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Exclusive – Inside the mind of Gen Z director Jason Joyride

Jason Joyride, up-and-coming director and creative talent for Rico Nasty, talks Gen Z’s responsibility for social change, and reinventing musicals for the hip-hop age.

When you first watch Rico Nasty’s music video for ‘Popstar’, a trap and punk-infused banger that dropped in early April, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the explosive colour, jittery doodles, and electric backdrops. The video is the brainchild of Jason Joyride, a young Gen Z film maker and music video director who’s quickly cemented himself as an exciting and emerging talent in the hip-hop scene.

‘Popstar’ is a mix of early Avril Lavigne and Lil Uzi Vert with a generous helping of the Sex Pistols to boot. If anyone could be described as a modern alternative hip-hop star for the streaming age, you’d be hard pressed to find a better fit than Rico Nasty – XXL named the track one of 2020’s best hip-hop songs so far, and the video is racking up views on YouTube.

Jason also recently directed the video for hip-hop collective Deep Ends’ track ‘Splash’, which involves a bank robbery and a giant cat (that’s Jason’s cat, Frank) walking around on a freeway – because why not – and has a ton of other videos for bigger artists expected to release soon. You’ll no doubt be hearing his name a lot more in the coming years.

We were lucky enough to grab an hour of his time recently to talk about everything from early high school ambitions to the Black Lives Matter protests that continue to sweep across the US and beyond. As with everything these days our call was over Zoom, but even through a long distance video call his passion for creativity and genuine social change was infectious, and he has a ton of advice for other young film makers looking to get into the industry.

How did Jason know he wanted to be a director?

Jason’s career path isn’t typical, but he knew he wanted to pursue film from an early age. ‘I was in fifth grade and my teacher said you can either do a two page book report, or you can make a video report. I decided to do the video one. It was a ton of work but it was fun to make. I remember there was a visual effect I did where I had a paper bomb and I threw it off screen and added a shitty explosion sound effect. I was like, this is so cool, but the class didn’t share my excitement. They thought it sucked. But I thought it was wild I could do that.’

From there, Jason was keen to get himself a computer and a green screen to start creating content in his free time. ‘I asked my parents if they would buy me a new computer. They didn’t let me, but they did help me save up for it. I did odd jobs, lemonade stands, mowing lawns, and eventually I finally got it. I could finally use this footage I’d had stored for two years – and it didn’t work. I think it was at that moment that I started on the path I’m on. I think if it weren’t for that I wouldn’t be used to failure and rejection. I wanted to learn – how can I get really good at this?’

And he did get really good at it. Moving to LA earlier this year and leaving his full time position at 2k Games, Jason is now pursuing film full time, and is able to concentrate all of his efforts on his content output. ‘At 2k I got to work with and befriend one of the head influencers, Ronnie2K, and a lot of the artists I now work with, ironically. I met them there and then again later on doing what I do now, directing their videos, it was a funny full circle thing.’

He’s also quite selective about the people he works with, opting to choose musicians and artists that genuinely inspire him. ‘I’m pretty careful about this because I want to be renowned the way they are’. Collaborating with people he actually likes has been tough at times, ‘because money is nice’, but Jason is confident that his approach is the right one long term. For now, expect more new work with Rico Nasty and other large artists to drop soon, alongside fresh solo material from his own music catalogue.

How can others get involved in the industry?

If you’ve followed hip-hop at all in the last few years you’ll no doubt have heard of Brockhampton, the collective that quickly found fame through their SATURATION trilogy in the summer of 2017. Other groups such as Injury Reserve, Odd Future, and The Internet, to name a few, have all created music and posted it online alongside independently made visuals and content before eventually blowing up. It’s easy to see the similarities between them and Jason’s work – especially with Deep Ends – though he was a little surprised when I made that comparison.

‘I’ve never heard the Brockhampton comparison before, but I’m super into them. I was probably one of the first fans in the world, before they released All American Trash and before Kevin released his first solo album. Watching them blow up “overnight” was so exciting, it made me realize this is real, this isn’t Hogwarts, blowing up from music videos is a real thing that happens. It’s not fake. It kinda feels like it’s fake until you experience it’.

Other influences on his work are probably what you’d expect from a hip-hop head. ‘When I was younger I was a really big fan of ASAP Rocky, early Chance The Rapper albums. I’m a huge hip hop fan just because I think it’s like the only innovative and interesting music in the world right now. I think there’s very little innovation happening elsewhere, I think we’re just starting to see some in pop – mostly thanks to 100 Gecs and others such as Charli XCX – but the amount of progress we’ve seen in hip hop in the last twenty years is evident’.

It’s this constant flow of innovative content that’s most important for young artists and directors looking to gain a following, provided their music is actually worth listening to. Micro-communities that cater to specific niches are a great place to start, and Jason was keen to stress using every platform you can to get yourself out there.

