Without the video, the song “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar from his latest album To Pimp a Butterfly is a song that seems to involve a lot of discussion about Kendrick’s previous song on the album “u.” The ending of that song, which discusses Kendrick giving into his vices (alcohol and painkillers), is actually at the beginning of the video, allowing whoever is watching to understand how “u” and “Alright” are connected. Now while the songs are connected, there is a much bigger overall message involved about overcoming hatred and addiction, which is very well illustrated in the video directed by Colin Tilley and funded by Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). The connection between the visuals in the video and the lyrics are so important, as it gives a clearer picture of the message Kendrick is trying to send.
The video is shot entirely in black and white, which has several different possible meanings. A few could be that shooting the video without any color illustrates Kendrick’s desire to have everyone get along, regardless of race or your background. Other possible meanings could also be continuing the feeling from “u,” which is very dark and very honest about Kendrick’s shortcomings. There are many other theories, but these two seem to make a lot of sense when trying to understand why the video was not shot in color at any point. I thought that it was a very well thought out idea and it adds a lot of emotional depth to the video, something that might not have been possible if there were lots of bright, vibrant colors to see. The song has positive connotations towards Kendrick’s outlook and hopes, but inside there is still the battle between emotions. This is confirmed when he begins reciting the poem (slightly revised from the album) that is built upon throughout the album.
This excerpt, paired with the visuals such as the kid face down (possibly dead) on the pavement, misusing his influences, the women crying with a quick shot of a church as Kendrick describes his struggles with Lucifer, the cop shooting at a man he was trying to arrest as Kendrick talks about abusing his power, and him describing his safe haven as a man drinks an entire bottle of what looks to be Crown Royal, really show the struggles of not just Kendrick himself, but of many African American individuals in his community and across the country.
“I remembered you was conflicted
Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in the hotel room
Lucifer was all around
So I kept running
Until I found my safe haven
I was trying to convince myself the stripes I got
Making myself realize what my foundation was
(In the room, and I run it)
But while my loved ones were fighting the continuous war back in the city
I was entering a new one
A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination “
Now while technically and visually this is an excellent video, I think what makes this the most important music video produced in a long time is that now the things described by Kendrick in the song itself are great, but there are visuals to really show you what Kendrick’s message is. The visuals mentioned earlier are important because for years, especially recently, these have been the things happening to African Americans: Questionable fairness from the police, gangs of the same skin color killing each other in the streets, and the majority of the population overlooking the deep depression that many people in communities like Compton suffer from. It seems like some of the individuals in these areas believe the only way to feel good is by establishing their territories through violence and drug abuse, while many people in these situations are just honest, hard working people trying to make a living but are looked at in the same light by outsiders as the people doing harm. This video brings to the forefront many of the issues that are glossed over in our society today and also highlights big issues that are controversial. There was a lot of debate over the dancers being on top of a police car in the video and also the policemen carrying the car early in the video with Kendrick and the rest of Black Hippy inside (Schoolboy Q, Ab Soul, Jay Rock). On the other hand, in the media there did not seem to be much discussion about the end of the video where the cop sees Kendrick on top of the pole and shoots him with his “handgun.” This scene highlights all of the police controversies that have been going on the last few years involving police brutality involving African American individuals (Tamir Rice being the one hitting closest to home here in Cleveland, Ohio). This video was important because it forced viewers to pick a side in the argument regarding police brutality.
Socially, this is one of the most necessary music videos to come out this decade so far as more and more African Americans are killed with the police tagged as the prime suspects. Kendrick understands that people are angry and have the right to feel that way, but is telling them that despite the gangs, the police, and the outsiders, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we will in fact be Alright. At first glance, this video was beautiful to watch, but now I see it for what its true intentions are, which is to bring the issues to the forefront and let people know that they can make it through all of these tough times. As Kendrick says right before he hits the ground after the police officer shoots him, “So I went running for answers.” I think this video gave viewers all the answers they needed, whether they realize it or not.