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Real quickly turned surreal on August 4 for the humble North Carolina-born musician J. Cole, as he hosted his first sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. The honest rapper—born Jermaine Cole—was educated at St. John’s University in Queens, New York by day, and was busy with the inner workings of the underground music industry by night. After years of adamant work, he was signed to Jay Z’s record label Roc Nation in 2009. Dedicated fans from all over the Northeast flocked to his show to hear soulful tales of his past, and to relate to him and his fans on a more personal level.
Fast-forward not even twenty-four hours, and Cole is busy greeting guests alongside Bally’s CEO of the Americas, Claudia Cividino, at a much more fashion-focused event. Before the successful release of his last album, Cole was approached by Bally to co-create a limited edition outerwear shoe and backpack.
“I actually met with them for the first time in the studio,” said Cole of their newfound partnership. “I was like, ‘I can’t pass up the opportunity to work with a company as legendary as Bally.’ So we took the meeting, and I said, ‘I’m not of the fashion world.’ I’m just now 30 years old, and starting to learn about my own style.”
Although Cole was surprised at their willingness to adopt a musician much removed from the fashion limelight, Bally confirmed their instincts about him, and the collaboration instantly began. “I really don’t know what to say other than that this is a high honor,” said Cole.
During their meeting, Cole was presented vintage and retro looks from the Bally vault. Images of all past collections were brought to him, and he sifted through each document, gaining inspiration for his upcoming collaboration. Notes were taken down as to what did and did not appeal to him, and the final product resulted from a variety of aesthetics that he ultimately liked. “They fall right in line with the heritage that people used to talk about,” said Cole.
Alongside their physical creations—a rugged outdoorsy boot offered in leather, suede, or python, paired with a sturdy, water-resistant backpack in either black or caper—a visual piece titled Off the Grid was produced to enhance Cole’s truest values, and to touch upon a place that emulates the love for a pure, happy life.
“We had a feeling about J. Cole, and about the person that he is,” said Cividino, inside the opulent Norwood Club, as she welcomed guests to witness their partnership firsthand.“This just came together in such a beautiful way. We’re here tonight to celebrate, and for you to see, the first viewing of the short film that was done.”
The film—a simplistic breath of fresh air from the success-driven society we live in today—touches upon Jamaican life, and how having minimal possessions can bring much happiness. During Cole’s meeting with Bally, he pointed out an image of Bob Marley in Jamaica, and in that picture, he was, of course, wearing Bally shoes. The team decided to venture to Jamaica, and to release a video component that explored a part of the Caribbean island that most do not see.
“This is pretty exciting for me and for everyone that really worked hard to make this film. We shot down in Kingston, Jamaica, which was such an amazing experience, and we got to see a side of Jamaica that I feel like most people don’t get to see—it’s not the Jamaica that you see in your tourism brochures and on TV. It was a real Jamaica, a real Kingston,” said Max Bohichik, the director and producer of Off the Grid.
“We had this location manager who was from Trenchtown, and I felt that he just knew everybody in the city, and he brought us to these places where you can’t really go as an outsider unless you have that sort of fortune to know someone who can show you around. The thing that really inspired me, and hopefully comes across in the film is that it goes along with a lot of Cole’s lyrics and messages that he brings to us. The people there had very little; they were really poor. But they had a sense of community, and you really see happiness coming from them. It was inspiring and humbling, and it really affected me. I think it’s something that we should all think about a little more often. What does it really take to be happy? It really doesn’t take a lot,” Bohichik added.
To gain a better understanding as to how the film was produced, we spoke to Bohichik—Cole’s loyal video director and producer, co-founder of production company BBGUN, and the man behind the musician’s very first music video.
Whitewall: How did you and J. Cole first start working together? You’ve filmed a few of his music videos too, right? How did you get involved?
Max Bohichik: I started working with Cole in 2008 when we did videos for “Lights Please,” “Lost Ones,” and “Simba” all in the same week—with zero budget. Since then, I’ve directed videos alongside BBGUN co-founder Alex Bergman for “Who Dat,” as well as the mixtape trailers for “Warm-Up” and “Friday Night Lights.” In Jamaica, I worked with Cole for the first time as a solo director, directing an unreleased video for “Fire Squad” as well as the Bally short film.
WW: How did you get some of those shots? Drones? Helicopter?
MB: The aerials were shot with a drone. A local Jamaican drone operator, named Shak, flew the drone while I operated the camera.
WW: How long were you in Jamaica for?
MB: I was in Jamaica for 10 days simultaneously doing pre-production for “Fire Squad” and the Bally film. We shot both videos back-to-back, so I was exhausted after all the shooting was done, but I was extremely excited with what I captured, and eager to start editing.
WW: What was your favorite part about this project?
MB: Other than reconnecting with Cole, who I hadn’t work with in a few years, my favorite part of the journey was having the privilege of experiencing a side of Kingston that most tourists don’t know exists. And meeting some truly inspiring people along the way.
WW: How was working with J. Cole and Bally together?
MB: Working with Cole is always a privilege and an honor. Not only am I a huge fan, but we’ve known each other for a long time—when we were both just out of school and living in NYC, growing up, and just trying to survive doing what we love. I’m excited for what’s next, and really proud of him for where he’s taken his career, while remaining humble along the way.
Bally and the agency that brought us together (Forward) were very easy to work with, and allowed me to make the film I wanted while offering a lot of creative ideas. I hope to work with them again soon. Also, I have to thank my producer Yasha Malekzad, who worked harder than anyone to make both projects happen. He was also the Director of Photography for the Bally piece and did an extraordinary job.