The song was already a force to be reckoned with—a declaration of triumph over tragedy. But when Kendrick Lamar put it in the hands of director Colin Tilley (of Nicki Minaj “Anaconda” fame) for a visual treatment, it got a brand new set of wings.
“Alright,” the fourth single from the critically lauded and certified gold To Pimp A Butterfly, is an anthem that details the daily rigors of living as a young black man in modern-day America. It’s about facing the seemingly never-ending stresses of poverty, racism, police brutality, and unjust death and banding together as a community to rise above it all.
The track has the momentum of a runaway locomotive, and Tilley chose to complement that with a gritty, gray-scale collage of imagery that evokes strength in numbers amid a harsh reality. We see cops killing black kids, desolate streets, and all-around despair. All the while, Kendrick literally floats above it all, a motivating call-to-action for others to rise up in their own way. At a time when the all-too-familiar tropes of expensive vehicles, scantily clad women, and drug glorification remain prevalent in rap lyrics and music videos, it’s refreshing to find a song that can capture our ear and hearts and still be socially conscious.
Amid all the chaos, Kendrick still finds time to pay homage to his predecessors. There’s an interlude starting at 2:11 where Kendrick and his TDE cohorts ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul bounce along to a snippet of a different song as they ride in a jalopy carried by four police officers:
This is a clear homage to Busta Rhymes’ 1996 single “Woo-Hah (Got You All In Check),” for which Busta used the first minute of the music video to tease “Everything Remains Raw,” furiously reciting his bars while gliding through Times Square in a Toyota 4Runner with the rest of the Flipmode Squad.