The story behind Cardi B’s Toronto-made Coachella visuals

The New York rapper is repping the 6ix in SoCal with high-contrast backing visuals created by director Sammy Rawal

If you’re attending Coachella this year (or, let’s be real, if you’re following the proceedings religiously online), you may have unwittingly seen a little piece of Toronto.

We’re all here for #Beychella, but #Boachella – hip-hop queen Cardi B’s hashtag – is what a group of Toronto artists and producers are all about.

Yes, headliner and Scarborough native The Weeknd might be the city’s most obvious link to SoCal’s hottest music fest, but Cardi is repping the 6ix with trippy stage visuals courtesy of Toronto-based director and photographer Sammy Rawal.

The New York rapper performed on April 15 flanked by backup dancers and several guest artists featured on her new album, including Chance the Rapper, Kehlani and G-Eazy. Rawal’s visuals, full of high-contrast neon imagery and flashy animation, popped against the all white set and outfits of the performers.

Known for striking uses of colour and movement in videos for artists such as Hannah Georgas, Rawal created the backing visuals with a handful of artists and producers, many from Toronto.

Tanisha Scott, the award-winning choreographer and Toronto native who has worked with Beyoncé, Rihanna and Drake, is Cardi’s creative director and recruited Rawal to create something for the rapper’s live show.

“[Tanisha] is a Toronto icon,” says Rawal, who has worked with Scott on other projects, including a Pitbull video and and a Pringles ad campaign.

He wanted the visuals to capture the nuances in Cardi’s image.

“Cardi obviously maintains that sort of Bronx attitude, but is now a fashion icon in her own right,” he explains. “We had this idea of one foot in it being a bit hood, and one foot being an elevated, stylized fashion take.”

Rawal calls the process of developing the visuals “dynamic,” since no one was sure what the final set list would be until the day before the performance.

“We ended up filming a bunch of the elements in-studio with the intent of incorporating them into the finished visuals at the end,” said Rawal. “From day to day it grew and evolved as the set list grew and evolved.”

Rawal’s other work has generally paired bold colours with striking choreography, but the non-narrative format of live visuals allowed him to expand on non-music video work such as the short-form dance loops he posts on Instagram.

“I’m really intrigued by our decreasing attention spans,” he says. “I think people generally want to view something and get the overall vibe right away.

“I always call my Instagram stuff visual junk food, with this idea of fast, easy, accessible, instantly gratifying,” he continues. “Dance has been a pretty common theme in most of my work, so [this project] really was an evolution of the stuff I was doing on Instagram.”

Cardi B performs again on Coachella’s second weekend on April 22, and though organizers say they try to produce identical lineups each weekend, Rawal said fans might see some of the visuals that didn’t make it into the week one set.

“I think [the intent is] to keep the same vibe, but maybe breathe some more freshness into this new set,” said Rawal. “I’m excited.”

Other Toronto contributors that worked on Cardi’s show included artist Susan Armstrong, who did animations for the backing video for Bickenhead, and dancer Asiaadoll, who modeled in the sequences for Money Bag and No Limit – both filmed in Toronto.

Cardi B, whose first studio album Invasion Of Privacy debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart last week, apparently has a soft spot for Canadian artists. She worked with Toronto-born photographer and director Petra Collins on her Bartier Cardi video.

She’s also the first female rapper to hit number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart (with her song Bodak Yellow) since Lauryn Hill did it in 1998. Basically, she’s one of the buzziest artists around, and Rawal is clearly a fan.

“Obviously, this was dream come true,” he says. “I love Cardi.” | @RhiannaJK

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