Motion Family, Decatur Dan, and Phil the God lead rap's viral offensive 

A new breed of Atlanta-based video directors mix creative vision with hustlers' ambition

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COLD BUT CALCULATED: Future (left) and T.I. brave near-freezing temps during the final shot of "Magic." More behind the scenes photos of Atlanta rap videos - DUSTIN CHAMBERS
click to enlarge Decatur Dan sets up the crane shot on Magic City's rooftop for Future’s "Magic," which lasts 12 hours. More behind the scenes photos of Atlanta rap videos - DUSTIN CHAMBERS

"Everything evolved," says Gucci's manager Coach K. "Back then, you had to go to a director, you had to rent these $100,000 cameras, you had to buy this film. Everything's microwave now; it's fast. So a kid can actually pick up a camera, 'cause it's HD, you don't even have to go to school. You can go online and teach yourself the classes. So it's really an independent world now."

Although Gucci Mane is signed to Asylum/Warner Bros., the song Figz shot a video for in three takes ("North Pole") appears on the free mixtape, Trap Back, that he's releasing independently on Superbowl Sunday. "All this shit is like marketing. Back in the day I came up under guerilla marketing, where we got out and put up posters and fliers. All that shit is dead now. Video, visuals, blogs — all blogs are is visuals," says Coach K.

Recognizing the constant need to feed the machine, this year Coach K started his company Original Content that will eventually house three recording studios and three editing suites located on Atlanta's Westside. He also plans to dive into film in 2012, motivated in part by the 30 percent tax credits the state of Georgia offers for films shot in state. He's taking filmmaking courses himself, and says Gucci Mane even penned three feature-length scripts, including two comedies, during his last jail stint.

Just as the city's filmmaking prospects have lured in creative talent, it's also kept Phil the God intrigued enough to stay put. Though the Philadelphia native, who moved here with his parents when he was still in high school, hasn't made deep forays into Atlanta's mixtape-laden trap scene, it was Coach K who gave him his first Canon 5D a few years ago. "I owe a lot of what I do now to him because if he hadn't given me that 5D I wouldn't have been able to practice and get busy," says Phil.

It paid off in early 2010, when Phil responded to a random tweet from Diggy Simmons' camp soliciting videographers to record the son of Rev. Run's first music video.

Phil developed his "whole run-and-gun thing," from the shoot in New York's Times Square "'cause we never had shot lists or camera choices or lighting," he says. "It was like, 'Does this look good?' 'Alright, let's shoot it.'"

Upon returning home to Atlanta, he immediately chopped up the footage and emailed Diggy's manager the edit. When Phil woke up the next morning, "that shit was everywhere," he says regarding Diggy's "Made You Look." An instant viral sensation that got airplay on BET, it became Diggy's legitimate break, the visual that made people stop rolling their eyes at the reality TV star and son of hip-hop royalty long enough to pay attention.

The majors courting Diggy suddenly multiplied "from two labels to like seven," confirms Diggy, who eventually signed with Atlantic. "That [video] definitely added on to people's awareness of me."

It also gave Phil's career a major bounce. Instead of moving to New York or Los Angeles, he simply hooked up with producers and business managers on both coasts who've helped him secure and execute major label projects, including 2011 visuals for industry vets Ghostface, Philly soul star Jill Scott, and a total of three videos for Common. For "Sweet," his first Common video, Phil flew to Haiti with no crew, no lights or setup, and ran through the streets shooting Common with his Canon in hand. "I'm so used to shooting with no budget. 'Cause you still got videos with huge budgets that still look like pooh-butt, so it's all in the creativity," he says. "You've gotta really have that shit."

LOOK AT ME NOW: Waka Flocka Flame’s Motion Family-directed "No Hands," featuring Roscoe Dash (right) at the W Downtown, has garnered more than 45 million YouTube views since 2010. More behind the scenes photos of Atlanta rap videos - DUSTIN CHAMBERS

The most expensive-looking music video Decatur Dan shot in 2011 was produced for a major label for less than $30,000 after being slashed in half from its original budget. The shoot for Future's "Magic," feat. T.I., lasted 12 hours and featured fancy crane shots on top of the renowned strip club Magic City as well as two nude models adorned in head-to-toe body paint; a fire-eating woman; an old-school Chevy doing fishtails in the parking lot; cameo appearances from Atlanta's hip-hop elite; and a reluctant star who almost blew the money shot on the rooftop.

The most compelling video he shot in 2011 was filmed for next to nothing. A narrative video for a song titled "World Goes Round" by a new mixtape artist named Trouble who'd never shot a visual before, the treatment (written in conjunction with Trouble's manager Derek Schklar) told his hard-knocks, ex-con story. His real family members were cast as themselves, and clean cinematography conveyed a sense of intimacy that all the money in the world couldn't have faked.

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