Eif Rivera is the walking definition of the rookie and the vet. Despite only getting into the video directing field in 2011, the self-taught Bronx native has worked hard to gain the respect of his hip-hop peers. It took years of perseverance—and an undying love for the craft—to reach the status of being able to rub shoulders with the likes of 50 Cent, Puffy Daddy and Nicki Minaj, to name a few. “I just get along with everyone,” Rivera says. “It’s really about sitting down with the artist and picking their brain. I grew up with hip-hop. I grew up around the shit. I don’t want to give my age away, but I’ve been there since day one.”

Rivera’s humble attitude comes from the many opportunities that have allowed him to build his brand. During his early days, Rivera’s first moves were linking with Fat Joe and Terror Squad for album artwork, working for Loud Records to create the Air Pun logo, and collaborating with Def Jam for Young Jeezy’s Snowman campaign. All of these were necessary stepping stones for him to get the industry noticing his work, which led to big-name collaborations that have strengthened his resume.

Still, Rivera doesn’t want his success to stop him from paying homage to the directors that paved the way. “Hype Williams. Jesse Terrero. Early 2000s. Late '90s," he says. "I'm trying to bring the music videos back to that era. I want people to see different shit.” Just recently, viewers were treated to a high-budget clip for Puff Daddy’s “I Want The Love” that was shot “somewhere in the Swiss Alps” and was packed with cinematic scenes. It was evidence that he’s quickly becoming one of the go-to visionaries for a dope video.

Last week, XXL got on the phone with Eif Rivera to speak about the creative process behind “I Want The Love,” his start in the video world and some of his favorite rappers to work with. Get to know the details behind hip-hop’s most popular video director.—Eric Diep

Previously: Director X Shares the Stories Behind His Iconic Videos
50 Cent’s Producers Break Down The Making Of ‘Animal Ambition’
Watch G-Unit’s First Music Video Since Reuniting
Puff Daddy And Meek Mill Head To The Swiss Alps In “I Want The Love” Video

On getting started:

Eif Rivera: I’ve been doing [videos] for a few years. I think in the last two years, I’ve really gained a trust of everyone and just really started going in. I think within the last two years, I’ve been able to kind of break away from the norm and just do a lot of different things that got the artists calling me direct and coming to me. I think it just goes back to everything being different from the norm—stage performance in the studio and stuff like that. We're really trying to do stuff that’s just different.

I was always in the music business, I was always behind the scenes, I was always doing artwork and album covers. Doing logos for people and stuff like that. Doing T-shirts. I was big into printing T-shirts back in the day. I created a lot of logos. I worked with DJ Premier, with Gang Starr. I worked with Terror Squad. I created the Big Pun logo. The Young Jeezy campaign—the Snowman. Me and a couple of guys, we came up with the whole concept. We printed out the shirts and we put the ice on it. We put the little crystals, the snowman shirts. That was all me.

Back in the day, I was really all about that and doing album covers and artwork and stuff like that for Loud Records and a few other independent people. But that’s how I started. That’s what a lot of the relationships are based off of. People see me constantly working with different people, like all these different camps, and they just wonder, "How the fuck is he getting these connects?" It’s pretty much—I’ve been around. Everyone that knows me knows that I am a super cool dude. I just get along with everyone. I don’t mix up different things with different crews and stuff like that. It's just really about the work. Let’s go. Let’s do the work and keep it moving.

On shooting his first video:

Eif Rivera: The first guy that I ever directed was Lord Tariq; he’s from the neighborhood. Then from there, I started doing videos for Sha Stimuli. I shot him based off of Sha Money XL. From him, then came Stat Quo. From Stat Quo then it led to Fat Joe, [who] is a childhood friend of mine. When I started directing, when I started shooting with a video camera, it took all these artists a while. They pretty much all watched me to see how good I got. I knew Fat Joe since, like I said, childhood friend. He waited. When I saw he was good enough, I guess that’s when he gave me a shot.

