The Story Behind the Making of “The Story of O.J.”

While JAY-Z continues to trickle out new videos for each song on 4:44, the clip for “The Story of O.J.” arrived the same day as the album. And though it’s been out for over a month, until now, little has been known about the making of it.

The striking video examines issues of racial stereotypes in the history of cartoons and in the history of America itself. It was directed by Mark Romanek, whose celebrated three-decade career runs from De La Soul “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” to JAY-Z’s “99 Problems” to Beyoncé’s “Sandcastles” from last year’s Lemonade. But Romanek isn’t known for animated videos.

For “The Story of O.J.,” the director approached The Mill, a visual effects and content creation studio, after he and JAY-Z came up with a concept that evoked, and commented on, the racist cartoons of the 1930s and ’40s. “We knew it would be a challenge replicating these incredibly controversial cartoons from the past in an authentic way—authenticity being the key—within such a short time frame,” says art director Tim Devlin in a Q&A sent to select media outlets. “While the old animated shorts we referenced would take around nine months to create, we had six weeks from the initial call to delivery.”

The team at The Mill combined old school techniques like hand-painted backgrounds and cel animation with current computer graphic assets and applications, including Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects. The mixing of approaches from different eras is reflected in the feel of the video itself. “The 1930s-40s cartoons feature very rubbery, happy characters, but this piece speaks to a serious subject matter. A lot of implications rested on every decision, especially as we were sticking to the specific aesthetic,” says Devlin. “That’s why, in the end, we ended up breaking away from some of the animation language of the time. For example, the main character whom we follow throughout the song, carries himself in a more modern, laid-back manner than you might see back in the day.”

Creative director Lisha Tan adds, “It’s as if our lead is looking back in time and commenting on those issues in retrospect,”

Watch the full video for “The Story of O.J.” above and check out stills from it below.

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