Kahlil Joseph’s double screen fourteen-minute film has been lauded for saving the art of the music video. In fact, the film did start its life in music, on Kanye West’s 2013 Yeezus tour, as an hour-long version that played in the background to West’s support act, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. It was only later that it was edited and shown at The Underground Museum, Los Angeles the gallery founded by Joseph’s late brother, and then in 2015, making its way to the MOCA, and to London, as part of the Southbank’s Infinite Mix exhibition at the Store last year.
Though m.a.a.d is much indebted to the lyricism and rhythm of Lamar’s music, (the title is also taken from Lamar’s breakthrough album of 2012, good kid, m.a.a.d city) as well as to the rapper’s found family video footage that is woven in with other found footage clips and new video shot by Joseph, m.a.a.d stands out from the music videos and commercial films Joseph shot before and since. It has a visceral tug, an ethereal quality, that tells a non-linear story. That mystical, hallucinogenic thing is more of an aesthetic approach in other works, such as his videos for Beyoncé’s Lemonade album or F.K.A. Twigs. Compton is not Joseph’s world (he grew up in an intellectual, middle-class family in Seattle and now mixes with the cultural elite in Los Angeles) but he is a masterful weaver of the many textures and tapestries of the contemporary experience in America. In m.a.a.d, Joseph created energy from those threads of life, lived, observed and imagined. It is not a film about the African-American experience, as it has been widely interpreted. It’s about the precious precariousness of consciousness.
As Joseph told Elephant in Issue 31: “I mean, the imagination is more real to me than the perception of reality, or the acceptance of reality—from the perspective of quantum physics the past, present and future are all happening simultaneously.”