Last night, Kanye West premiered the video for "Fade" at the MTV VMAs. The clip, starring a sweaty and intensely focused Teyana Taylor, isn't the first time Kanye's set his music to choreography, but the mesmerizing athleticism and sensuality of the singer's movement puts the "Fade" in the hall of fame of music videos featuring dance solos. Derek "Fonzworth Bentley" Watkins, Guapo (who has previously worked with Teyana), and the renowned Toronto choreographer and former Rihanna collaborator Jae Blaze are listed as the choreographers for the piece. This morning, The FADER spoke with Jae Blaze, on her way to Philly from New York for her fitness tour Juk Gyal, about the one-day shoot for "Fade," and why dancehall needs to be part of the pop culture conversation.
How did you get involved with "Fade"?
I was pulled in the day of the shoot to do artistic direction! I had some amazing people, like the stylist Renelou Pandora and Fonzworth Bentley, reach out to me. They wanted Teyana to look really rugged and earthy and said, 'we know you’re that point person for that.' Renelou and I have worked on Black Eyed Peas projects together; she’s knowledgable about my dancehall history. [What they wanted was] that earthy, grounded, dancehall style that I've done with artists like Sean Paul, Will Smith, and Bomba Estereo.
There are two other choreographers credited, Derek "Fonzworth Bentley" Watkins and Guapo. How did you all work together to create the final vision?
When I came in Teyana and Guapo were already set in terms of what they wanted to do. Derek and I just kind of smoothed any rough edges, Kanye came in and gave his input, and really we just made it look great for camera, while also translating the director, Eli’s, vision. It was definitely a collaboration of three creative minds working in sync to make sure Teyana came out with the best project possible. And, I mean, she’s a monster herself: we could just let her go and it would’ve come out amazing anyway!
What was Kanye's direction?
He’s such a genius, it’s ridiculous. The direction he was giving was focused on taking the movement she was doing to another level. So, for example, there’s a point where Teyana's doing a dancehall move called bruk back, created by these Jamaican girls called the Outshine Crew. This particular move was something he wanted to bring to another level. He came and gave us his input and then we had to translate it, and Teyana did an amazing job doing that. She took direction so well, and knew how to work the camera. You have to be a natural mover to execute what she was giving, and she did a plethora of styles; voguing, house, dancehall, hip-hop, popping, the old school styles, the new school styles. She’s a beast, it was so easy working with her.
“You have to be a natural mover to execute what [Teyana] was giving, and she did a plethora of styles; voguing, house, dancehall, hip-hop, popping, the old school styles, the new school styles. She’s a beast.”
Was Flashdance a reference point for this piece at all?
You'd definitely have to ask Eli, because that was his vision, but I don't recall that being an immediate reference. That being said, because she's so sexy it makes sense that that's what people gravitate toward. When was the last time you’ve seen something as hot as that? Being in a Flashdance conversation is amazing because if you’re talking about dance... well, that movie is epic, like this video.
Were you there for the shower scene at the end? What direction was given there?
Uh, yeah, I was there! That was absolutely not choreographed: they have a natural chemistry because that’s her husband. We turned our heads, and let them go! Teyana and Iman are beautiful and hot, so it’s hard to do something wrong when you’re filming them in a scene: it’s just magic, it’s black magic.
What was your time on set like?
It was a very relaxed set. Everyone was having fun and busting jokes, but it’s definitely an art piece. The director’s whole vision was to show Teyana going through these things and merging into this fierce being, this fierce cat: where she gots her family, and they’re holding it down. It was an artistic piece, first and foremost.
The whole time I was thinking about how difficult it must be to dance in a thong.
And she did that! I was on set all day saying ‘That body! That body! I need to be back in the gym!’ She did that effortlessly, over and over and over again. It was a long day and she was taking care of her child, and dancing in between. She’s a little superwoman. And that bomb ass body: I’m jealous. You caught me on my way to do my workout because of her right now.
You're known for your bridging dancehall and hip-hop choreography. Do you have any thoughts on the increased visibility of dancehall in pop culture right now?
You know, everybody’s jumping on the bandwagon and calling it ‘tropical house’ — but no, no, no, no. Dancehall is dancehall. That downbeat is forever dancehall, and it doesn’t matter how you switch it up. I wish that people would give more credit and exposure to the amazing dancers and dancehall artists residing in Jamaica right now. They're the ones who are spearheading this — and it’s not a trend — lifestyle. This is a culture, and there are people in Jamaica who need to benefit from their music and dance moves being exposed to the rest of the world. These people need to be traveling and sending money back to Jamaica to feed their families, and develop the country. It’s kind of like robbing culture.
Have you ever been able to help hire these dance crews?
It’s hard sometimes because Jamaicans are often unable to get US visas. I don’t know if that’s a problem with the Jamaican consulate. All the dancehall dancers are going to Europe, but they need to come to America and Canada. And when I do have the opportunity, it's difficult because Jamaicans are on the east coast, in Toronto and New York, or the director doesn’t want that 'look.' You have to find the balance. But as artists who are using elements of dancehall culture, we need to big up and give credit —and it’s definitely to Jamaican dancers.