JLShotThat Interview: Brooklyn Drill’s Favorite Director

JLShotThat is the quiet professional behind many of the most popular visuals out of New York City over the last several years. A staple in the NYC drill scene and the historic careers of two of its most important figures in Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign – not to mention Lil Tjay, Kay Flock, Young MA and more – JLShotThat is a uniquely independent operator with a strong vision and a now-iconic signature style.

If you’ve seen a crystal-clear run-and-gun style video from one of your favorite NY artists anytime in the last few years, chances are good that not only did JL shot that – he directed, edited, and turned it around faster than anyone else could.

Over the last several years, JL has had a massive impact, setting the gold standard for NYC music videos with highly polished visuals for some of the city’s biggest tracks in recent years – songs like  Pop Smoke’s “Dior”, Fivio Foreign’s “Big Drip”, or Lil Tjay’s “Not in the Mood” feat. Fivio and Kay Flock. His immersive, raw visuals and carefully crafted signature style have undoubtedly played a major role in elevating the way we think about one of the most popular subgenres in hip hop and some of its biggest heroes. 

We sat down with JLShotThat to learn about his come up as a director and videographer, and how he found himself at the center of the biggest movement in New York hip hop in the last decade. 

Because of his association with Brooklyn drill, most wouldn’t guess that JL actually grew up in Hollis, Queens. His journey in music initially started as an artist in the early 2010s, first in a group and later solo before moving behind the scenes to focus more on songwriting, production and eventually photography. Once he bought his first camera, he began to notice a need for high-quality music videos and repurposed it to try his hand at shooting visuals for local artists throughout Brooklyn and Queens. 

After a while, in an effort to show his full creative range and ability to execute professional-quality visuals, he took matters into his own hands and created a cinematic proof-of-concept called “Ex Voto”, a highly polished conceptual music video complete with full costumes and Roman Catholic cathedral.

It wasn’t too long after that when his old friend Jerry Salutee reached out and asked if he would shoot a music video for his artist. At the time, JL didn’t even know Jerry had an artist, but he agreed off the strength of their relationship. Turns out, he was a new drill artist called Fivio Foreign – and the video was his soon-to-be early hit “Welcome To The Party Remix” with Jay Dee, P-Gutta and Yung Drama. After meeting Fivio and Jay Dee in the studio they shot the visual, and over the next few days something weird started to happen:

“Literally the next day I was with my boy in the park and saw these girls dancing to “Welcome to the Party”, but I didn’t realize it was Pop Smoke’s original version. So I’m telling my man ‘Yo who’s that? I literally just shot the video for this but it was with Fivio.’ And that’s when I learned about Pop. Right after we dropped Fivio’s remix and it went crazy too.”

They ended up uploading the remix to JL’s Youtube channel on June 6th, 2019, which quickly racked up over half a million views and today sits at over 3.2M. They repeated the formula later that summer in the lead up to “Big Drip”, dropping “Jumpin” on Aug. 1st, Fivio’s biggest solo-track at that point – earning JL’s channel another 10M views and cementing his place on Fivi’s team. 

Going Viral with Pop Smoke & Fivio Foreign

A short while later, he would make another important connection when he met Pop Smoke for the first time. JL recounts the night he met Brooklyn drill’s fledgling superstar, and explains how he ended up simultaneously working on two of the biggest Brooklyn drill records ever:

“The crazy thing is that I was doing “Big Drip” (for Fivio) and “Dior” (for Pop Smoke) at the same time.

…I met Pop through Fivi at a studio session. I was there shooting behind-the-scenes of the session – and I could feel Pop grilling me from across the room. Eventually he came up behind me, puts his arm around my shoulder to watch me work and says: ‘Yo that shit is fire’ and then ‘You want to shoot something for me?’ So then he plays me “Dior”. Still unreleased at the time and I just remember instantly thinking it was so crazy. He asked me to shoot a promo video for it that night. So I did, put it together and he sent it to his manager Steven (Victor). They loved it and we were locked in from there…”

“A lot of people don’t know that there was already a video, a different video for Dior that GoddyGoddy did [who shot a number of Pop’s other most popular videos]. It was a good video, and shoutout to Goddy, but I didn’t think it made Pop look larger than life the way he should, and we ended up going with our version.”

He goes on to describe juggling both Fivio and Pop’s biggest records, and the potentially precarious situation he found himself in.

Mind you this is all going down while we’re shooting “Big Drip”. We had already shot the first day at a mansion on Long Island – and then I get a call from Steven to shoot “Dior”. They called me 4 hours before the shoot time. They had already booked Starlet’s [a popular strip club in Queens] and needed to make it happen that day. So I scrambled, called all my people, and we got it done. Again, Pop really helped a lot too, it was a crazy day.”

