WASHINGTON • The latest music video for a track off Jay-Z's album 4:44 features only about a minute of his rapping. But it serves as a sort of meta-commentary on black representation in media and artistic ownership.
Released last Friday on Tidal, the video for Moonlight features an all-black cast - some of the biggest rising stars in comedy - re-enacting, line-for-line, scenes from a quintessential Friends episode.
Directed by Master Of None co-creator Alan Yang, the video even features a remake of the opening to the NBC sitcom - but using the song Friends by Whodini.
Comedian Jerrod Carmichael (The Carmichael Show) plays Ross, Issa Rae of HBO's Insecure plays Rachel, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out) plays Joey, Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) plays Chandler, Tessa Thompson (Creed) plays Monica and Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) plays Phoebe.
The actors are wearing almost exactly the same clothing as the characters in the 1996 Friends episode. The set looks the same. The shots are the same. When the cast takes a break, Carmichael chats with comedian Hannibal Buress offstage, who tells him what they are shooting is "garbage" and "just episodes of Seinfeld, but with black people".
"It's Friends," Carmichael interjects, but Buress cuts him off: "Who asked for that?"
"When they asked me to do it, I was like, all right, this is something subversive, something that would turn the culture on its head," Carmichael says.
"Well, you did a good job of subverting good comedy," Buress says. "You gonna do black Full House next? Family Ties? Why stop there? Home Improvement?"
Many viewed Friends as essentially a white version of Fox's Living Single, which premiered a year before the popular NBC comedy and is also about six friends in New York City - who happened to be black.
Queen Latifah, star of Living Single, said earlier this year: "It was one of those things where there was a guy called Warren Littlefield, who used to run NBC, and they asked him, 'When all the new shows came out, if there was any show you could have, which one would it be?' And he said Living Single. And then he created Friends. But Friends was so good, it wasn't like we hated on it or anything."
In the Jay-Z music video, the cast returns to the set and continues acting out scenes from Friends, but Carmichael is clearly shaken. Rae leads him off the set and, finally, Jay-Z raps: "We stuck in La La Land/Even when we win, we gon' lose."
That line, and the song's title, is an allusion to the Oscars flub, when La La Land was mistakenly named the winner of Best Picture rather than the actual winner, Moonlight, a gay-themed film with an all-black cast. The mix-up, some argued, distracted from what should have been the Moonlight cast and crew's moment.