In this music video, the visuals are illustrating and amplifying the lyrics.
The video begins with an establishing shot of the type of location the video is taken place in. The camera slowly pans downwards from the flickering red lights of the letters often found on a restaurant or shops in America. This suggests the location is most probably deserted, a dangerous alleyway or street in New York City, and not an energetic city like Las Vegas. After the location is established the artist is then introduced but cannot be seen clearly since his glasses are reflecting dual blue lines across the screen. The close up of the artist creates a sense of intimacy for the viewer, and an element of mysteriousness is present as his face is not fully shown. The next shot is a close up of a woman driving a car, these are the two key iconographies of hip hop music, attractive women and flashy cars, both of which encourage voyeurism. The video is being shot during the night, conveying a sense of danger and anonymity. The shot of the old man’s head from the back suggests that he is looking at something from the other direction, this intrigues the audience and encourages them to watch more of the video. The wide shot of the street gives the viewer a better picture of the location and setting of the video, the shadows evoke alarm or maybe fear for the viewer as they imagine themselves in this location. The lone person walking adds to the desertedness. The rain on the floor evokes a rather bleak quality about the scene and location. The long shot of the skyscrapers of New York City establishes the location even further, and the artist remains ‘unknown’ to the audience by having his back turned to the camera. The fact that the location is in New York City suggests perhaps the video displays the artists thoughts since it is the city the artist was originally from. Sirens can be heard in the background which can be linked to the dual blue lines we saw from the artist’s glasses and also the blinding blue lights to come in the next few seconds. The video contains a level of secrecy and confidentiality to it, with the artist ‘hiding’ from the audience to begin with, to the darkness and remoteness of location, hooded figures lurking in the shadows and people covering their identities with balaclavas. A close up of a hand clutching a gleaming watch shows evidence of wealth which is another iconography of hip hop, money, bling or jewellery. The shot reveals nothing of the artist but his hands, which sustains the idea of secrecy in the video. From the low angle shot of the street looking up at the people standing, the audience is left feeling uncomfortable and feeling ‘small’ by looking up at the people standing around. The gates in the shot also contribute to the idea of the remoteness and ‘closed off world’ of secrecy and unknown.
The sirens that can be heard are juxtaposed with triple blue lines across the screen accompanied with a bright light which whitens the screen out to view the artist. The effect creates a rather dramatic entry for the artist and the bright light evokes an imagery of almightiness in a form of an angel, a gift or God. This meaning links in with the title ‘Hero’, and Nas is being represented as a saviour and a messiah in a sense. The idea is underlined further when the artist is in full view and is wearing a necklace with a cross on it, referring to the almighty God and Jesus Christ. The music that begins to play creates a sense of panic and terror, this is illustrated on the expression of the face of the man that jumps up and down. Fear and panic is ‘heightened’ when a low angle shot is used to convey the extreme height of the buildings towering over the audience, belittling the audience. A point of view shot is used along with tracking to imitate a car moving alongside the buildings. The same man from before is viewed shouting aggressively, his paralanguage suggests confusion and distress, as a close up shot is used to show him pulling a balaclava over his face, perhaps to mask his emotion from the world. Wide shots have been used to include the location into the shot as well as the artist the people. A combination of music running in the background and the sirens create an eerie effect, leaving the viewers uncertain of what to expect. Drumbeats are introduced by and illustrated by a man carrying a big drum walking beside the artist. As more and more people from the pavement walk out onto the street pulling balaclavas over their faces, the more war-like the video is becoming especially with the syncopated drumbeats in the background.
As the lyrics begin, the visuals illustrate the lyrics, for example as he says the words ‘chains gleaming’ the artist holds up a letter ‘N’ necklace, this emphasises his presence as well as displaying his wealth. At 0:57 the idea of Nas being a saviour and a messiah is emphasised through the lyrics ‘So in God's Son we trust’, the religious reference is also illustrated through paralanguage as Nas holds a prayer stance against the background of the New York City skyscrapers, and the bright light shines from below him illuminating the artist. As the artist mentions ‘exotic lady’ a reflection of a woman is mirrored into the screen from the inside of a car window, with the skyscrapers on the other side of the window creating a twin effect. At 1.27 the viewer gets a glimpse of the flashy car just after a mention of a ‘190 black Benz’ in the lyrics, the flashy car encourages voyeurism, ‘the idea of looking’ and acts as a factor in encouraging the audience to view the video again and again. The blue lines come back from the beginning, they reflect off from the headlights of the car and in the background behind the artist. As the car travels through the tunnel the scene looks almost like a scene from a car racing game such as ‘Need for Speed’. Religious reference of God are mentioned again in the lyrics this time illustrated by Nas pointing towards the sky at God. A sense of war is evident as Nas marches his army up the street him being at the front acting as a ‘hero’. ‘Soldiers’ in the lyrics later on also emphasise this idea of an army. At 2.17, the close up shot at the ground viewing the shadows of the ‘army’ are menacing. At 2.47 the army raise their arms in unison symbolising their union and their strength as one, a track is used at 2.53 of the army. The man at the beginning who was looking away at a different direction is now looking directly at the audience, giving direct eye contact with the viewer and involving them in the video. At the end of the video he holds his arms open to the audience, which is a gesture which occurs throughout the video and perhaps also welcoming them to his group. All in all, a rough and raw image of ‘real’ hip hop and its true meaning is conveyed through this song, the lyrics and the music.