Glimpses of Fort Worth landmarks in Kendrick Lamar’s new video for “N95” caught many Texans by surprise, but a handful of locals were in on the secret.

Well, at least partially.

Henry Abuto, chef and founder of Fort Worth catering business ByWasonga, agreed to feed the crew with just three days’ notice and signed a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA, not knowing who he’d be preparing food for.

As a friend of Leon Bridges, he knew it wasn’t for Fort Worth’s pride and joy, but Abuto had a few other guesses. Maybe Solange was back in town, having filmed part of a previous music video here before? Or maybe it was a country star like Garth Brooks?

Breakfast on the set was quiet that morning, but when he came back to deliver another round of food for lunch, he noticed Lamar’s name on a sheet of paper.

And I literally just about passed out,” Abuto said. As someone who normally doesn’t like surprises, he said, this was a good one.

By dinner time, Lamar noticed Abuto grabbing his equipment and asked if he was the one who cooked the food. Abuto said they had a nice, 5- to 10-minute conversation, where Lamar complimented his food and they briefly discussed Beyoncé.  

This was back in August of 2020, and, although it was a good experience, Abuto hadn’t seen or heard much about the project since.

“So I was like, maybe they decided not to like to do the project,” Abuto said. He wondered if they might have scrapped the video, until he and millions of others saw the video spread online over the weekend. 

Eric Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, was also excited to see the final cut of the video after Lamar filmed at the museum’s Renzo Piano Pavilion

“I don’t think the Piano Pavilion Auditorium has ever looked more beautiful than in these shots,” Lee said.

The museum was also used as a film location when Solange was in town roughly three years ago. Though her crew filmed under the museum’s porticos outside, those scenes didn’t end up in the final cut, a decision Lee guesses had something to do with the rainy weather the scenes were filmed in.

“I’m grateful that that footage has appeared,” Lee said. “I did not know if it was going to be in the video or not. Sometimes a shoot can take place, and the footage could end up on the floor. But that didn’t happen in this case, and I was absolutely thrilled.”

Lamar has been nominated for 39 Grammys and won 14. In 2018, he became the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. Lee was excited that the museum and other Fort Worth icons were included.

It’s wonderful being associated with an artist of Kendrick Lamar’s caliber and with his enormous fan base, because it introduces so many people to the Kimbell who otherwise would not have heard of the museum,” Lee explained. “He has an enormous fan base among younger people, and it’s just fantastic to be able to tap into that. It’s a tremendous honor.”

Lee is also proud of Fort Worth for keeping the project under wraps, especially after footage from Los Angeles was leaked on Twitter. 

But you’d be hard-pressed to find locals prouder of the project than the team at Red Productions.

Red Sanders, who owns and runs the production company, said that one of the people who worked on Solange’s video was inspired by the visuals of the Kimbell and reached out to him in the early days of the pandemic when a lot of film locations were shut down because of COVID-19.

“It shows how these creative projects are iterative in nature and you know, one can kind of lead to the next,” Sanders said. 

Both Sanders and his production company are credited on video as the Dallas unit, but he points out that they didn’t actually film in Dallas.

According to Sanders, there were some locations there that Lamar’s team was interested in, but they ran into red tape when seeking permission to film in city parks because of COVID restrictions and the size of the crew.

But Fort Worth was a different story and he credits the team effort within the city, especially by the Fort Worth Film Commission, to work quickly and find creative solutions.

Sanders hopes that this video will be a springboard for other film projects within the city and help grow jobs in the Fort Worth creative economy.

Outside of that, I really hope it just continues to show to whether it’s content creators and the teams you’re working with, or the general public watching the end product, that Fort Worth is an open and welcoming, diverse city.”

Whether the city is able to attract more projects like this depends on a variety of factors, including the state’s ability to compete with other production hubs outside of California, such as Georgia and New Mexico.

Asked if he’s had any new inquiries yet, Sanders says no, but he quickly adds that it’s only Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Abuto joked about finally being able to add this project to his resume after watching the video on repeat. But, beyond Abuto, the video is also a win for the city.

“This is a super stunning visual piece that was shot here,” Abuto said. “How cool that Fort Worth gets to be part of that story.” 

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...