God Knows’ new music video is a triumphant look at identity, heritage and perseverance.
“My new track centres around my Irishness,” says rapper God Knows. “Claiming it, walking in it, feeling empowered in it. I felt the music I was making before wasn’t reflecting fully who I am, which is 100% Zimbabwean and 100% Irish.”
God Knows’s new single Twelve61 is a hypnotic, high-energy track that documents his journey and experience growing up. It’s a promising step for the hip-hop artist, who won the Choice Music Prize in 2016 as part of music label narolane records. Since then, God Knows has been trailblazing his path to glory, making waves on the Irish music scene for his vividly honest lyricism and electrifying beats. The new single is accompanied by a stunning full frame animation music video directed by up-and-coming animators Emma Murphy and Darragh Scott.
With lyrics a mixture of English and Shona, this is a song about family and the ties that bind generations. “When I was five-years-old, I remember watching my uncle on TV performing one of his songs. It made me make my own music. I didn’t know the words, I just liked the beat, and I loved the visuals.”
His late uncle is Cde Chinx: political activist, freedom fighter, and one of the biggest music stars in Zimbabwe who performed alongside stars such as Bob Marley. Twelve61 samples Vanhu vemuAfrica: the liberation song that inspired God Knows to pursue music. But the family affair doesn’t end there – the single also features Jah Master, Zimbabwean pop sensation and cousin of God Knows.
With so many important figures in one song, Emma and Darragh tell me that animation was the necessary medium to do it justice. The pair met while studying Animation in IADT Dún Laoghaire and decided to enter the First Cut! Youth Music Video Competition, which is organised by noted director Brendan Canty. The competition gives young creatives the opportunity to direct a music video for some of Ireland’s most exciting musicians. The pair were matched with God Knows and tasked with creating a video for Twelve61. “We were excited to get such an upbeat song and I knew we could use a dynamic animation style to bring it to life,” Emma tells me.
“Initially the task was intimidating because the song has so much history and personal meaning behind it,” says Darragh. “We felt a lot of responsibility to do justice towards a culture that isn’t our own.” They agreed that the first step was intense research and threw themselves into learning more about Zimbabwean life.
“We watched a lot of archive footage and YouTube content from Zimbabwe, researching bloggers and influencers from the area,” Emma tells me. They also looked to Zimbabwean art, familiarising themselves with the colour palettes and visual styles used.
Twelve61 is a track written from the heart, exploring themes of lineage, emigration, survival, passion, empowerment, and more. The lyrics reflect God Knows straddling the line between struggle and perseverance: as said in his lyrics, “from poverty to plenty, from zero to hero.” Emma and Darragh were careful to strike the right tone through animation, working closely with the artist to ensure they depicted his story correctly. “Zimbabwe is a place that has definitely suffered through trauma, colonialism, and war,” notes Darragh. “There’s a lot of disparity, but as well as that there’s a lot of hope and vibrancy and creativity.”
These interconnected themes are portrayed beautifully in the video, which bounces between different locations and eras. It takes us from villages that God Knows’ ancestors hailed from to the bustling city of Harare and its surrounding neighbourhoods where the rapper grew up.
“Our goal was to create a kaleidoscopic snapshot of the culture as opposed to one linear story. It’s like a fever dream of nostalgia and history, showing all these different fragments like changing channels on a TV,” says Darragh.
The pair opted for a rotoscope animation style due to its ability to capture movement very naturalistically. Indeed, the video is bursting with motion and energy. Scenes flash from God Knows rapping passionately, to Jah Master’s dynamic dance moves, to Cde Chinx clicking his fingers to the beat.
Vibrancy is a key aspect to the music video and the shots are further brought to life through their use of colour. In the initial stages of the brief, Emma and Darragh collaborated with Sarah Whyte, colour artist and their former classmate from IADT. They planned to use colour to depict the different generations of God Knows’ lineage, moving from earthy greens and browns to bolder, brighter shades. “I love the colour popping out of the screen,” God Knows tells me, adding that it feels true to the music videos that inspired him as a child.
God Knows tells me that the most moving aspect of the video was seeing Cde Chinx depicted on screen. “Emma and Darragh really honoured the legacy of my uncle. He was an icon, a legend. The voice of Zimbabwe. This is the best way to remember him: at his best, fighting for his rights and freedom. That’s the guy that we all loved.” It’s touching to watch the three generations of musicians, Cde Chinx, Jah Master and God Knows, brought together in one video. “I showed the clip to my uncle, who is his brother. I was looking at him, looking at the screen, looking back at him. That made me emotional.”
The music video process took a year in total and was balanced alongside Emma and Darragh’s full-time work. It was a challenging yet rewarding process, the pair tells me. “Animation is very different from live action, time-wise,” Emma notes. “It took eight drawings to create one second of animation. So about 2,000 drawings in total.” The mammoth task paid off and saw the pair win the award for Best Music Video at the First Cut! Youth Film Festival Awards.
On collaborating with the pair, God Knows said, “Bless them for all the hours and tireless days they put into this video. It’s not easy what they’ve done and I have a million thank yous. I’m thankful for all the love and time they put into it.”
When reflecting on the project, Emma tells me, “I think some people think of animation as little cartoons as opposed to an art form in itself. One reason we were paired with God Knows was because the song was about his roots in Zimbabwe, and you couldn’t fly out there to make a live-action video. As animators, we’re not limited by reality and location. We can create whatever we want on screen and tell that story in new ways. It has limitless possibilities and deserves more respect as a medium.”
This sense of exploration and creativity is encapsulated in the music video. While speaking to God Knows, I get the sense that he has been on a journey to understand the duality of his identity. In Twelve61 he comes full circle, with a rousing, high energy celebration of the cultures and people that have made him who he is. On the new track, he tells me he is finally speaking his truth. “For the first time on my career, I’m like, this one is personal. This one is for my family. I’m proud. And I’m grateful.”
Words by Kerry Mahony
Photos of God Knows: Nina Val @nvksocial
Twelve61 is released on June 21st on narolane records.