Cole Bennett, music video director from Chicago
He already has more than a million subscribers to his YouTube channel, his videos have been watched by hundreds of millions of people, and a recent highlight was him being interviewed for the legendary magazine Rolling Stone: Cole Bennett is a music-video director from Chicago with his own platform for artists called Lyrical Lemonade. Cole’s maverick style has turned a number of artists from the US rap scene into click millionaires on YouTube, including Smokepurpp, Lil Pump, and Famous Dex. Cole is just 21, but is already well known for his video clips – and his striking Birkenstocks. We visited Cole during a video shoot and met an individual who knows exactly what he wants.
A rule for life: never give up
Cole, who grew up in Plano, Illinois, discovered his passion for music videos and rap music at an early age. He bought his first album, 50 Cent, at the age of seven. Only a few years later, he appeared on Chicago’s burgeoning rap scene. His first music videos, most of which were brief shoots of live shows, were filmed using his mom’s camera. “She really was supportive with everything I wanted to do,” Cole relates.
Cole and his two sisters lost their father early on. As a single parent, their mom took any job she could to get by. The idea of giving up never crossed her mind, and her strength made a lasting impression on Cole. When he moved to Chicago to turn his passion into a profession, he set himself some clear goals: he wanted to achieve something.
“Chicago is impressive,” explains Cole, “and everyone works very hard.” He talks about superstars who, just a few years back, were still handing out mix tapes in the city – people like Chance the Rapper, who has since won three Grammys as an independent artist. “Four years ago, I was seeing him at small venues performing in front of 300 people. Now he’s performing at stadiums. It’s crazy!”
This is precisely the kind of artist that Cole wanted to support. He created his own platform, Lyrical Lemonade, featuring shows, events, a music blog, and – of course – his music videos.
Sounds need to live and videos speak
Cole has high standards, and his style is “fun, happy, poppy, and colorful.” He was fascinated by the notion of breathing life into an idea: “I want the video to speak to you beyond just the music. I want a song that you hate to be a video that you love.”
These days, superstars such as Migos, Riff Raff, Lil Pump, Famous Dex, Yung Pinch, Lil Uzi Vert, and Playboi Carti want his style. There’s no doubt about it – Cole is on the right track.
Birkenstock and hip-hop?
As much as he loves this scene, he prefers to keep his distance. “The most difficult part about being successful in a scene like this is being around it all and understanding it and being friends with these people – but not partaking in it!” Cole would rather be an observer of the scene.
What matters to him is staying true to himself and being respected – something that he also expresses through the clothes he wears. He talks about a video shoot in the south of Chicago where he first consciously wore his Birkenstocks: “Gang activities, murder … I had all my shoes lined up, they were just regular shoes, but I was like, ‘I wanna wear my Birkenstocks. But everyone’s gonna look crazy at me, the white kid coming out there with Birkenstocks on. So I threw on the Birkenstocks and I went out there and we shot the video. And it was fun. Everyone was super cool. And at that point I was like, ‘This is me. This is how I’m gonna represent myself!’”
The shoes have become Cole’s hallmark, and many of his young fans now wear them, too. “It was my birthday and these kids just wanted to surprise me with a cool gift. They made this custom pair for me!” he says. But the present he is especially delighted with was one from the graphic designer Papikodone: the lemons in his Lyrical Lemonade logo.
What the scene thinks: respect
We watch Cole shoot a new video for Supa Bwe, a member of Hurt Everybody. Supa Bwe was one of the first artists to produce a video with Cole. In his opinion, Cole is one of “Chicago’s catalysts, someone who gives people a chance, and an excellent organizer who is passionate about what he does.” Their first video clocked up 80,000 views in next to no time, and they expect the current video to hit the million mark. For Supa Bwe, there’s no doubt about it – everything that Cole touches turns to gold. “He has helped a lot of artists make it big. Cole has a grip on the angry-boy scene. They owe him some acknowledgement,” he tells us. He goes on: “His Birkenstocks? That’s something that he definitely brings to hip-hop. He’ll be out here in his Birkenstocks every day, every show, rain or snow …!”
Getting on with it – that’s all that counts
He may only be 21, but Cole knows exactly what he wants. He finishes by telling us about his two sisters’ initial skepticism, with their asking him what he would do if this industry and this market changed in a few years.
"Well – what if I create the industry. What if I create the market?"