“So we do “Dior” in one day, and finished the rest of “Big Drip” with Fivi the next day. Jerry had us go back and add more dance scenes to “Big Drip” (which turned out to be genius). And now I have to edit both videos and both guys are in my ear. It was tricky because both sides were kinda feeling like I’m picking the other one over them… But miraculously we got it done and in the end, everyone was happy.”

Fivio’s “Big Drip” dropped on Aug 28th 2019, and today stands at over 75M views. Pop Smoke’s “Dior” dropped on September 3rd, and today has over 398M views. Both songs are still among the most popular solo tracks by either artist to this day. 

An important moment happened when JL came along to shoot video during Pop Smoke’s first trip to Los Angeles. During a tense moment, he stood up for a still teenage Pop after he pulled some kind of undisclosed rockstar shenanigans. He understood that moving correctly was important, but also that Pop was still deceptively young and still had things to learn – not to mention very newly famous and there are certain expectations that come along with that. Impressed by the way he stood up for Pop’s best interest, right then and there his manager, Steven Victor asked JL to join them on their upcoming UK tour.  

JL remembers their time in England as one of the highlights of his life – experiencing the true height of Pop Smoke’s newfound starpower for the first time right alongside him as he records mind-blowing concerts, vlogs, and behind the scenes footage of the whirlwind international trip.

“He was like a God out there. Truly. We couldn’t believe it. As soon as we touched down people are running up with their phones out. The first show was absolutely insane, they were like animals. The people were going so crazy Pop couldn’t even believe it himself, he would keep looking back at me and everyone offstage.”

Throughout the UK tour, JL recorded tons of footage and worked with Lil Nextel (who later went on to work with an artist you may have heard of: Yeat), furiously editing in an effort to turn videos around in under 24 hours. It can’t be understated how important those early videos were, as they were the visual evidence of Pop’s newfound international stardom that helped elevate his image back home – as new video clips of packed clubs and frenzied crowds circulated every few days. 

It was just a few short months later that Pop tragically passed in February 2020. JL generously shared a special moment he had with Pop just a few days before.

“Pop called me randomly one night while he was in LA. It was mad late like 2 in the morning, I figured it was not for nothing so I picked up. But he was just talking to me regular. Like regular chit chat, and I was really on some ‘I’m tryna go back to sleep’. He kept wanting to talk though so I woke up and we ended up talking for like 2-3 hours. Reminiscing about the UK trip, remembering how we connected in the first place… Even at the time I remember thinking it was crazy because we never really did that before. And then a few days later that happens…. I always think back on the convo like what kind of crazy sh*t was that.”

Many of the most iconic images of Pop Smoke’s meteoric and tragically short rise were captured by JL, from some of his biggest music videos and performances across the country and overseas – to countless intimate moments in the studio, on the road and experiencing his stardom in real time. 

Some of the best examples are the promo reels from the release of his album, Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon, and a rare moment he captured when Fivio and Pop ran into each other in traffic in NYC: 

JL has paid his respects to his friend and the fallen drill legend numerous times with pictures from their time together on the road. Rest in Peace Pop Smoke.

One of the things that’s immediately clear when you see BTS pictures or footage of JL working with an artist is a genuine personal connection, mutual respect, and a sincere desire to showcase them in the best possible light. The same way he spoke up for Pop’s personal interest off-camera, he fiercely advocates for every artist’s vision on camera, and they appreciate that. 

“When we’re shooting a video Pop really helped a lot, we had a good chemistry and he really listened to what I had to say and helped manage the whole situation. Same thing with Fivi. That’s why I f*ck with them the hardest, because they really take heed to what I’m saying. They know I care and I’m not just saying it to say it.”

Fivio even gifted JL his very own chain prominently featuring a buss down pendant of his JLShotThat logo – and at one point even dubbed him “the best cameraman I ever met in my life.”

Shoutout JLShotThat. That’s the best cameraman I ever met in my life!

Fivio Foreign

That same fierce passion and unwillingness to back down has proven to be an invaluable tool on set, and responsible for what is easily JL’s biggest personal viral moment yet – not to mention a good portion of his 25,000-plus strong following on IG.

Early in 2021 while shooting a portion of the “Not in the Mood” music video with Lil Tjay and Fivio – before later adding Kay Flock – a tense moment between JL and an encroaching entourage was caught on camera, ultimately resulting in an incredibly entertaining video clip after it was immortalized forever on Jay Divino’s TikTok and quickly circulated to reach over 1M views in under a day. 

@jaydivino_

The camera man who shot “Dior” Doesn’t play when it comes to his work🗽#fyp #foryou #foryoupage #LLPS #fivioforeign #liltjay #nyc #liltjay #brooklyn

♬ original sound – JayDivino

“Haha that was crazy right? Now I know what it’s like to go viral. To be honest though at first I was embarrassed. I felt bad because the guy I yelled at was another camera guy that’s why I never posted it on my IG. At the same time, that’s pretty much how it goes on all of my sets, that’s just the first time somebody’s captured it. People be on my back, and if I can’t get my shot then the video won’t turn out how it’s supposed to. You’ve got to explain that and a lot of the time it comes down to knowing how to talk to people.”

