Friday, November 13, 2015

The Music Videos of Kendrick Lamar

I'm going to make a (possibly) bold statement and say that the music videos that Kendrick Lamar has released to go along with his newest album are some of the greatest music videos ever made. Period. Not just some of the best rap videos, because that would be unnecessarily lumping them into a subcategory of music. The best ever, throughout all genres, all years, everything.

The videos in question - for the songs "i," "King Kunta," "Alright," "For Free?" and "These Walls" - have very little in common with each other, with the exception of an incredibly passionate Kendrick and the same themes that tie his (beautiful, sprawling, important) album "To Pimp a Butterfly" together. Unfortunately, all of the videos are on Vevo, so instead of posting those nice little Youtube boxes for this blog post, I'll just use some screenshots and throw the links down at the bottom of the page.

To Pimp a Butterfly is a dense album, and I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly what it was about. Some of it's about being sick of fame to the point where you're alone, screaming, in a hotel room. Some of it - as Billboard points out - is about self-actualization, appreciation, and what it takes to stay sane. A lot of it is about blackness, and social injustices, and race. But through it all, there's this bit of positivity that seeps through the cracks, this sometimes overwhelming sense that that, yeah, okay, maybe everything is going to be alright after all.

His videos, more so than any other music videos I've ever seen, are an extension of his album. They're more than just Kendrick mouthing the words to a rap, trying to make a couple extra bucks and maybe nab a VMA. A few of them have verses that never made it onto the album. And they're all incredibly beautiful.

His newest video for "These Walls" is an 8-minute long extravaganza that includes (what at least appears to be) a 2 minute tracking shot through a house full of people. Guys fight, someone falls down the stairs, and Kendrick gets twerked through a wall. But then all of a sudden, something changes, and Kendrick does something that you'll find seems to be another theme throughout his album/videos; he plays with our expectations. The camera is put in the backseat of a car with three guys talking about what could only be interpreted to be a breaking and entering. 30 seconds later, however, and we find out that they've been talking about a talent show, where they proceed to dance to a song - that isn't Kendrick's, by the way - for a good portion of the video.

Kendrick's crowning achievement, though, is his video for "Alright." Shot in black and white and featuring a floating, otherworldly Lamar throughout, the video opens with the poem that Kendrick refers to throughout the length of his album over some various B-roll shots: a skyline, smashing glass, police brutality. It transitions into a rap that, again, isn't even part of the actual song, featuring Kendrick and the rest of Black Hippy in a car carried on the shoulders of police officers, like they're carrying a throne. Kendrick throws money from cars, raps from on top of a lamppost, and dances with his friends, ending with one of the more powerful visuals I've seen in a long, long time; Kendrick, still on top of the lamppost, getting "shot down" by a white officer. Blood spurts out from his coat as he falls, re-reciting the poem from the beginning. And when he hits the ground? He smiles.

Maybe they're not the most beautifully shot, or maybe some people won't be able to get past the general goofiness or rap video tropes that Kendrick tends to play around with, but I think in light of current events, they're incredibly important. I honestly think that this is an example of art in it's purest form; imitating life, but also trying to transform it. Anyways, they've got some great messages, and you should check them out.

 - Alright - King Kunta - i - For Free? - These Walls

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