After Stat Quo, I started shooting Fat Joe videos. Then after Fat Joe, one day I get a phone call—Sha Money was working on a project with Dr. Dre—I get the phone call that Dre wanted me to fly out there and work with a new artist that he had. I went out there and met Dre. It was crazy. At the time for that particular project, they went through like four different directors and I was the one that Dre stuck with. I went out there, I met Dr. Dre. Worked on a project with him, and that led to 50. From 50 Cent, I was working with everyone.

French Montana is also someone that’s from the neighborhood. French Montana is managed by Gaby [Acevedo]. I knew Gaby since he was the street team guy for Loud Records. That’s how far we go. Until he became a partner with Steve Rifkind in Loud Records and the SRC Company. Gaby is also a childhood friend. He started managing French, then I got involved with French and started shooting all his videos. Everything leads to someone else. With French, it led to Nicki Minaj. It led to Rick Ross. It led to Meek Mill. It definitely led to Puffy.

It was Puffy, who between him and French, was the one that let me shoot the “Freaks” video with Nicki Minaj. Each artist has their own way. I’m, relatively, a new guy. Some of the people are afraid. They didn’t want me to shoot with Nicki. They thought I wasn’t ready, but we got along. She was great to work with. We got a couple of projects we're trying to get off the ground that we’ll probably be working on. It’s been uphill from there.

On his relationship with 50 Cent:

Eif Rivera: 50 is like my brother. We only been friends for about a year and a half now. We became really good friends other than the business side of it. With 50, he’s a very calculated dude. He doesn't do shit just randomly. I give him a lot of respect because we started off shooting. He’s the type that he sits there and he watches. If he doesn't like it, he’s gonna say he doesn't like it, whatever the case is, and he moves on to someone else. With me, we started working and he was watching. He calls me up one day and he was just like, “I don’t push the button for just anybody.” Because we'd been working and he just kind of felt like I was ready to do other things. He was just like, "I’ma push the button for you and we are gonna do a bunch of stuff together." And he kept his word. He let me be a part of Animal Ambition and part of other projects that we have lined up.

We come up with ideas sometimes together, or I come up with something and he thinks I’m crazy, or he’ll come up with something and I think he’s crazy. We collaborate, and he doesn’t get in my way. If I'm shooting, he lets me do what I gotta do. Even if he thinks it's crazy, he’ll let me do it. And we rarely have any changes. We rarely go back and say, “Yo this ain’t gonna work.” There’s probably two videos we’ve done in the past, [that'll] never see the light of day. It was one of them off days. Either I was off or he was off. Other than that, Fif really is a great dude. When he gives his word, he gives his word and makes things happen. The Animal Ambition project—we had a good time with that. We literally shot all that in one month.

On working with Lil Wayne:

Eif Rivera: Wayne’s cool, man. I'm actually writing [the] treatment to his new single now. We shot “God Bless Amerika.” That was his own solo record. I worked with Wayne before that on the Fat Joe with A$AP Rocky [record]; I think it was “Yellow Tape.” We got along. We took that back to his neighborhood. He was super excited about that one because that was the first time he was coming home in a while. We had a great time shooting that.

When we did “God Bless Amerika,” he kind of had this idea about the flag and stuff like that, and we made it happen. I sent him the treatment and he had just one input regarding the flag. That whole dilemma, too, with him stepping on the flag, they made a real big deal out of it. It was ridiculous. It was one of those things where it happened and he’s in the moment. He’s performing. If you stopped him performing then and there, you lose that energy with Wayne. We kind of just let it keep going, [and] it was unintentional with the whole flag thing. Obviously, everyone saw it after. They made a big stink about it when they saw that. And then the video came out and everyone was quiet, because it was really about poverty in the neighborhood and how the United States government doesn’t really care.

When you look at the video, the flag represents the window. When the window opens or the curtain drops, we wanted to show what really was going on in America. We tried to show that. This is what is going on in America present day. It’s still fucked up. At the end of the video, you see how the flag goes right back up. We're showing you something that no one wants to see, but we are gonna show it to you and close the curtain again and let you think about it. That’s what the video was really about, showing the poverty and everything else down in New Orleans. And it represents every other hood in America that’s facing the same thing.

