Last week, Kendrick Lamar launched the video for his single ‘Alright’ off his TPAB album, which beautifully illustrates the allegory of struggle and exuberance in Black America. The video takes the viewer on an emotional journey through the current civil rights perils of African Americans, particularly, young African-American men plagued by police brutality, to the heroic and uplifting imagery of the spirit of the black community – i.e. Kendrick Lamar transcending the impediments of today’s society.
The video preludes in almost a dystopian fashion shifting from the streets of Los Angeles to San Francisco —Images of police brutality and public rage flashing in black and white. Imagery of a world at war. At war against enforcement. Director, Collin Tilley, shows the literal disappearance of black men as they "POP" and vanish from the screen. The sounds of harsh screams, the raw destitution, and the “hood memoriam” of tennis shoes hanging from a power line all serve as visual representations of the agonizing reality of the pain and restrain of black men and black youth.
The video's intro successfully contrasts the recurrent symbols that have remained strong in America since the 18th century with more contemporary themes of rebellion. In the last scene of the prelude, we see Kendrick Lamar and the Black Hippy crew: Ab-Soul, ScHoolBoy Q and Jay Rock bumping to Kendrick’s vocals as they are held up (literally) by police officers. A metaphorical scene in itself, representing the all too common struggle black males face – as they remain continuously mis-targeted by law enforcement. Still the Black Hippy crew moves forward as if the hold up is part of their everyday routine.
The video officially begins with a shift in disposition. In superb fashion Kendrick Lamar captures the spirit of black culture. The spirit of overcoming the hurdles of society and moving forward. The visual shift from aggressive and almost chaotic to light hearted. The scenes bring imagery all too familiar to many: young people dancing, beautiful women and children laughing and playing in the streets – a celebration of the hood.
This sequence plays out to show that even though we're oppressed, beat up and shot down, we can still enjoy life, because as Pharrell Williams chants on the hook "We Gon Be Alright". The central theme of the video becomes Kendrick’s transcendence above, leaving the struggle below him. Creating an image of the black man as heroic, and not a villain or casualty.
The last arc of this mini motion picture is the final option that's presented to the viewer – Death. The viewer is finally thrown back into the roller coaster of emotions when video takes an immediate somber turn as another police officer makes his presence known – for what seems to be for reasons of his own self-fulfillment. On sight he shoots Kendrick down from his ascended perch, but not with his assigned weapon. Instead with his own hand in the form of a gun, his own hate.
This continues the visual allegory, conveying the message that no matter how famous, successful, or rich you become, the forces of bigotry and hate seem to be powerful enough to keep us out of control. Still, Kendrick Lamar reminds of us of the spirit of our existence, our potential, our power and our grace. He delivers his coup de grace as he lays lifeless on the ground and cracks a smile at the camera; because even when threatened with death… ‘WE GON BE ALRIGHT!’