I would like to express my opinion, that in 2015, no video has come close to the magnitude, power and precision of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” in articulating an American condition. “Alright” is a triumph, and one of the best music videos I have ever seen. It is more than a music video, it seems, it is a wish, a prayer, a transcendence and a hope of resurrection.
From self-hatred to images of urban destitution, black people beaten by police, corralled into lives that were doomed from the start, suffering at their own hands and the hands of others, we move to a fantasy – Kendrick’s car upheld by four police officers, the powerful in the service of the powerless, as he declares that his ‘diligence is only meant to write your eulogy’.
The song is a beautiful anthem for the powerless, for those slaughtered by their own state in the streets of a free nation. It articulates a world where the burden of proof is on every individual not to be killed by a cop, where the responsibility is on innocent people driving with broken tail lights or without license plates not to be killed. It is the purest manifestation of a police state, where the lives of individuals, mostly black individuals, can be snuffed out without degrading the meaning of life for every individual. We can keep on going in a world like this, keep on living, and thus the title “Alright”.
‘Nazareth, I’m fucked up homie you fucked up, but if God got us we gonna be alright’. It is a dream, Kendrick soaring through the streets and black children dancing fearlessly upon police cars, tossing money out of windows. It is this dream that is life in a world where life has no value. People dancing in the streets, flying above them, despite the death and the entrapment all around.
Kendrick’s final smile after being shot dead off a lamppost signifies his painful message – ‘I’m at the preacher’s door’. Despite it all, somehow, the people who suffer from police brutality, from fear and death at the hands of their ‘protectors’, will smile in the end. It seems to be a classic religious message, applied to the times, the notion that the meek really will inherit the Earth.
The whole song has a floaty, transcendent aura about it. So does the video. If you haven’t watched it, it’s incredible. Kendrick Lamar is one of the best people out there making art right now. If his career continues to follow these themes would it be appropriate to consider him the James Baldwin of a new medium and a new era?