Ten Thoughts While Watching Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" Video
Adam Whittaker Snavely, a frequent artist at The Listening, is a writer and graduate student living in Lynchburg, Virginia. His work has been published in LAMP Magazine, as well as presented at the 2013 International Sigma Tau Delta conference in Portland, Oregon. When he’s not writing or grading essays, he likes to tweet far too much, play soccer, and sometimes even spend time with his fiancée. He drinks coffee purely for its effects and black because he’s too lazy to put sugar and cream in it. Check him out on Instagram (@itssnaves) and Twitter (@Snaves)!
1. Black and white, gritty images of Los Angeles. People are talking, a dude is fleeing from the police who begin to shoot at him, graffiti, street corners, general mayhem, and Kendrick going into the poem from "To Pimp A Butterfly". Given the track, I know this is more of an upbeat song, but Kendrick’s not taking any prisoners here.
2. The boys! The boys. Like a lot of people, I fell in love with the potential and group energy of Black Hippy before Kendrick began absolutely killing the competition, so it’s nice to see the TDE gang bumpin’ along with K-Dot, even more so since the solo world of each artist has seemed to consume them more and more lately. Solid rap crews are pretty hard to come by these days, groups that give equal thought and passion to their solo stuff as they do to their group cuts. Think what you will about Odd Future and A$AP Mob, but they created some interesting music and collected an energy together that was infectious. But with A$AP Yams gone, the New York crew increasingly just seems like friends for A$AP Rocky to put in the back of his videos, and Odd Future seemed to get consumed in the black hole-level gravity created by Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt’s albums (Side note: if you need a new rap crew fitting these definitions in your rotation, I highly recommend Two-9). Black Hippy seemed to be going that way too not so long ago. Schoolboy Q’s sophomore album was as good (if not better) than his debut, but sounded a bit frustrated at points. Ab-Soul continues to be everyone’s pick for “third-best TDE rapper,” and we’re *still* waiting for Jay Rock’s album. With Kendrick becoming the biggest rapper in the world, it’s easy to see how the “crew” mentality could pretty easily die down. Good to see them and hope they’re along for the ride.
3. So, the cops carrying the car TDE is riding in wasn’t expected. Taking “Drive Slow” to levels Kanye never even dreamed of there. This is going to be fun.
4. This video is an undeniable celebration, which is a great turn to this song. Kendrick’s first line in the song proper is “Alls my life I has to fight,” and the rougher side of LA shown at the beginning of the video reflects that line well in its own right, but watching Kendrick practically laugh out the lines as he does donuts in a car and a little kid chucks money out the window is way more fun.
5. I BELIEVE I CAN FLY.
6. The flying, the mob of kids moshing with Kendrick, the cops carrying the car he’s driving: this video is more than a celebration; it’s triumphant. Even the “i” or “King Kunta” videos don’t touch this level, even though the songs themselves seem more suited to it. Equipped with just the music, “Alright” is a song about survival and finding the things that keep Kendrick, his friends, and his city going when it seems like the world is against them. “Alright” as a music video is about relishing that survival, and turning that instinct to survive into something more like thriving. It reminds of something I saw said (on Twitter, I’ll admit) about how each laugh and celebration for the African American is a small rebellion winning the its own tiny fight. I don’t pretend to begin to fully comprehend that feeling as a white male, but it’s easy to empathize with while watching this video.
7. I mean, he’s rapping on top of a stoplight in downtown Los Angeles. This is Kendrick’s “turn it up to 11” mode. “i” and “King Kunta” heavily focused on smaller neighborhood, Compton civic pride sort of celebration. Now, he’s proclaiming the entire city as his. Stand up, LA, and recognize.
8. Need that windbreaker/rain slicker/jacket/thing pronto.
9. The end is interesting, and I’m not going to try to give a definitive “meaning” behind it, but I do want to extrapolate. As Kendrick perches atop a stop light (a different one this time, in the hills overlooking LA), a cop pulls up. He gets out of the car with what looks like a shotgun, and then raises his fingers in an imaginary gun, pulling the trigger. Kendrick falls, black blood splattering on the gray-scaled sky, and he falls to the ground, picking right back up with the TBAP poem as he does.
Since the cop so clearly has a real gun on him, the choice for the finger gun is interesting. Is the death figurative, ending the celebration? Is it supposed to represent that not all cops do shoot black people, but a lot of them really want to? Can’t tell for certain, but the shot of the blood spray is dope, so I’m not going to worry myself too much about it.
10. That grin. Honestly, this video gets me excited about TBAP all over again. It probably helps that not a lot of new rap has dropped recently that’s piqued my interest (the excellent new Vince Staples record notwithstanding), but the video has done its job nonetheless. And if nothing else, I can at least feel like I’m sticking it to Fox News while I listen to it. Now all I need is a video for “These Walls”…
What did you think of this video? Comment below!