Storytelling in Music: KRS-One - Love's Gonna Get Cha

I dare say that the video clip to 'Love's Gonna Get Cha' by Boogie Down Productions, comprised of KRS-One, D-Nice and DJ Scott La Rock, from the 1990 album 'Edutainment' is one of the best rap clips ever made.

Despite it turning almost 30 years old soon, the song best exhibits what I think of as a message in a rap song, a throwback to how Grandmaster Flash & The Furios Five would have defined the core of Hip-Hop culture. The video clip is a great example of how to combine the lyrics of a song with a crystal clear visual language, highlighting the essential statements while still following the flow of the rhythm. All while mixing up relatively simple visual techniques into a great storytelling formula.

The song is about a young poor black man living with his family in a part of town where drug dealers are the most prominent appearance on the streets. Not getting any or only low paid work, he starts to make quick cash by doing little errands for one of the dealers. Rising up the young man is able to support his family and start his own drug dealing business and expand, ultimately leading to conflict with his original boss. Wanting to secure his place in the business, he takes his crew on a revenge action. By hitting a policeman in the ensuing shootout with the rival drug dealer, the ending implies an early end to the young man's drug dealing career in prison or getting shot in return by the police.


 The clip uses very few lighting. There are 2-3 spots which shine some light mainly either directly from above or from the side. Occasionally a stroboscope lights up to signify gun fire. Often a simple warm and cool contrast is used, with the main light mostly being warm (yellow) and the rim light being cold (blue).
This gives off the effect like the scene would be coming out of a black canvas, a technique that in painting is know as Chiaroscuro. Following are three examples of Chiaroscuro by Caravaggio, Gerrit van Honthurst and Rembrandt:


Locations are shown by the most simple way of placing an object in the background. As these locations are generally known to the audience and not of the unusual, together with the spoken word it is enough to evoke the image. In Comics this is known as between-the-panels or Closure, where the reader fills in the gap between to pictures with his own imagination. The same happens here: we don't need any more information, we know these places. The viewer gets even more involved by giving him the space to fill in the blanks by himself.

Scott McCloud's theory of Closure and how the reader mentally constructs a continuous unified reality.

Props & Hand Actions

A few props and some explicitly shown actions of hand illustrate story-points of the narration, sometimes in a symbolically and wittingly way. These act like highlights increasing a dramatic effect and adding urgency to the flow of the story.

Character Development

As the protagonist is rising through the ranks of a drug dealer, he is able to support the people around him. This is reflected in their clothing and jewelry.


 Characters are grouped in a single shot, sometimes frontal in the background, sometimes in profile in a line retreating from fore to back. This mirrors how the lights are used, either from above or from the side. This arrangement allows for quick reads from the viewers: since all characters are associated in one shot, you immediately get a sense of the meaning of the context.

Elements Of Surprise

There are some visual elements sprinkled into the sequence, that do not fall into any of the above categories. They serve as little visual jokes and add a lot of interest with their element of surprise. They also loosen up what would otherwise have become a repetitive formula. 

Take note of how people are shown that got shot: the way they are animated as 'flying off into the sky' adds a layer of symbolically used animation.


This video clip uses a visual language for which I have found no comparison. It makes use of a few simple but highly effective means of narration that are held together by a strict discipline. Yet at the same time it is kept lose enough, to sprinkle in inventive bits to break its own rhythm. The simplified usage of lighting, staging, action and props is great example for every visual storyteller.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any background information on who shot this video or what was used for inspiration. Should there be any info out there, please let me know. 

I hope you enjoyed this article, if you have any thoughts, please let me know in the comments!

Richard William's - most neglected - Lesson One: Unplug!

Lesson One: Animation Is Concentration
Richard Williams is a household name for every animation student: not only is he a prolific animator and animation director, he also is the author of The Animator's Survival Kit, one of the most important hands-on books about the techniques and principles of the art of animation. In his book Richard Williams not only sums up his personal experience in the field, he as well imparts the knowledge he has gained from working with animation legends from The Golden Age like Ken Harris, Art Babbitt, Milt Kahl or Grim Natwick.

It is Richard Williams merit that he assembled all those great experienced animators at his own studio in London in the 1970s, to help him work on projects or tutor his staff. By doing so, he was able to gather and preserve their accumulated wisdom and finally collect it in his book for future generations to profit from it.

Milt Kahl is considered to be one of the most eminent of the early animators at Disney, belonging to a group which today is known as Disney's Nine Old Men. Since he was of high renown for being a brilliant animator, Richard Williams used to describe his impression of him as imposing and authoritative. So one day it happened, when Richard Williams was still in his early phase of learning from the masters, he approached Milt Kahl with a question that had nothing to do with any technique of animation: if he would be listening to classical music while doing his work?

Animation by Eduardo Quintana

Milt Kahl's answer is legend and becomes the first lesson in Williams' book: 

How come that I am so brash and insinuate this should be the most neglected rule? I am putting the blame on a lot of people after all, am I not? Well, when the book was written sometime before the year 2001, smartphones didn't even exist. It has by then already been commonplace to 'plug-in' with portable Discmans and MP3 was maybe just on the rise, but the culture of the all-out multimedia smartphone by your side was not yet established. So maybe you would listen to some music, but you wouldn't be emailing, googling, texting, newsing or doing whatever else aside from it. Hard to  imagine times like these, are they not?

There probably have been some discussions about this topic, but certainly they weren't countless. And you know what? It's all good.
In the end it is everybody's business to do as one pleases, I concur to that. Most people buying and reading the Animator's Survival Kit just skip past this little anecdote and forget it, picking out the juicy bits about animation technique.  It's fine, I won't tell anyone to do otherwise. 

Just consider this: next time when you will be working on anything, whether you are penciling a comic-book page, working on an animation, maybe rendering an illustration and your phone goes off, think about what Milt Kahl said:
"I am not smart enough to think of more than one thing at a time!"

To learn more about Richard Williams and his contributions to the field of animation, please watch the following video essay by The Royal Ocean Film Society: