During the late 1990s, Julien “Director X” Lutz was taken under the wing of video icon Hype Williams. The protégé learned a lot under Williams’ direction, eventually branching out to put his touch on high profile videos for artists such as R. Kelly, the Clipse and Jay-Z. More recently, X made his name known in rap circles for his direction on Drake’s “HYFR” video. The director and artist tandem—plus the creative approach of capturing Drizzy’s bar mitzvah—was praised in the amount of publications placing the visual on their year-end best-of lists.

X is currently working with the OVO leader on the video for his new single, “Started From the Bottom.” Before he adds one more to his resume, we spoke with X to discuss the videos that shape his career. For his nearly 10-year run in the game, X has helped create some iconic visuals from DMX’s “What’s My Name? to Kanye West’s “The New Workout Plan.” He talked about how Ghostface Killah’s "Cherchez La Ghost" originally had a different treatment, the experience of working with a young Mr. West, and how Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love" tested your limits. Read on to hear the stories behind each of them.— As told to Eric Diep (@E_Diep)

DMX, “What’s My Name?” (1999)
Album: ...And Then There Was X

Director X: "I remember the label wanted to do something big. I was trying to do that big Lenny Kravitz video. I was young and pretty inexperienced then. That video, for me, was kind of shit. The performance is really a lesson for me on not listening to people.

"The first day—we shot for two days. That day I was trying to do the video I thought the label wanted. They never said it. “They are going to want girls. They are going to want color. They are going to want bright. And they are going to want all this kind of shit. Right?”

"The second day, X got sick. So we went back. We came back and that day I just did what I wanted to do. Draw the lights red. Make them green. Make them blue. Put everyone in Ruff Ryders T-shirts. Then, when you look at that video, I imagine what it would have been if I did that for the entire video. Imagine that. All Ruff Ryders. All colors. It would have been sick, but you know that’s the lesson there.

"It was a learning experience. I’m proud of everything. I did it. The DMX video was a big video for that time. It’s not like every video everyone did was art. Especially then, I was striving for more."

Ghostface Killah ft. Madam Majestic & U-God, "Cherchez La Ghost" (2000)
Album: Supreme Clientele

Director X: "It was a whole ‘nother treatment. Back in those days, things were really different. I wrote a whole ‘nother treatment. [Talking to] Ghostface was like a fucking private detective trying to find a little girl that has been kidnapped and it just hit me to change it, so I just called them and like, “I’m changing it.” The treatment that they hired me to do and the video that we made was completely different. It was the right choice. Back then, you just kind of had that freedom to [say], “Yo, artistically, let’s change it. It’s not right.” They are like, “Alright, we’ll go for it. We’ll do it.” I loved that video; it was one of my favorites."

Mystikal ft. Pharrell,“Shake Ya Ass” (2000)
Album: Let's Get Ready

Director X: "The thing with that video was making something that would defuse the record a bit. It’s so sexual that to do something that would be a juxtaposition to what was going on was what was needed. The song is so explicit that you need to defuse it.

"Instead of making a strip club record where everyone would be like, “Ok, explicit lyrics. Explicit visuals. We are not going to play it.” Especially in those days, people were really revolting against the video girls thing. It was a whole controversy with it all the time.

"I was like, “Alright, let’s remove that and let’s do ‘Eyes Wide Shut.’” As a subject matter, it’s dealing with what we are dealing with. As a movie, it’s dealing with sex and freedom of sexuality and all that kind of stuff. Then, on a visual level, it had a bunch of cool visuals. So it really separated that video. Remember, that video got a lot of respect and got a lot of play. The record was hot but you could play the video on TV."

Reflection Eternal ft. Vinia Mojica, “The Blast” (2000)
Album: Train of Thought

Director X:"It was in the rain. It was just a really dope visual. There’s a melancholy to the song. Part of it was making dope visuals that people can remember. The point was just doing something else. Them in the rain—dope visual.

"I jacked that from some rock band. Nah mean? [Laughs] It was dope. Hey, brother, it’s hip-hop. We are allowed to jack shit. It’s what we do. [Laughs]. I saw a video and I thought, “That’s hot.” So I sampled it. They got a music video, hip-hop sample."

R. Kelly ft. Jay-Z, “Fiesta” (Remix) (2001)
Album: TP-2.com

Director X:"It was crazy. There was no difficulty working with R.Kelly and Jay-Z. Everyone is a pro when it comes to being on set. There’s a lot of money being spent. The record label is there. It’s very official. It takes time to put it together. For the most part, 99 percent of the time everybody is there doing business. It was exactly what we wanted. R came up with a lot of that. Rob [R. Kelly] was a creative director—still is—for most of his things. Most of the time, he has an idea and wants to do it, so he wanted to do that and be out. I found that jungle location and it was crazy."

Fabolous ft. Nate Dogg, “Can’t Deny It” (2001)
Album: Ghetto Fabolous

Director X:"It was a great video. It flowed really well. We shot it around July 4. 9/11 happened [later] so there was some serendipity. Remember, that was the American flag video. We did that before 9/11, we shot it around July 4 and 9/11 hit, and we just so happened to have this American flag video when everyone had American flag videos going on. It was ill. It looked good.

"The edit technique was brand new. The edit technique no one had seen before. I brought that edit technique to hip-hop. Before that, no one was doing that. I did that on one other video. I did it on that one and it blew up. For a while, everyone did that. That was my little bit to the hip-hop psyche."

Nelly, “Hot In Herre” (2002)
Album: Nellyville

Director X: "That was a classic one. It was just a party video. There was a re-shoot so they had to redo the video. It was a party video, trying to make “hot in here.” Crazy. Hot. Sweaty. You see what it is. That was a fun one.

