The punk hip-hop duo Ho99o9 (pronounced "Horror") regularly takes on enough political themes to fuel both a conscious rap group and the hardcore punk band opening for them. Their long list of grievances includes police brutality, militarism, racism, capitalism, and the media — and all are given visual form in the caustic video for their new song "City Rejects."
In one series of vignettes, a man with a television for a head whips a shirtless black man with long dreads. The victim of this callback to slavery happens to be one of the group's members, TheOGM. With his gloved hands, the television man places a noose around TheOGM's neck. One jump cut later he lets go. The noose becomes a chain necklace. The meaning is clear; modern media is an instrument of objectification and subjugation.
"Black people and black culture have a long history of being used and appropriated to sell product, and it continues now," writes the band and the video's director, Behn Fannin. "Pepsi has taken heat for this general concept recently, but we see it all over the place — take note when a white person in a commercial acts like a 'thug' or raps for comedic effect, and meanwhile we have black folk only offered the thug or drug dealer roles in most TV shows. It's like, 'Thank you for all of the aspects of your culture we like, but you can keep the aspects we don't.'"
The theme of black lives commodified is explored further in other scenes. An animated sequence shows an 8-bit police officer shooting a black man, making his body a mere obstacle in a game. We see band members Eaddy and TheOGM, pixelated as well, shouting the song's chorus, "All we want is justice, anarchy and peace / rebel to the core, disciple in the streets," while scantily clad women dance in the background.
"The video game imagery is meant to depict over-simplification for easy digestion of these scenarios by media," Ho99o9 and Fannin write. "The flashy colors and eye-catching graphics reminiscent of modern media. Using the childlike parts of our brains to get our attention with simple colorful images, the female body and click-bait headlines."
Taken together, these images suggest that as black artists, the members of Ho99o9 are at risk of being made into media constructs, that our society treats black people as if they have no thoughts worth hearing other than those programmed by a corporation. As if our destruction is mere entertainment. The band's punk spirit rebels against this notion, knocking against the walls of what is considered safe for black people to do in their lives and in their art.
Some viewers will find the images disturbing. But the members of Ho99o9 believe that being able to turn away from these images is a sign of privilege not everyone enjoys. So they make it their mission to transform harsh realities into art (as with the images of Nazi flags in the video).
Ho99o9 and Fannin write: "The idea here is to appropriate the aspects of hate-culture and turn it back on itself. Much like how the 'n'-word was adopted by black culture as a way to remove its weight."
From this video, it's clear that the confrontational way the band delivers their message is essential to the meaning of the message itself.