On shooting Puff Daddy's "I Want The Love" video:

Eif Rivera: I could have done a lot more to that video. Of course, the weather and everything else, it was brutal—I could see why no one ever shot in the winter and in the snow. There's a lot of stuff you gotta deal with. With the crew, the temperature, the cold and the moving around. It gets to be crazy, but somehow we pulled it off. Again, there’s so much more I wanted to do to it but you know how things go.

Puff called and he was like, “Let’s get this done.” We bundled up. We just had a massive amount of clothing to get it done. It was done pretty quick and we had a good time doing it. Most of my videos, I try to have fun with it. We all know it's work, but we try to have fun just so it moves everything a lot smoother.

Puff is sitting on the actual throne from Game Of Thrones. You know, Puff made some phone calls. Time Warner Cable put it together with Puff and they were able to get the throne from the actual show. It weighed over 900 pounds just to get that thing shipped. And when we got the throne, you know, it snowed so much that day—I’d say it was at least two and a half feet, close to three feet of snow. We had the chair and we had this idea of putting it up on a mountain top, literally on a peak, and we were gonna sit Puff on it. Just because of the weather constraints, we tried our best to get as close to the edge as possible without actually falling over a cliff. We actually had to get a bulldozer. It was just a massive amount of people trying to get this thing up the side of the mountain. We used a bulldozer and a few other heavy construction vehicles to try and get it up there. We got it up as high as possible without getting hurt.

Especially with the throne, you know, we see it all the time in videos. Everyone is always using thrones and all kind of chairs. I told Puff, “You know what? Let’s fucking go over the top with this one. Let’s try to get the craziest throne we could find.” And that phone call was made. It was that quick, which was pretty sick. After that throne, you literally better come with a gold-edged throne or something to try and top that one.

Puff kind of just lets me do what I gotta do. He knows I’m creative. He knows I’m artistic. He’ll definitely have input, obviously, 'cause he’s such a perfectionist, but for the most part he lets me rock out and comes back with minimal changes, which is rare for Puff. Puff is just so into everything he does. That’s just the way he is. That’s why he’s been around for so long. He’s such a perfectionist. Ever since we started working together, he’s shown nothing but love. He loves the stuff I’ve been doing for him.

On rappers he likes working with the most:

Eif Rivera: All of them, to tell you the truth. I can’t have a specific one. Everyone is their own character, everyone is different. They all just super cool. I never had anyone that was a pain in the ass. I never had anyone where I say, “I never want to work with this guy again.” We don’t let it get to that point. Of course, you have your ups and downs occasionally on set. It’s work. It happens. But it's not something that you hate a person over and I am never gonna work with this person again.

I try to get along with everyone. That’s why you see me shooting with so many different camps. I just move around from camp to camp to camp. They all let me in with arms open and it's all love. Everyone knows that I'm there to work. We are friends. We are cool. But we are here to work and we get the work done. I don’t get ask and I don’t tell. If one camp doesn't like another camp or whatever the case is, I don’t sit there and [talk]. I’m about peace and everybody knows it.

On rappers he wants to work with in the future:

Eif Rivera: I was on the phone the other day with Kanye, which was crazy. We're trying to get something done. That would be kind of cool to put Kanye on the resume. It’s really two people that I have not shot yet that I look forward to eventually shooting. Obviously one, that’s Jay Z. I strongly believe it's going to happen one day. Only because, again, I run in circles. I run in circles with all these guys. It’s really a matter of time or it’s really about art or feeling like, “Okay, he’s ready for me.” Which I totally get. I totally get that.

I would love to shoot Eminem, but I guess it's all about timing. That’s really what it is all about. Timing and making sure we get it right. For Em, I want to shoot some crazy rapid-fire shit. I really want him to just go in and do some crazy shit. You know, really show him spitting and kind of shoot that shit from all different angles. People be like, “What the fuck?” Other than that, everyone I worked with has been a blessing. I got nothing but love for all of them. From 50 to Ross to Puff to French to Fat Joe to Dr. Dre—all these guys. Nicki, Wayne. It’s all love. It’s an experience.