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Motion Family, Decatur Dan, and Phil the God lead rap's viral offensive

A new breed of Atlanta-based video directors mix creative vision with hustlers' ambition



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IN THE CUT: Waka Flocka chills behind the scenes of “No Hands." More behind the scenes photos of Atlanta rap videos - DUSTIN CHAMBERS

Point being: Money doesn't matter as much as vision and talent — but also that pure hustle is the new currency.

"Video shoots are wars," says Decatur Dan. "It's an all-out war."

At 25, Decatur Dan (née Daniel Hall) is almost a seasoned vet. He got his start as a self-taught photographer before he began shooting behind-the-scenes videos and studio sessions for producer/mixtape DJ Don Cannon, who eventually introduced him to Young Jeezy. He'd already branded his Decatur Dan moniker while working at Atlanta sneaker boutique Standard, where he photographed inventory for its blog, and as a club photographer, shooting Saturday night parties at MJQ for DJ Rob Wonder. After filming and editing an estimated 200 videos over the last two years for signed and unsigned Atlanta artists ranging from Jeezy (Def Jam) to Cyhi the Prynce (G.O.O.D. Music) to Alley Boy (Duct Tape), his ability to execute sterling vision on a dime has become his calling card.

"Decatur Dan's movement has been strong for a while," Future's cousin/mentor and legendary Dungeon Family co-founder Rico Wade commented at the "Magic" shoot. "He makes videos that look like the [big-budget] videos we used to get from labels."

It's a compliment Dan doesn't take lightly, considering the challenges he faces to pull them off. "There's really no one else who could've produced that video for that amount of money," he says, noting certain hookups he wrangled, like the location fee, due to his relationship with Magic City's general manager Lil Magic. "We cut corners where we could, and I've been blessed to be able to do that."

Though he's also started working with a production company based in L.A. that feeds him opportunities to secure work with major label artists, he reels in the majority of his projects on his own.

"There ain't some guy behind closed doors pulling all these strings and making stuff happen," says Dan, who counts Phil and Motion Family among his peers. "We pull our own strings — and it's not even about pulling strings. At the end of the day, demand is based on the quality of your product. So if you make dope stuff, people are gonna come."

A video model (below) gets her eyelashes picture-perfect on the Glenn Hotel rooftop. More behind the scenes photos of Atlanta rap videos - DUSTIN CHAMBERS

One of the best rap videos released in the past 12 months, independent or otherwise, was for "Dreamin'," a sentimental song from Def Jam signee Big K.R.I.T.'s 2011 mixtape Return of 4eva. Directed by Motion Family trio Diwang Valdez, David KA, and Sebastian "C-Bass" Urrea, it offers a poignant portrayal of Mississippi native/Atlanta resident K.R.I.T. as a young, mop-pushing high school janitor, who dropped out to pursue his seemingly unattainable dream of rap stardom. In one scene, K.R.I.T. stands in a dark, empty school auditorium with the stage lights dead center while he spits raps into his broom handle.

"[K.R.I.T.'s] family members were watching that and one of his cousins started crying," says C-Bass, recalling early reaction to the video, which was shot at Atlanta's Grady High School.

"Yeah, we hadn't done anything that ever touched people like that. It was always the opposite," Valdez says with a laugh that conjures up talk of their now-classic 2009 documentary-style video for "Trap Goin' Ham" by Pill. Featuring an unsolicited cast of real-life crackhead zombies and corner store hustlers, it served up a nongentrified slice of Atlanta's Zone 6 in the raw. The video quickly made the rounds on hip-hop blogs before landing in the hallowed pages of the New York Times. The little-known rapper Pill had arrived in a major way, courtesy Motion Family.

But the too-real-for-TV video also sparked big-time backlash for exploiting tired cultural clichés. "I come from a school [of rap] where if you ain't pissing anybody off, you ain't telling the motherfuckin' truth," says Pill's manager Derek Schklar, who was eager to document Pill's environment on video.

But the controversy almost obscured an inportant fact: The convenience of having such a sophisticated handheld camera enabled Motion Family to capture the kind of inner city realism that typically was staged in gangsta rap videos of the past. "The [camera's] not as big, and you don't have to have a crew," says Motion Family's Valdez, "so people are a little more comfortable [being themselves]."

Forming tight bonds directly with artists has also served them well. Before Louisiana rapper Lil Boosie began serving his prison bid in 2010, he invited Motion Family to stay at his Baton Rouge home to film a documentary titled Last Dayz. When B.o.B. toured Asia last year, he brought KA along to record his video diaries along the way. And when the crew competed in last year's 48-Hour Film Project in Atlanta, they called on Pill to star in their romantic short, "Pretty Happy."

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