Local Current Blog

Behind the Scenes: Director Sanaa Hamri on Prince’s “Black Sweat”

Prince looks at the camera in "Black Sweat"
Prince looks at the camera in "Black Sweat"

Few artists are as known for their distinctive eras as Prince. From Purple Rain to The Rainbow Children to PLECTRUMELECTRUM, each Prince album is accompanied by its own creative world. 3121 represents a return to some of the legend’s greatest strengths, situated within the context of the early 21st century. Now, following the 15th anniversary of the release of 3121, we’re taking a look back at this moment in the artist’s ever-expansive evolution through the video for 3121‘s “Black Sweat.”

The video “Black Sweat” finds its power through its simplicity. It cuts between black-and-white shots of Prince, dancer Celestina Dekoba, and DJ Rashida against a solid background. A particularly striking moment features Prince sliding across the frame as if riding on a conveyor belt, an image that has since been used countless times as a reaction gif. The sleek color palette and artful shots create a timelessness that leaves the music video looking as fresh as ever, even 15 years after its release.

“Prince called and said he had a song. He just wanted to spend one day filming and to come up with something very simple,” director Sanaa Hamri said. “We filmed it in the house he was renting at the time in Beverly Hills.”

Sanaa Hamri’s credits are expansive, including music videos for the likes of Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey; feature films including Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2; and television shows such as Empire. Hamri began her working relationship with Prince in 2001, and the two established a long-running personal and professional history.

“We would talk on the phone a couple time a week, generally,” Hamri said. “Sometimes about videos, often just about living.”

The house where “Black Sweat” was filmed was a central location to this era of Prince’s work. New Power Generation member Morris Hayes told The Current’s Sean McPherson in 2018, “What happened was Prince had got this house in LA, and that was the address to the house — 3121 Mulholland, and I think Mariah Carey used to — she used to have the place, but got this place, and that was the address, and it was a cool, funky place.”

“Black Sweat” wasn’t the only video that was filmed at the iconic Beverly Hills house. Another 3121 single, “Fury,” received a similar treatment.

“We filmed a lot in that house and a lot throughout the year,” Hamri said. “So filming ‘Black Sweat’ felt like a typical day for me and my crew. ‘Fury’ was filmed a bit later, at one of the 3121 parties we threw. Prince had asked me to get cameras so we could shoot a live performance. It was very raw, very off the cuff.”

Between hosting music videos and parties of mythic status, the house at 3121 Mulholland Drive became a physical center for this creative chapter. Through Hamri’s intimate capture of Prince in this storied place, there’s a sliver of the personal side of the artist preserved in the “Black Sweat” video.

“Something funny was that I told the dancer, Celestina, to surprise him by moving in ways he wasn’t expecting,” Hamri said. “There are moments where he looks towards the camera like ‘What’s going on?’ and that was him looking at me, laughing off screen.”