The Psychedelic Melancholy of Kool A.D.’s ‘Prove It’
Jack Riedy | Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Kool A.D. has called himself the best rapper in the world so often that it’s hard to tell if he is that passionate or that ironic. He might be right either way. The artist, born Victor Vasquez, has been astonishingly prolific since leaving alt-rap duo Das Racist in 2012. He released eight mixtapes in 2016 alone, their styles ranging from hyphy revival to avant-garde R&B. His debut novel “O.K: A Novel” is out this week, following last year’s 100-song soundtrack of the same name. Vasquez also wrote a parenting advice column for VICE and posted visual art on his Instagram, all while parenting his actual, you know, child.
His output reached its creative zenith this summer with the release of the “Prove It” video. The clip is a perfect accompaniment to a highlight of Kool A.D.’s music, combining surrealist wit with evocative emotion. Animated by French cartoonist Ronald Grandpey, it follows a beanie-clad protagonist reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” video. The video juxtaposes this guy’s reflections on a past relationship with the idealized world of Dog & Bunny, a Disney-esque cartoon couple with anatomy too specific for a children’s film.
The video’s melancholy originates with the song it supports. The Scoop DeVille production interrupts repeatedly triggered blocks of guitar distortion with an erratic snare drum. Kool A.D. delivers his lyrics in the form of a regretful monologue. Auto-Tune adds a melodic sheen to Vasquez’s conversational vocals, with sporadic harmony. “I could be good to you baby,” he insists on the hook. “Prove it,” the response comes flatly. His rambling makes room for his signature brand of brilliantly stupid lines like “it was looking all pretty when you look at the buildings, all congregated all together that’s a city.” But the hurt at the lyrics’ core is strong enough to grind the track to a halt, leaving the rapper to berate himself under his breath for just a moment.
Kool A.D.’s presence is felt in the visuals as well. He is credited with creating the Dog & Bunny characters, originally from the even more graphic “Word” video. And Vasquez himself makes a cameo in “Prove It,” idling in the driver’s seat as his beanie-wearing face taps at his phone.
Though the entire video is animated, the world of the main character is realistic, with proportional figures and out-of-focus backgrounds. The guy himself is too cartoonish, caught between the look of his world and the fantasia of Dog & Bunny. As he reflects on a past relationship, tears drip from his too-large eyes. He compares his memories to the romance of cartoons. While his ex ignores his phone call, Dog & Bunny ride a speed-boat through monochrome waters. Dog slides a ring on Bunny’s finger as he remembers meeting her at a party. A brief horn note sounds like an ironic fanfare, a bizarro wedding march.
The canine commits in a way that Kool A.D. and the guy never could. The protagonist lingers in front of a jewelry store. He window-shops. Vasquez acknowledges that she wanted marriage, but “you never said it out loud because if you said it out loud then I might go.”
As Kool A.D.’s singing continues long enough to “turn into a four-page letter,” the layers of visual reality collide and ricochet off each other. The exhaust from a rocket launch fills the girlfriend’s hotboxed car. Costumed versions of Dog & Bunny haunt the view out of the guy’s cab window. He grasps his girlfriend’s hand as they stare at the setting sun. Slowly, they turn to stone. The thought of what could have been, no matter how cartoonish, invades the everyday.
As the song reaches its raucous instrumental finale, the guy busts into a vault. He sprints from police through an anonymous grey hallway as Dog & Bunny dance vigorously in the pop-up ad foreground. 808s pound like his footsteps under incessant samples. Before long, he’s speaking to his ex on a prison phone through reinforced glass. It’s an outlandish yet utterly devastating conclusion.
The final shot of the video is the same as the first, with the guy and his girlfriend cloaked in blankets in front of the TV. The bass drum endures after the other elements have petered out. The figures flicker between human and animal. On a quiet evening at home, in the middle of a romance, they too are cueing up Kool A.D.’s “Prove It” video.