going to pull up on you guys, we can talk about it together.” He pulled up to the house and was with us for two hours. We had a meeting about how we get the right message across and hit people the right way. On the phone, I told him I had an idea about putting that kid’s voice at the end, [with the idea being to] show the anger, then this is why the anger [exists]. I played him that voice recording, like a minute-something long, through the phone, thinking, “This guy’s either going to think I’m a complete idiot or he’s going to f— with it,” and Scooter said “I love that. We have to put that in.”
The record pays homage to N.W.A.’s “F**k da Police.” Did the visual also?
It captured that new energy. We can obviously relate to N.W.A but we also can’t, because we don’t know the pain they’re feeling. We know history repeats itself but because we didn’t experience it, we don’t feel it. I’m getting to create the new page of the new history book.
What did you think of the criticism YG received, saying that he showed up at the protest, posed and then left?
That’s information without context. People don’t know that all of the money from the song goes to Black Lives Matter. It made it even more important for me to do a good job: we’re going to show these a–holes. A lot of people wouldn’t even have been there if it wasn’t for him. Regardless of what people think, you have to look at what happened.
What are your thoughts about this moment in history, with Black Lives Matter and Blackout Tuesday and similar movements?
It’s dope for this to be so big and so real, you can feel it. It’s a little scary because with something like this, it can get twisted — you have to watch out for people who take advantage of it. It’s a super dope movement. I hope that everyone takes everything with their own opinions, and not because everyone’s doing it.