Recall all of those scribbles in the border of your favorite notebook? Remember drawing mustaches on the all-too-proper magazine models? And doodling devil horns on any picture of a baby you could get your hands on? Now imagine you do that for a living. Imagine doodling meticulously on thousands of frames of furious hip-hop artists. Being tasks with conveying the passion and aggression of lyrics like:
And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary
When you live on MLK and it gets very scary
You might have to pull your AK, send one to the cemetery
Run The Jewels – Lie Cheat Steal
That’s the job of artist, animator, illustrator and music video director/producer RUFFMERCY. With his signature scrawl, MERCY has carved out his unique niche in the music industry, including working with some of hip-hops darkest lyricists to produce videos that are equally, as he would put it, “mental”.
Before RUFFMERCY was RUFFMERCY, the Bristol, UK-based illustrator worked as an animator and motion designer for television broadcasts. “It was all quite tight” says MERCY, “very tough work.” This traditional animation inspired MERCY’s initial foray into music with the video for ‘Bang More’ by Flying Lotus. As for the scrawl, however, “Blu and David Hellman started it off,” explains MERCY, referencing LA-based rapper and producer Johnson Barnes (Blu) and Pulse Films director/producer David Helman. The pair approached MERCY with a scrawled-over GIF and asked if Blu’s entire video for ‘DoinNothin’ could be scrawled over. “I draw and doodle on everything,” says MERCY, “but I never thought about putting it into my work.” The scrawl style quickly became MERCY’s signature as hype built around the new unrefined look.
Blu – DoinNothin’
Since, MERCY has drawn over videos for British talents Blue Daisy, Lily Allen and MNEK, as well as NYC-based duo El-P and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels. Moreover, the hip-hop trio of Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs and A$AP Ferg put MERCY’s scrawl front and center for their latest single, ‘Old English’. The video features MERCY’s loose scrawl echoing the chorus of “Old English, 800 capsules of Molly”. The video, while in many ways a fairly dark visualization, highlights the slang wrapped up in nearly every bar of the song. Each mention of Molly is met with a cascade of pills, while the close observer might catch a flash of cocaine being measured as Gibbs begins his verse with “Slammin’ with my youngin’s, couple hundred onions” (Check out an explanation of ‘Old English’ on Genius). This is the power of MERCY’s scrawl; seamlessly highlight specific lyrics, patterns, beats and artist feature, on top of the traditional music video.
Young Thug, Freddie Gibbs & A$AP Ferg – Old English
MERCY’s scrawl videos are truly produced frame by frame. Often, if MERCY directs a video he plans to draw over, he pays particular consideration of how lighting will affect the scrawl, without knowing yet what (or where) the scrawl will be. “One of my favorites is Blue Daisy’s (UFCK A RAP SONG), I just drew all over him—all over his skin and such,” explains MERCY, “he loved it, he’s a left field weirdo rapper.” The scrawl takes different forms depending on the style of the artist. In a video for Grammy-nominated British singer/songwriter MNEK’s single ‘Wrote a Song About You’, MERCY highlights the artist’s bright patterned sweaters, to give a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-style ‘80s feel, whereas, for Run the Jewels’ latest ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’, MERCY decided to “alter their eyes and bring out their teeth, make it a bit more cartoonish.”
Scrawling over a video generally takes two to three weeks and involves pulling the original video into Adobe Photoshop and drawing on black video layers overtop of the original reel. For the actual scrawling process, MERCY uses a Wacom tablet and once the various video layers are completed, the project is transferred to Adobe After Effects, where colors, filters and finishing touches are added.
Run the Jewels – Lie, Cheat, Steal
“I wasn’t sure whether I could really get away with doing it again” explains MERCY when asked about his first few scrawl videos, “but the more I did it, the more people wanted.” And we still want more. Multiple MERCY directed videos have been staff picks on Vimeo and the producer says he is generally running two video projects at once. Currently, MERCY is working on a video for Blu and has been enlisted by ESPN to help market the upcoming Winter X Games in Aspen. Check out all of MERCY’s projects on Vimeo and his new XGames work on Behance.