Hyghly Alleyne: XO’s Director wants to make your music videos [Article]
Toronto, ON – You may have found yourself wondering about the man behind the camera lens of some of OVO and XO’s most hard-hitting videos. You know, the guy who takes the OVOXO lifestyle and puts it out there for everyone to soak in – the guy responsible for forcing you to live vicariously through Drizzy’s YouTube channel. Enter Hyghly Alleyne; one half of the XO creative team (alongside Lamar Taylor). You’re probably familiar with some of Drake’s monstrous chart-topping videos. “The Motto?” That was Alleyne and Taylor. “Marvin’s Room?” They did that one, too. And remember that video for “Headlines?” You know the one I’m talking about: it gave the Screwface Capital a solid representation, with video footage from inside the C.N. Tower, in front of Guild Park, and on the field of Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Yeah, that video was Alleyne and Taylor too, along with J. Maylen.
Take a moment to consider what XO has accomplished, lately– Abel Tesfaye (aka: The Weeknd) was virtually unheard of a few years ago. But at the end of 2010, Drake gave The Weeknd some shine on his blog. And afterwards, nothing was the same. That NWTS pun was totally intended, by the way. So not only did The Weeknd set a new standard for R&B. But with Alleyne as part of his creative team, The Weeknd also set a new standard for cinematography: enigmatic women, provocative between-the-sheets dialogue, and prodigal drug use. It’s carnal. It’s raw. And it’s the vision of Hyghly Alleyne.
“[We] got together and we formed XO and we formed a life — a culture.” – Hyghly Alleyne
Following XO’s expedited rise-to-fame, Alleyne signed to BHC Films in January this year. He had more than 25 different film companies reach out to him. He narrowed down his decision to two companies: GoodCompany (most well-known for Kanye West’s “Runaway” video), and BHC Films. He signed to the latter. “I’m a big fan of Anthony Madler [of BHC Films]. I really look up to his videos,” says Alleyne. Madler has shot videos for Jay Z, Rihanna, Drake, and more. He also filmed “Belong to the World” by The Weeknd.
Signing to BHC Films’ roster marks a change in direction for Alleyne, but he says that his role in the XO creative direction will stay the same. “[The two positions are] parallel. Nothing changes.” If anything, he is actually expanding his creatives. He’s currently looking to build with artists outside of the XO family. Yes, you read that correctly. Hyghly Alleyne wants to make your music videos. “I’ve been writing a lot for other artists, and I’ve just been mastering that. It’s been working out for me,” he says. Alleyne claims no personal bias, and plans to extend his artistic reach to all genres of music. “I’m a big fan of music. Good music is good music.”
Four years ago, Hyghly Alleyne formed the XO group with two like-minded Torontonians: The Weeknd and Lamar Taylor. “The connection was made through a mutual friend of ours, back in high school,” explains Alleyne. “He came to me and he’s like, ‘Yo I have these guys you have to meet. You guys have similar personalities,’ and whatever.” The founding XO trio members all went to different schools in the East end of Toronto. But they kicked it off right away and formed what eventually became XO. “[We] came to the conclusion that we had to do something with our lives,” says Alleyne.
The crew consisted of two creative directors working to support one vocalist. Think about that ratio for a second. Two-to-one. That’s stacked. And what’s more, Alleyne and Taylor have always maintained a united front in their visual depiction of the XO lifestyle. “We’re both pretty in-sync when it comes to everything,” explains Alleyne, adding that although the two of them often word things differently, their overall conceptualizations almost always mesh together. “That’s my brother. We’re just in-tune.” Alleyne cites The Neptunes as one of the crew’s major influences, right from the get-do. They chose to structure the group as an in-house production company (with a larger focus on the media arts). “[We] got together and we formed XO and we formed a life — a culture.”
While HipHopCanada chopped it up on the phone with Alleyne, we asked him to give us the down-low on the meaning behind XO’s ambiguous “XO ‘Til We Overdose” slogan. Some fans claim that the “XO” stands for ecstasy and OxyContin, while the less jaded Weeknd aficionados are adamant that the “XO” stands for hugs and kisses. Hyghly Alleyne has a much simpler explanation of it all. “To me, it means just overdosing on our life. XO is us [and] who we are. Whatever comes with our lifestyle, just do it to the fullest.”
The XO and OVO worlds finally collided sometime thereafter. Alleyne recalls, “The Weeknd and Drake collabing on a couple of tracks together and their whole team just finding out that there’s a whole other element to XO.” The two crews met up, chopped it up, and ultimately decided to join forces. “[We said,] ‘Let’s work together and put this city on the map,’” explains Alleyne. He ended up directing several videos for the OVO family. But the big milestone came in June 2012 when he found out that he’d won an MMVA for his work on Drake’s video for “The Motto.”
“I think I was in New York at the time,” recalls Alleyne. “I was with Ricky Hil, Aaron Reid, and a couple of my other boys from Toronto. We’d just finished spending like $200,000 in a hotel in three weeks – off bottles, and partying, and going crazy. And then I got a call: ‘You got to fly back to Toronto. You guys won the MMVA.’” And that’s when Alleyne knew that XO was on a whole other level. “The whole trilogy and that whole movement is really our life. We live it.”
HipHopCanada was gunning to ask Alleyne about his own personal YOLO motto. After all, he was part of the driving force behind the “The Motto.” So we ended up asking him how he YOLOs. Because…YOLO. “I just do what makes me happy. I don’t think about anything too much. I know what I need, [and] what I don’t need. [I have] my weed, my alcohol, my music, [and] good company. It keeps me centred and grounded. I don’t drift off too much.” Interestingly enough, one of Alleyne’s many tattoos is the word “Chaos” scrawled across his knuckles. Oddly enough, it seems he’s finds structure in his role of telling the visuals story of the XO chaos.
Towards the end of our chat on the phone, HipHopCanada asked Alleyne to give some shout outs to his favourite people. “I want to shout-out XO, for sure. Shout-out BHCFilms. I want to shout-out OVO. And everybody who’s involved with HipHopCanada. You guys are doing amazing things. Especially for rappers in the hip-hop industry. It’s good to have an outlet.”
Interview and article by Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada
Photography courtesy of Romaine Levy, Hyghly Alleyne and Lamar Taylor