If you pause and squint at minute 2:34 of Wale's new music video "Sue Me," you can see New York City MTA posters that read "IF YOU SEE SOME FUCK SHIT, SAY SOMETHING," and "MAYOR BLACKBERG TOUGH ON CRIME" and "Tell a cop or an MTA employee if you see them up to some shit" under the headline "NEW YORKERS WORK TOGETHER TO STOP WHITE-ON-WHITE CRIME."
In this conceptual video, a different universe is supposed: one where white people are denigrated and targeted across every aspect of their life, and Black people are the "default" face of government, police, oatmeal, and Christ.
Kerby Jean-Raymond, designer and founder of high-end fashion label Pyer Moss, makes his directorial debut in this short film, co-written by Jean-Raymond and Cam Robert. The video puts the song's chorus—"Sue me, I'm rooting for everybody that's Black," a reference to Issa Rae's 2019 Emmy's red carpet interview—into a new context, and all the details of the video demand several rewatches. Many shots are composed with the clear intent of standing alone as still images; each could function as both an artistic statement and a screenshot meant to be shared on Twitter.
The main character is played by actor Lucas Hedges, who makes his way through New York, from a housing complex to eventually visit his father in prison. Throughout his journey, we see how racial dynamics seep into every aspect of life, from the Black family portrayed on the label of "Creste" toothpaste and the Black Quaker face on the "Melanin Oats" to the images of Black Jesus, Mayor "Blackberg" in multiple billboard and newspaper appearances, and advertisements throughout, some of which are acknowledged by the character, others passed by without a glance. A billboard advertising a divorce helpline that offers to "break up your white family" contains a phone number to a real divorce helpline (confirmed by a call from VICE, though they make no direct appeals to any specific race).
If at any point, the message of the video seems heavy-handed or "unfair," Jean-Raymond provides multiple real-life examples. On a mocked-up newspaper, where "Mayor Blackberg Declares Victory in White Community," the following text excerpts two real articles from Citylab, which break the fourth wall to depict modern gentrification in the real, white-dominated world. Similarly, alongside a mocked-up paper showing the Central Park Five as white teenagers, the accompanying article is from the Wikipedia entry of the actual Central Park Jogger case.
When Hedges' character is manhandled in a Morebucks coffee shop, as Black onlookers watch the scenario unfold and Wale films from his iPhone, the "inspiration" for the scene is spliced in, showing that it's a dramatic reenactment of the real-life incident wherein two Black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for being there without making a purchase. (They eventually settled a lawsuit with Starbucks for the symbolic amount of $1 each, as the chyron in the video states.)
In one of the last scenes, Hedges arrives at a prison to see his father, who has given up on the idea that the system can be changed for "people that look like us." In the background, a poster shows a white adolescent teen's face with the name Lesane Parish Crooks, the birth name of Tupac Shakur. It's an exact copy of the poster seen behind Tupac in a 1995 interview depicting Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, a child murder victim in Chicago.
The video ends with a Facebook Live clip recorded by Aaron Deshawn Cambell, an inmate at Elkton Federal Prison in Ohio, describing horrid conditions in which the inmates have been "left to die." (Fifty-two inmates and 48 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the facility.) Campbell pleads, “I got less than a year left, I don’t want to die in this bitch.”
The "Sue Me" music video dropped at 2:02 p.m. EDT on April 22. Less than two hours later, a federal judge ordered that Elkton identify its medically vulnerable prisoners and transfer them out of the facility by the following day, following a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Wale is an excellent rapper. He hasn't gotten enough acclaim for his music, and he's masochistic in his pursuit of love. He says as much in this song, and it's hard to disagree, at least with the rap skills and underrated part. With this video, Wale proves as a visionary alongside Jean-Raymond, whose video direction surely (and hopefully) won't stop here. Until then, we can rewatch this video again and again.