Arts·Q with Tom Power

Director X on his Walk of Fame star, the power of meditation, and the legacy of Northern Touch

The music video-turned-feature film director, real name Julian Christian Lutz, spoke with Tom Power on Q.

The music video-turned-feature film director was a guest on Q with Tom Power

Director X in the Q studio in Toronto.
Director X in the Q studio in Toronto. (Vivian Rashotte/CBC)

Julian Christian Lutz — sometimes known as Director X, formerly known as Little X — never thought he'd find himself on Canada's Walk of Fame

The Brampton, Ont.-native is one of this year's nominees. He first shot to fame in the late 1990s and early '00s, becoming one of the world's top music video directors by working with acts like Sean Paul, EPMD, and Redman. He's won a Juno and a BET Award, been nominated for a Grammy, and moved into both television and feature film. (He directed the hockey drama Across the Line, as well as the 2018 remake of Superfly.)

Still, as he told Tom Power in a recent interview on Q, as someone who comes from the world of hip hop, he was "very surprised" by the nomination.

"Hip hop and kind of 'institutional structure' awards normally don't go together so well," he said. "I guess I'm just used to being overlooked by these things … like, 'Oh, of course, they're never going to recognize us. They're never going to recognize me.'"

Lutz started his career as an intern for MuchMusic before reaching out to Hype Williams. In the 1990s, Williams was the first hip hop music video director — and one of the first music video directors period — to become a celebrity in his own right. He adds that Williams showed him what it takes to be a truly great director.

What sets a great director apart, he says, is that they're conversant with every job on set. Williams understands lights, colour, cinematography, everything that goes into making a music video. And while he's worked with other directors who don't have that knowledge, directors who "hire a bunch of people who know their things" and leave them to it, the truly great directors can talk to everyone on set from a place of equal knowledge.

In 1998, Lutz directed the video for "Northern Touch," the Canadian all-star posse cut that helped launch artists like Kardinal Offishal to mainstream fame. The song was the first Canadian rap single to make the Top 100 singles since 1991. Lutz says that looking back at it now, objectively "it's not a great music video… we did it [for] pennies" — but he's still proud of the impact it had.

Prior to "Northern Touch," Canadian rap videos, and videos in many other genres, tended to look and feel "Canadian," by which he means substandard and done on the cheap. "Northern Touch" didn't. It showed that Canadian hip hop could compete with what was coming from New York and Los Angeles. By doing that, he says, he and the artists he was working with were able to set the table for the success of artists like Drake, The Weeknd and Nav.

"For my generation, [global success] looked impossible," he says. "[Music] sounded Canadian. It looked Canadian. Nothing looked like it was on the [U.S.] level then. My generation actually was doing things on the level. I'm on the other side of the border, working with these major artists. So for that Drake generation, that doubt wasn't there."

Right now, in addition to being added to the Walk of Fame, Lutz is focused on promoting two things. The first is his forthcoming TV series Robyn Hood, a modern retelling of the story of Robin Hood. In Lutz's version, the titular character is a woman, and her and her band of merry men (and women), known as The Hood, fight oppression and gentrification in the fictional city of New Nottingham.

"We shot [interiors] in Pickering; the exteriors are in Hamilton," he says. "It's just exciting to create this show. It's filled with music and fashion. The cast is gorgeous. I constantly look at the cast and go, 'Goddamn, they're beautiful.' It's what TV's supposed to be, right? It's going to be coming around in 2023 some time."

The other thing he's promoting is meditation. Lutz became interested in meditation after he was shot in a nightclub in 2015. He began looking for holistic solutions to gun violence, and discovered the value of meditation in changing behaviour.

He helped found Operation Prefrontal Cortex — which promotes meditation in school, correctional facilities, among law enforcement, and in communities — with the goal of helping reduce violence. Abuse and trauma shrinks the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that deals with decision making and executive function — and enlarges the amygdala, or emotional part of the brain. Meditation reverses that process. In study after study, he says, meditation has been shown to radically reduce violence in schools, in prisons, and among at risk youth. 

"Meditation needs to be in our school system top to bottom, all the way through," he says. "They need this mental exercise. Not just for the kids that are coming from traumatic traumatic environments, but even for the kid that doesn't. It doesn't just fix the trauma. Once you get past repair, you get into the all these amazing benefits."

He adds that meditation has changed his life for the better, and that not giving the benefits of meditation to children is neglectful.

"For us to know what meditation does in a school environment, and for us not to implement it, is neglect," he says. "It's negligence. It's incompetence. Whoever is listening that's in the education system: you're neglecting your duty. You're incompetent right now. But you can change [that]."


For more stories about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — including Tom Power's conversations with some of the artists who witnessed and shaped the genre — check out Hip-Hop at 50 here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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