“The coolest thing that came out of it was I had a lot of videographers reaching out during that time kind of showing respect. Like shoutout SpuddsMckenzie, I remember he hit me and said: ‘Much respect bro. You’re like the voice of the videographers. You know how many times I’ve wanted to do that?

As a double bonus, his viral moment also resulted in this hilarious clip of Fivio doing his best JL impression.

Another thing that separates JL from the average videographer is his consistent ability to perform under pressure. He says the most notice he’s ever had before shooting a music video is one week, and usually it’s less than 48 hours. Sometimes, like for the “Dior” video, there’s practically no notice and the plan comes together on the spot. His ability to consistently be available, think on his feet, and turn out a top-notch product was surely noticed by the artists he worked with and their teams, and likely played a major role in becoming one of the go-to directors in the city. 

One more important artist in JL’s career has been Lil Tjay, yet another new artist with multiple JLShotThat-directed visuals who has become one of the biggest new names out of New York. They connected for the first time on Tjay’s hugely successful Pop Smoke collab, “War”, on his solo-track “Gang Gang,” and again on “Zoo York,” this time featuring both Pop and Fivio. Most recently, just last month JL directed the high-flying visual for Tjay’s latest single “Goin Up.”

Another highlight was of course one year later when they shot the rest of the Tjay’s “Not in the Mood” video almost a whole year later, this time with the addition of red-hot Bronx drill phenom, Kay Flock. 

“Shooting that was crazy. Kay Flock was cool as hell. We had the whole 42nd street in a frenzy being in Times Square with all three of them. Basically like the three biggest artists in NYC… And later we shot the rest of the scenes at one of the projects where I know some people.”

With no signs of letting up anytime soon, some of his recent releases in just the past few months include the visuals for Fivio’s “For Nothin” off his chart-topping debut album, B.I.B.L.E., Lil Tjay’s “Goin Up,” and for JNR Choi’s international smash hit “To the Moon” drill remix feat. Fivio, G Herbo, and Russ Millions (yes, the one you hear every time you open TikTok). His most recent release was the fiery music video for FaZe Kaysan’s “MVP” featuring Fivio and Sheck Wes.

Shooting for the Moon

While continuing to produce best-in-class music videos, these days JLShotThat also has his eyes set on something bigger. He’s eager to execute bigger visions and tell longer stories, understanding that just like with his “Ex Voto” proof-of-concept way back when, he needs to show what he can do. Late last year the idea really came into focus, and now with the help of his team, he is hard at work directing and producing his own self-funded series with a 50+ strong cast. The show is an urban crime series titled AMRAK, and is already reportedly under contract to appear on an undisclosed network. He gives an overview of what people can expect from the series.

“First off, AMRAK is ‘Karma’ spelled backward. The series is about a bunch of different characters that will be familiar to people from all different walks of life in Queens, NY. But it’s set up so the viewers see what happens out of order – kind of like the movie Crash – so you’ll see the effect first and find out the cause later down the line.”

He goes on to describe the overwhelming amount of support they have received from the community for the project.

“AMRAK is something that I truly believe in, and a large community believes in… Like I said, this really is community-based. All of our actors are volunteering and almost all of our staff. We have a cast of over 50 and something like 34 crew members. We had a huge turnout to our casting call with hundreds and hundreds of auditions. It started as just an idea between two people and now it just keeps growing… It’s really exciting to see.”

Finally out of the pre-production phase, the ambitious series is currently in production – filming in Queens mostly on weekends to accommodate their largely volunteer workforce, and tentatively set to release sometime next year. 

By now it seems clear that JLShotThat has proven to be a true mainstay in the New York City scene.

With no road map and operating outside the established channels, he navigated himself to the very forefront of one of the biggest cultural moments in hip hop in recent memory – rising to the occasion to create best-in-class visuals for NYC drill’s biggest stars and shaping the way fans experience the genre as a whole. 

Despite his success, he remains humble, grounded and forward-looking. At every turn, JL is sure to mention the support he’s received from his team at Visionary Vision – from longtime collaborators like Clqsh, OneTake and essential creative director, MillionDollahRah, to one of the most talented and hungriest groups of up-and-coming videographers and directors including DepthbyDavid, Onurcan1k, SarvideStudios and a bunch more. 

AMRAK: The Series is scheduled to release sometime next year, and in his own words “Be on the lookout for some more spectacular sh*t between now and then.” 

With his newest and biggest project yet underway and a steady stream of top-notch music videos flowing, the future looks bright for JLShotThat and Visionary Vision. 

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