Our American Dream: Jessy Terrero, the Latino force behind hip-hop music videos

Jessy Terrero and 50 Cent on March 11, 2009 in Brooklyn, New York.

Jessy Terrero and 50 Cent on March 11, 2009 in Brooklyn, New York.  (2009 Johnny Nunez)

Growing up in a Spanish-speaking home, in a primarily black New York City neighborhood, Jessy Terrero never thought of filmmaking as a job.

He was just a Dominican kid from Queens, he says, unafraid to get his hands dirty, work hard and focused on getting ahead.

And yet today he is a well-known name in the filmmaking industry, as director of music videos with a portfolio that includes Jill Scott, 50 Cent, Wisin y Yandel, Daddy Yankee, Paulina Rubio and Enrique Iglesias — just to name a few.

He also counts among his credits having directed the likes of Robert de Niro and Forest Whitaker in the feature film “Freelancers” and is currently busy dominating the Hispanic music video market. 

Jill Scott was his first artist, when he started out making music videos and labels didn’t quite really know who she was — she’d already won a Grammy but wasn’t yet on the radar.

“Jill’s very pro-black, so everyone assumed I was black, and since my name is spelled with a ‘y’ everyone thought I was a woman,” Terrero amusedly said in an interview with Fox News Latino.

Terrero took a risk and created something bold for her. The video was nominated for MTV’s Best Video Direction award.

“I started getting a bunch of black women artists and kinda’ all the R&B artists, even though I wanted to do hip-hop,” he added.

The next artist on Terrero’s hit list was 50 Cent, just when his career was blowing up. Terrero was asked to shoot his music video in Los Angeles, but make it look like the Queens neighborhood both men grew up in.

“We did 25 videos together. He’s the guy that catapulted my career,” said the 40-year-old director.

Terrero’s career started a few years back, inadvertently, the day he heard they were shooting scenes of the movie “Juice,” staring Tupac Shakur, in his neighborhood. He and his brother went to an audition and were cast as extras. Still a student at Queens College, he was happy to earned $40 a day.

“What struck me were all these young actors from the New York High School for the Performing Arts, and how multi-cultural the cast was,” Terrero told FNL.

He changed his major to theater with a directing minor and also gave acting a shot, but didn’t have a lot of success. “I quickly realized there weren’t that many opportunities for Hispanics if you didn’t sound like Tony Montana,” he said.

But the people on the set started telling Terrero how much they needed people of color behind the camera, and soon convinced the young actor that was the only way to truly be in control of his destiny.

In his third year of college, he started interning as a production assistant in the music video industry, and soon after dropped out of school to start working full time.

“I watched and learned,” he said.

Terrero credits a video concept he created for a Canadian group as what launched his directing career.

“I wrote a concept for a group in Canada,” he recalled, “and none of the directors understood how to direct it. The artist asked me if I could direct it. I asked a friend for a quick crash-course in directing, and the video ended up getting nominated for Best Rap Video of the Year in Canada,” Terrero says.

“I became super-hot in Canada. I built up a reel, and ended up giving it to my buddy Fat Joe. I was 24 years old, and I all of a sudden the music label people started paying attention,” he said.

Terrero’s success boils down to his work ethic. “My jobs when I started were laundry, making coffee and cleaning the floors. My friends would make fun of me. A couple of years later, they all want to be directors like me. I tell them, ‘Look, you put in the work, you get the results,’” he said.

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.