Strong images scream at you, and Busta Rhymes is, among other things, loud. His style and aura command attention—a quality director Hype Williams emphasized in their first collaboration, the rapper’s video for “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check.” This set photo, which features Rhymes squatting in a room that matches his teal and white outfit, highlights something the video doesn’t quite reveal: his magnetic presence, without motion or sound. Williams’s vision is so vast that even pictures of his work stand out nearly 25 years later.
And no matter the medium, Williams always had the vision. Over the past three decades, the Queens, New York, native graduated from graffiti artist to legendary music video director, photographer, and filmmaker. His perspective, ambitious and audacious, made him one of the most gifted visual artists of his generation. Those qualities, along with the prolific rate at which he built his resume, made him the premier music video director for hip-hop and R&B artists right as the music video grew into a mature art form. Williams took a marketing asset and refashioned it as high art. The bigger the budget, the bigger the idea, whether adapting Busta Rhymes’s animated personality into a live-action cartoon on acid or 1998’s Belly, his lone feature film—a narrative mess, but an undeniable fever-dream visual masterpiece from its opening scene on. Considering how transformative Williams’s portfolio was from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, it makes sense that the most influential video director of his time’s work would translate exceptionally well to the dominant visual platform of the current moment: Instagram.
Williams’s earliest posts date back to 2015, appearing sporadically thereafter with little intent or purpose. But last fall, he reopened his vault to much delight. Unsurprisingly, it’s a goldmine—the best nostalgia account on the platform, to be specific. There are stray observations—like the lighting in a Watchmen poster reminding him of Belly—along with digitized versions of the Thierry Le Goués photos that appear in the film. But mostly, there are career-defining moments: He rocketed Missy Elliott, in full Mega Man attire, onto a remote planet, crucified Nas and Diddy, and transported Ma$e to Las Vegas, a city of excess, during the peak of Bad Boy’s shiny-suit extravagance. The Instagram reinvigoration is the latest arc in a storied career that gave hip-hop and R&B videos groundbreaking flair as the genres ballooned into what is now pop music, globally. Williams’s account serves as a reminder that he was already thinking a century ahead in 1995.
Nostalgia is a security blanket and a cheat code on Instagram. There are numerous accounts celebrating it because there’s perhaps no easier way to rack up likes than bombarding people with stolen moments from a past they either have fond memories of, or wish they did. Williams’s is exceptional. Not only was he present for so many iconic moments—he created a number of them.
The ‘90s saw music video directors ascend from invisibility into the spotlight. Networks like MTV and BET began adding their names to the lower-left credits graphic, bringing them out of anonymity. Williams, however, didn’t need this to identify his work: You knew he was responsible almost immediately. Slow-motion sequences, wide-framed low and high-angle shots, and the infamous fisheye lens were among his aesthetic trademarks. His work was already a portal into his mind, but the behind-the-scenes photos on his Instagram feed deconstructs his approach, removing the mystique. In addition to the photos, many of which were taken by director of photography Luis Perez, Williams also shares memories about the experiences. The effect is a free masterclass in providing new insight into moments of cultural significance.