"It was Nelly’s idea to bring Cedric the Entertainer. That’s their big fam. They are all friends. That was them putting that together. It was all good. I like working with those comedians because they are all love."

Jay-Z ft. Pharrell, “Excuse Me Miss” (2003)
Album: The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse

Director X: "There are moments of that I don’t love and there are moments that I do love. [It’s] another lesson about paying attention for me. It was a fun one. You know, that was a Levi’s commercial. We sample that. You know its hip-hop. Music videos.

"Some of the performance shots, the effects at the end, you know just little things like that I didn’t like. We shot for a long time and got a lot done. People really appreciated the story. So that’s what that is. As an artist, I had my issues. Every artist has his or her issues and even more so when it is almost right and almost really good. It almost irks me even more. Again, people appreciated the storyline. They like being engaged and having to figure things out. It was fun."

Clipse ft. Faith Evans, “Ma, I Don’t Love Her” (2003)
Album: Lord Willin'

Director X: That was a funny one. It’s not one of my favorites, but it was fun. There’s a bunch of visuals in there that I like a lot, like Pharrell taking Poloroids of the girls with some really cool visuals. That sequence of them hiding, the girls in the house, was hilarious. Like the girl with the lampshade on, I don’t know if you noticed that. One girl is pretending to be a lamp. [Laughs] I remember coming up with that one. Just trying to do a fun way to do that. It was just funny.

Kanye West, “The New Workout Plan” (2004)
Album: The College Dropout

Director X: "It was another one that was a lot of fun. The thing about Kanye is he really pushed for that. He made that video himself pretty much. That’s why it didn’t get pushed like some of the other songs, but I can maintain as well that he’s another guy that wants to entertain. He wants to make good videos. He wants to make great visions. You see that all the time, but everything he does, he’s pushing to make something bigger. That was his comedy thing. He’s a funny guy so there are a lot of things going on there. That was a classic right there.

"It was the first time working with him. I liked his style and I liked the way he thought about some stuff. That was really that kind of combo. He knows what he likes. “Oh, that’s an interesting thing.” You know what I am saying? His lack of knowledge of filmmaking was a benefit to him. Sometimes, when you know too much about it—you know too much about writing. You know the rules, it lets you do stuff that is really cool because your brain isn’t subconsciously saying, “Oh, you can’t put that thing on top of that thing. You can’t put those words together.” He had a lot of that going on so it was cool.

"It’s his concept and he’s very involved. He knew he wanted to do it at certain points. Collaborating with a guy like that…there are certain artists that are creative directors. That’s not a word we hear much in hip-hop. Creative directors, they are in charge of being creative. As a director, the set is mine. That is its own thing. Even if you haven’t come up with the concept, you gotta run the set. Get it done. Shoot the shot. Get it finished on time. Make sure people don’t spend too much money. Being a director isn’t just a creator. Especially music videos, where we come up with the ideas. There’s a whole world of directing where that’s not the case. The guy who directed your favorite TV show didn’t write it. But you got to get that shit done without too much money. [Laughs] There’s a bit of that with a really creative artist where you are working with a creative director; you shift into a different gear. But most of the time in music videos, you are the creative director and the director—all in one."

Game, “Let’s Ride” (2006)
Album: Doctor's Advocate

Director X: "I knew I wanted the filter and I knew that I wanted everything to be in slow motion. That was the idea there. Shooting in slow motion is fucking cool. Where do you think The Matrix got it? Shit is cool. That’s why we do it.

"I like the visuals of it. I like the simplicity of the story. I like the car shots; a lot of the shots in there were really cool. I worked best when they let me loose to work. I really like that one. Cool shit. It’s a cool set of visuals."

Nicki Minaj, Your Love (2010)
Album: Pink Friday

Director X: "It’s not as big as you think it is. Nicki wanted scale. It’s not a big money video. She wanted scale and she wanted big. She is one of those artists—she would spend one million dollars if she could to make a music video. You gotta think about a person that’s gonna do that. You can spend a million dollars on a music video; that’s not to say “I spent a million bucks on a video”—you want to make a great fucking video. You really want to make something for the people.

"The video kind of tested your limits. I know a lot of artists that love it. I show that video to see where their heads at. If they like, then I know what kind of person they are. If they don’t, then I see where they are at with that. It was not usual to the hip-hop game. It was a great visual. I love it."

Drake ft. Lil Wayne, “HYFR” (2012)
Album: Take Care

Director X: "It was really unique. Who could do a bar mitzvah video? [Laughs] [Who can] legitimately do a bar mitzvah video? Only Drake can do that. I’m very proud of that. It was a really fun video. Drake had been plagued by bad videos—I wouldn’t say bad videos, but not crowd pleasers. He had to have one that people really loved. And really felt like it expressed him and saw who he was. That was it. That was one."

Drake ft. 2 Chainz, “No Lie” (2012)
Album: Based on a T.R.U. Story

Director X: "Again, it’s an attempt to make interesting videos. That was more difficult, with music videos; we are testing it out on set. We didn’t do that paint thing until we did the paint thing. By the time everything gets together, we shot it so quick. We did that in a day. We didn’t have time to see what that was. We were kind of experimenting on set and it took a long time. It’s a cool visual and people enjoy and appreciate something different. They appreciate the effort, especially nowadays.

"[The black paint] wasn’t last moment; we always knew we wanted to do it. But actually doing the experiment—if that was a commercial or a movie, they would have tested it and shot it and discussed it. In a video, we are like, “We are shooting Tuesday. You know that big experimental thing that we want to do that might not work? Tuesday!” [Laughs] It’s very much artistic, man. It’s almost an artistic kind of flow that you are going to get in any of the filmmaking where people are going to figure it out then. This is the time we got—we move fast."

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