If you've watched a music video from a Bay Area rap artist within the last six months, then you've likely tuned into the vision of Ramin Wahab, the director whose hip-hop handle flashes up onscreen as Tha Razor. Whether it's adding creative color saturation to Napalm and Erruption's hometown ode, "In San Francisco," or switching to slow motion to convey the menace of a home invasion in Yukmouth's "211," his visuals are rapidly becoming the look of the Bay in 2010. Major clients like Ray J and Cash Money Records have begun to call on his talent, but the director insists his heart will always be in the Bay Area.
Wahab's back story is, appropriately, the stuff of a movie. He was born in Afghanistan, but his family was forced to flee during the Russian war and eventually settled with a relative in the Bay Area. From a young age, Wahab's passion for all things film was encouraged by his mother; he received formal guidance at the Art Institute in Santa Monica. But it was a love of hip-hop that opened up his first opportunity. While searching for "scraps of work" after his studies in 2008, he persuaded local legend the Jacka to let him shoot a video for "Fuck Everybody." Using just a rudimentary Canon XH A1, his work impressed the rapper, and Wahab's client list ballooned. Now, more than 100 projects later, he is the go-to guy for Bay Area rap videos.
Unlike the ascent of other rap directors, Wahab's success isn't reliant on a stylistic tic. Hype Williams reintroduced the fish-eye lens in the mid-'90s, bringing a funky, warped look to flicks for Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott — until the distorted vibe became a hip-hop cliché. More recently, Rik Cordero drummed up a buzz with his quickly-filmed "guerrilla" technique — until his rough-and-ready style was accused of merely being low-budget. With Wahab, though, the mentality is key. Sure, his work often brims with color tints, and he's fond of making overtones toward mini-action movies. He favors shooting locally, and recently brought Dallas rapper Dorrough to La Raza/Potrero del Sol Skatepark and Rolph Playground near 25th Street and Potrero to film his "Thass a Bet" video. He also geeks out just riding around San Francisco scoping out locations: "One of my favorite spots is Market Street [near Third Street], just those buildings and the people there. You can't help but want to shoot there." But the drive behind Wahab's videos comes from the Bay's self-sufficient rap heritage.
"The Bay Area inspires me to do what I do, because we never get opportunities," he says. "The music industry is always either L.A. or New York — they never consider the Bay. But being around so many talented artists here gives me the motivation to try and open the door for everyone. Everything I've done is independent, just like the Bay."
True to his word, Wahab plans to use his growing profile for more than just increasing his fee — he wants to foster local progression. He just produced a video for 454 Life Movement members Drew Deezy, Nump Trump, and Thai's "Go Hard," which involved shooting on a $3.5 million yacht under the Golden Gate Bridge. But instead of gloating about the glitz, he's enthusiastic about empowering others. "I want to allow the youngsters to come into the company and learn how to film the right way," he says. "My goal is to give back to the community by letting them know what I've learned and letting others know they have a gift."
Wahab sees himself as an inspirational figure. Displaced from his birth country, he found a community and a career in the Bay Area's hip-hop scene. "The response and support I've had here humbles me," he says. Now he's looking forward to watching a new generation carry on his vision.