Torrey Holliday bummed a ride from his grandfather to shoot his breakout music video.
Holliday was 17 at the time, living with his aunt without a car and attending Hazelwood West. He wasn’t a professional videographer by any means. He was just a kid whose cousins wanted to rap — and Holliday volunteered to shoot their video. He ordered a camera off of Amazon, bought a $5 manual and watched music video tutorial videos on YouTube during shift breaks at Subway.
Shortly after getting the camera, Holliday heard a song, “Murder On My Mind,” by little-known St. Louis rappers Jugg Squad and KUB Dee Huncho. “Oh, this is hard,” Holliday remembers thinking.
But they needed a music video — a real music video, not something shot in a bedroom with a cell phone.
He happened to know one of the guys from high school. Holliday texted him and offered to make a music video for free. “Let’s work,” he wrote.
They worked. Holliday got that ride from his grandfather to the west side, on Wabada Avenue, where he spent the afternoon shooting a music video for Jugg Squad and KUB Dee Huncho in front of a boarded-up brick home.
It might have been the second or third video Holliday ever shot. He doesn’t remember.
But he does remember one thing: The video exploded.
The whole city was singing the song, Holliday says. People were sharing it all over Facebook and the video eventually reached over 150,000 views.
So at 17, Holliday quit his job at Subway, scratched his college dreams and made filming rap videos in St. Louis his full-time job.
Five years later, Holliday has skyrocketed to one of the top hip-hop YouTube film directors in St. Louis. His page, Torrey Production, has amassed over 117,000 subscribers and 75 million total views on YouTube. He’s worked with some of the city’s most famous rappers, such as 30 Deep Grimeyy, 3 Problems, Benji Brothers and Bizzie Gambino.
He has done it all at just 22 years old, though he seems like he's been at it much longer. He speaks fast, rarely pausing, rattling off names of obscure St. Louis rappers and thoughtfully reflecting on how he has crystallized a career out of a self-created YouTube page.
“I’m like a prized possession,” Holliday says. “They’re like, ‘You our key out the trenches.’ Everybody telling me this. ‘You the way, you the way.’”
Music videos were the way for Holliday, too.
Growing up in the St. Louis area, Holliday never had a consistent home. He describes himself as homeless. His father was in his life but struggled with drug addiction. His mother worked two or three jobs at a time but couldn’t secure a stable home.
As a kid, Holliday never stayed anywhere for more than one year. He lived with his grandma, his mom, his dad and his aunt. For a stretch, he moved to California and stayed in a shelter. At another point, lived in the attic of a boarding house in the Central West End and, later, with his aunt in St. Louis County.
“I lived in every part of every bit of St. Louis,” Holliday says. “I done went to about 15 different schools.”
Holliday never had a consistent place to call home, but he always had movies. Everywhere Holliday stayed, they brought a big stack with them. Bootleg movies, mostly, DVDs that they would get from the “movie man” — four for $20.
Even when they didn’t have a TV, his mom would scrape together a few bucks to buy a DVD player. Together, they would share headphones — one earbud in Holliday’s ear and one earbud in his mom’s ear.
Movies were their escape, he says.
“I think that's probably why I really love movies and TV shows so much,” he says. “I used to always watch TV shows with my mom and stuff. It’s just me and her in a room.”
That’s where Holliday says he got the cinematic quality he brings to his music videos.
“I like being hands-on,” he says. “That’s what I tell people — it's an art thing for me; it's a passion. It's not about the money. I really like working and doing it, especially when it's something dope.”
Unlike many rap film directors, Holliday’s videos aren’t muddied by heavy editing. “I don't really like the trippy style. It's really cheesy to me,” he says.
Rather, Holliday gets out of the way, letting his subjects and their background speak for themselves. He’ll shake the camera, zoom in and out, or play with natural light, but other than that, Holliday’s videos are focused on the subject.
He doesn’t place them in front of green screens or elaborate sets. They’re in front of St. Louis brick homes, abandoned warehouses, the Floy and Lenora intersection in Jennings, the civil courts building downtown and the Arch. Holliday is there only to capture them as they are, in their space. He calls it “an organic vibe.”
“I'm letting the environment and what they're giving me paint the image,” he says.
Almost every shoot goes by without any issues. Torrey Production has hundreds of videos, maybe thousands, to show for it. He works with all kinds of artists, too — rap groups, R&B artists and random guys who want a music video.
His job comes with its risks, especially when making videos for rival gangs on their home turf.
“It’s dangerous, dawg, that’s why you gotta be in and out,” he says. “I pull up, and you’re not here? I’m not gonna sit and wait for you, bro. You’re not here, I’m gone.”
Take one look at his YouTube page, and you’ll see videos with people waving guns and aiming a laser sight at the camera. Before ever arriving at a shoot, Holliday tells his clients that everyone must empty their chambers. Other than that, “as long as they’re on time,” he doesn’t have many rules.
He calls the occasional dangers just an “aspect of business.”
“It’s part of the job,” he says. “It’s like saying — they’re building a building. They’re climbing 10, 30 stories high. Why are you doing that bro? It pay good! You could fall off a building.
“No risk, no reward.”
Holliday has thought about leaving St. Louis. Occasionally, he’ll fly to Los Angeles or Atlanta or Chicago to shoot videos for artists who can pay more. He wants to be a movie producer. He recently got his passport and he hopes to travel the world to places like Greece, the site of his favorite movie, “Troy” (“I love that type of stuff — Percy Jackson, Zeus, all that stuff,” he says.)
But he’s not leaving just yet.
“My job here is to help these people get what they need to do,” he says.
Holliday’s trying to expand his repertoire. He recently created a series called UNDERDAMIC, where artists rap in front of a dangling microphone as if they’re performing live — similar to the “Open Mic” segment produced by Genius. He has also released a multi-part interview series called UNDERDALIGHT with St. Louis influencer Heavy G.
“I'm really just trying to bring different platforms to the city that we don't have,” he says. “We don't have a lot of different outlets here.”
In June, he put out nearly 40 videos, almost all with St. Louis rappers. People are constantly calling his phone — so often that he had to get a second business phone. Holliday admits to feeling “drained,” adding that he’s taking a break at the end of the month.
When he comes back, he wants to make fewer quickly made “run and gun” videos and more carefully planned “treatment” videos.
He’s not done making videos, though.
Holliday, who has a tattoo of the Torrey Production logo on his right forearm, calls himself a local business — just like Imo’s, he says. He doesn’t plan to change that. When people need a rap video in St. Louis — anyone and anywhere — he wants to be the business they call.
“I'm on top right here. I'm the king of the castle right now, you see what I’m saying? King of the castle, don’t give me no hassle,” he says, looking up at the ceiling and rubbing his hands together with a boyish smile.
This story has been updated.