‘Is it a case of uploading to YouTube? F**k no, Jesus Christ. Make a lot of content, not a little bit, and be on every platform that you can. Find the next social media, stay active in online communities. The internet is a modern weapon for Gen Z. People in our age group are defined by the internet. Get on TikTok and look for ways to build the next social media craze. Think outside the box’.

Where is the music video industry headed?

This DIY approach to music videos that creatives like Jason are taking is a new phenomenon that we’re only really beginning to see the mainstream ramifications for now.

Cole Bennett is perhaps the biggest name we’ve seen so far that has transformed the way music videos can generate interest without the need for a label. ‘He actually made careers off of his videos and that’s never been done before’, Jason explains. ‘He’s one of the best video directors in the world, he’s like a Rick Rubin to the new artists in that sense – he’s more than a director. He saw the talent before anyone else did, and that’s kind of what I’m looking at doing right now with smaller artists’.

Of course, while independent music videos gaining huge viewing numbers is exciting creatively, there are some pitfalls that could wind up making things harder for directors in the future, particularly as far as finances are concerned. ‘People like me making videos like ‘Splash’ with no money makes labels realize they may be overpaying. Which isn’t good because labels are already strapped for cash. It’s basically forcing us to get paid less.’ That obviously casts doubt over how financially viable music directing can be as a career choice for the future, but Jason notes that the relationship between artist and director has changed significantly since the noughties and MTV days.

‘Artists will [continue to] take more control over the videos. The best videos out right now are the ones where the artist basically directed them. I’m talking about Amine, Travis Scott, and this new roll out for Rico Nasty – I’m basically her creative director but she’s the one coming up with the ideas. I’ve done her album covers and some of the videos for her upcoming Nightmare Vacation. That’s her vision, it’s not like I’m a label director getting bought in.’ In other words, the dynamic between film maker and artist is becoming more balanced and personal, which allows for easier networking and more genuine connections.

Payment setups are also transforming, too, with an increased emphasis on merchandise and branding. ‘We’re doing different deals now where they don’t pay me anything up front but I get a percentage of video and song revenue. We’re going to be selling posters specifically for the music videos through my company Joyride as a means to fund production’.

Keep in mind though that Jason’s got his eyes set on more than just standalone videos. ‘My future goal is to make my own musicals from scratch and to work with people I really want to work with. I want to make full on musicals. Like La La Land on rap’. I’m picturing Ryan Gosling with a mic somewhere in Detroit, though I suspect that isn’t quite what Jason has in mind. ‘More like Rico Nasty with a mic, but yeah’.

Big, theatrical productions for album rollouts can certainly be successful – Kanye’s 2010 production for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being an obvious example – and today it’s more important than ever to create a specific vibe or aesthetic through multiple outlets for an album release. ‘You should make campaigns, not content. Make content for campaigns. Make rollouts. Don’t just make a video. Make ten short videos, full videos. Make a lot of content, not a little bit, and be on every platform that you can’.

Why Gen Z are the new-age global citizens for change

Just as music has become intrinsically tied to social media, so too has political discourse and social activism, two topics that Jason is equally as passionate about. ‘I’m ashamed of this country in a way, and I have been for a while. It is embarrassing to be an American right now and I think if anyone isn’t embarrassed, they’re not a truly caring American. Being American is about having a dream and being on an equal playing field to chase that dream, that’s not the America we’re living in’.

‘If you’re in Gen Z, it’s not about what country you’re from anymore, it’s about the world. The internet has united all of us, you are a citizen of the world now and you have to act accordingly. It’s not okay to just think about your country, you have to consider all the others, you need to learn about what the f*** happened with Brexit, and all the things that go on that you previously didn’t need to know about’.

To that end, he adds that the recent Black Lives Matter protests are a great example of social media creating genuine action. ‘Everyone has petitions, donation forms, there’s so much more you can actually do, and it’s leaking out to other social activism fronts. Whether it’s LGBTQ+ rights, global warming, we’re seeing marches for all sorts of stuff now. Those people are really changing the world’. Here’s a handy link from Jason’s Instagram with a variety of causes you can learn about from around the world, including Justice For Breonna Taylor and US voter registration sites.

‘If you’re in Gen Z and you’re reading this, you have a responsibility to the world that’s never been faced by someone so young before’. He finishes off with a shout out to his ‘mom and dad and my son, Frank’.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but I can’t pretend that Jason Joyride’s unwavering enthusiasm and passion hasn’t inspired me to continue to actively get involved with progressive causes. And to stream ‘iPhone’, which features album artwork designed by Jason, that goes without saying.

‘Welcome to the Joyride’.

All photos taken by Niko Menicou.