Many of hip hop’s best MCs are thinkers who come from environments that provide intriguing perspectives on the game and life in America’s worst neighborhoods. This is a tradition that dates back to its origins with Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kurtis Blow; eventually reaching mainstream success with acts like N.W.A., Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie, and Tupac. This tradition subsided a bit in the 2000’s when hip hop traded popularity for substance, but in recent years there has been a resurgence in waxing poetic about the meaningful, via artists like Kendrick Lamar and YC the Cynic.
I.O.D. comes at his art from a similar perspective. His neighborhood, Brownsville, Brooklyn—which he refers to the as the “gutter”—has an epic hip hop legacy in its own right, having raised Masta Ace, RZA, and the enigmatic Ka. It’s also one of New York City’s most vicious slums; a reputation the area has had for over 100 years.
The Brownsvillain, as I.O.D. is also known, just released the visuals for “ARMME”. Recorded a couple years ago, the track originally appeared on I.O.D.’s 2013 11212 mixtape. As we smoked a blunt in a housing development stairwell, he defined “ARMME” for me:
“It’s a just a term for the people who make me who I am. The ArmMe is everyone involved, from my videographer to the people that just come out to my events. We’re all in this together, so I just gave it a name. I call it the ArmMe because that’s what they’re doing, they’re arming me with the tools to face my foes and do great things. I thank them every day for that.”
On a cold January night, I.O.D. linked up with Barcelona-based experimental videographer Folklord to create the highly conceptual visuals for “ARMME”. Following an intro from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, the video is a single sequence, shot at half-speed, following I.O.D. as he advances down a Bushwick alley towards Folklord, who is filming while perched on the hood of a car as it slowly reverses. In post-production, everything was sped back up. The black and white feel and I.O.D.’s jittery movements reflect what life is like for Brownsville’s citizens.