In a follow-up to a riveting BET Awards performance, Kendrick Lamar continues to shed light on just how powerful To Pimp a Butterfly is by dropping the visuals to “Alright.” Directed by Colin Tilley and shot in stark black and white throughout varying locations in California, KDot continues to fire (figurative) shots at the police and its overall culture. The “Alright” video offers an enticing visual to an already gripping narrative, continuing Kendrick’s penchant for painting the hood lifestyle as a thing of beauty. “Alright” is simultaneously a fun, classic rap video but doesn’t riddle itself out of the harsh realities of growing up in places like Compton, Oakland, Baltimore or Ferguson.
But perhaps that’s where this video solidifies the marriage of KDot’s self-perceived role in a budding social uprising and perhaps, as a result, a new direction for mainstream rap: for the last decade or so, hip-hop’s mainstream persona was about all the superficial end-products of making it out of the hood, mainly a la big cars, big houses and beautiful women. Sure, the visual centerpiece of “Alright” involves doing donuts and making it rain out of the window, but the video’s bookends are the segments that leave a stamp. It might engage us with stacks of boomboxes and dancers on top of cop cars, but what encapsulates us is what we’re left with at its beginning and end.
The breadcrumbs of KDot’s haunting spoken word piece lacing over scenes of police chases and broken urban spaces leaves deep cuts right from the get-go. It’s disturbing, yet fiercely familiar scenes of white cops and their tense relationships with black youth. Tilley’s narrative doesn’t miss a beat and is seamless in how he takes those initial moods, elevates them into high energy waves and then weaves it back down ending in KDot’s demise. Yet even with that image of Kendrick on the ground, all that built up hope doesn’t feel lost. “Alright” feels less like a film but more than a music video, and maybe that’s because its storytelling doesn’t completely center around the protagonist. What feels left at the end of the video is a shot-down leader, but his consciousness and influence is so infectious that when he says we gon’ be alright, we believe it.