"Check yourself before you wreck yourself." It was the message heard round the world in 1993, when Ice Cube (as of this week, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer) boomed the warning on wax in a track about the danger that comes with crossing him. (It was actually Das EFX who immortalized the saying, but I digress.) Now OSHUN, a female neo-soul/hip-hop duo, has borrowed that phrase to establish an entirely opposite and timely point. On "Protect Your Self," from last year's ASASE YAA, Niambi Sala and Thandiwe take that well-known phrase of abrasive, external advice and flip it into a message of internal self-preservation. Directed by Jonah Best, the video for the track spares no one.
Though light-hearted and relatable, the visuals attack culturally specific issues, such as the natural hair vs. weave debate, as well as widespread concerns, like the perils of overexposure on social media. Literally portrayed as mindless zombies, the targets are blinded by superficiality and easy access. The protagonist, featured emcee Proda, must decide whether to get with the program and help revolutionize the technology-dependent youth, or be targeted himself.
The scenes that play throughout the video are a hat tip to pop cinematic influences, whether intentional or not: From the quirky speech patterns and movements reminiscent of the main character Leeloo of The Fifth Element to the eradication of the ill and odd that reflects the mission of Agents J and K from the Men In Black series. OSHUN takes it a step further by tying in influences from classic music videos, with a tip of the hat toward Missy Elliott, via dedicated segments of dance in puffy suits, Erykah Badu, through cosmetic aesthetics, and Destiny's Child, during a fleeting but fulfilling moment of choreography (see: 2:45).
While the video is undoubtedly intended to be a wake-up call, the way it's presented is anything but an in-your-face exhortation. Instead, this is about young people looking out for one another, spreading a message of positivity without excluding the uninitiated. In both a fictional world and here on Earth, OSHUN is braving a war against the artificial. It's not an easy battle, but someone has to lead it.