The Visual Masterpiece that Defined the Year | Topaz Jones and Rubberband, Don't Go Tellin' Your Momma
Evan Dale // Dec 28, 2021
Music videos have long captured our imaginations. Either artfully successful at translating a musician’s work into the visual eye, or hilariously missing the ball to a hodgepodge of uncorrelated clips, they give a listener a chance to view, and a viewer a chance to find new meaning and enjoyment in something they already find both. Like music, music videos can act as timestamps, expressing the cinematographic style of and moment and cementing it for future generations to either borrow from or steer clear of. But music, art, fashion, photography, and cinematography are fluid. The music video model has run stale, and in its place, with enough vision, transcendence can lead the creative world to a new era where music and film collide with greater gusto. Here, in 2021, that pursuit falls squarely to what might be the most artistically successful work across any liquid line of creative medium: Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma.
Some context: the film is at once a visual representation of Topaz Jones’ 2021 album of the same name; an immersive short film dictated by the transcendent soundscape of hip-hop, funk, soul, and jazz; a collection of diary entries pulled from the Jones family archives; a documentary brimming with the insight of Black community leaders; and a reinvention of the Black ABC’s: a 70’s Chicago-founded flashcard system that helped Black youth learn the alphabet through visual motifs born from relevance in their own lives. ‘A’ is for Afro, after all. But, to the tune of a new era and different motifs from where to pull reference, and yet with an unavoidable celebration of eras come, gone, and now seemingly back again, Topaz Jones, directing duo Rubberband, and cinematographer Chayse Irvin blur the lines between music video and short film, winning a Sundance Film Festival award in the process, and shining a ubiquitous light on cultural bridges gapping and evolving across the lives lived by Black generations.
And if all of that isn’t somehow proof that the collaborative effort is a blinding success at deconstructing our expectations of what can even be called a music video, there is one easier way: just watch it. The New York Times picked it up as part of their Op-Docs series, allowing anyone to watch it on their platform. And they did so because they, too, see just how powerful, important, and necessary a moment it is for Topaz Jones and for Rubberband, sure, but more importantly for Black communities and for the renaissance of a creative moment where artists can transcend medium with a single work.
Back to the music video, or rather, short film: Nowadays, ‘A’ is for Amphetamines. With a quartet of friends floating high in their living room, and a collection of furniture doing the same, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma tells its first chapter, after an intro of portraits and interlaid home video clips from Jones family reunions opens the short film with a warm note of the intimate Black story. And though specifically pulled from Topaz Jones’ own story, interweaving more home video clips throughout its duration, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma at large is focused on having a wider reach, and relating to an audience beyond just that from where certain specific imagery was sourced. It’s intimate, it’s impeccably storylined, it’s immaculately captured, and perhaps its strongest trait of all – it’s soundtrack – just also happens to be one of the year’s best albums.
But along with the silkiness of Topaz Jones’ first album since his 2016 debut, with what is really a rebirth for the New Jersey born musician, the collaborative mosaic of the Jones family archives, and the crystalline vision of the audiovisual team at large coalesces into something that in and of itself doesn’t only transcend medium, but broken down, transcends stylistic norms across both music and film. Musically, Topaz Jones has graduated tenfold since Arcade – an unendingly fun, fluidly hip-hop debut that itself acts as a timestamp for a simpler time in music and in society. Less dialogue, more bangers like its standout single, Tropicana. Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma – as an album – evokes imagery through a bottomless pool of stylistic transcendence. Hip-hop, of course, but soul, funk, and jazz, too, coalesce into something purely Topaz. And visually, that transcendence is achieved – as it was inspired – by the influence that Jones’ upbringing had on his creative present.
Presently, Don’t Go Tellin Your Momma – as both a short film and in the construct of a music video – is an unmatched exploration of filmic transcendence paying homage to the inadhering style of its purely audio counterpart. Rubberband and Chayse Irvin, with Topaz Jones in a leading role in front (and surely to some extent behind) the camera, craft the kind of audiovisual masterpiece that cannot be pigeonholed into one cinematographic space. Instead, the creative team behind Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma exists at an intersection where the music video, the visual album, the documentary, the short film, the avant-garde, the storylined and the storied meet in a space that’s unapologetically unique, but likewise unapologetically ubiquitous. Easier said than done, but – and this is why it’s a hands down winner (and potentially unfair choice) for music video of 2021 – the creative world could learn a lot from Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma. If there is truly a visual story to be told with every song, or at least every album, this is a blueprint for how to achieve such a feat to the extent that it not only touches, but builds upon an album’s innermost identity. Finding itself now placarded in the near-untouchable company of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Solange’s When I Get Home, Topaz Jones’ Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma is both masterful, and indefinable in both artistic and social scope.
See our Comprehensive List of 2021's Best Videos here: