You know about Colin Tilley’s work. He has written and directed visuals for some of the best hip-hop artists in the game, including Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and many more. Widely considered as one of the hottest directors around, Tilley’s grind is the reason why he’s here today. Much like any success story, Tilley started from the bottom, taking on any opportunity that was presented to him to build up his reputation.

Born and raised in Berkeley, Calif., Tilley’s first big assignment was directing a video for hip-hop duo The Cataracs when he was 19. With no prior experience, the self-taught director borrowed a friend’s camcorder and shot the video for “Murder She Wrote.” The industry was impressed by his director’s eye and skills, which he quickly honed through YouTube tutorials as well as an organic curiosity for reinventing what is expected. “We put out the video, people started to gravitate towards it,” Tilley says. “And everybody started calling me, Colin Tilley, director. I was like, ‘Alright, I can rock with that.’ From there, I just started directing a bunch of Bay, hood videos. Just by myself. Going out to the streets and just shooting and just try and make things look next level.”

During that time, Taj Stansberry, the director behind videos such as Jennifer Lopez’s “On The Floor” and Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” encouraged Tilley to work with him. Under Stansberry’s guidance, Tilley edited the majority of his videos, picking up techniques through the experience. Stansberry also taught him the logistics of the rap game, and stressed hard work would bring bigger and better gigs. “It was pretty cool for him to take me in like that,” Tilley recalls. “‘Yo, this is the game. Nothing is handed to you on a plate.’ But you get put in the right situations and you network and you do it right. That’s kind of how I did it.”