Alright by Kendrick Lamar is About the Exploitation of Black Identity
Published by Jordan on August 20, 2015
Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” deals with many of the same themes as “King Kunta,” which I wrote about last month. The biggest thematic callback, though, is to the exploitation of black identity and culture through their portrayal in the entertainment industry.
Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” Music Video
The video for Alright by Kendrick Lamar is bookend with some spoken-word lines that frame the song around the theme of influence and exploitation. The soliloquy is the same at both ends of the song; however, the album version only features the second monologue which closes the track. In these moment, Lamar says
I remembered you was conflicted Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same. Essentially, Lamar is holding other artists accountable for using their influences in toxic ways; however, Lamar, being realistic, admits to being self-conscious about having done the same in the past.
The Portrayal of African-Americans in the Music Entertainment
Lamar suggests that this misuse of artistic influence can take the form of a corroboration with the exploitation and embellishment of black culture in the entertainment industry. He is only being looked at because of the
pay cut and scrutinizing the regular themes of violence that frequents the genre of popular rap by saying
what mac-11 even boom with the bass down, essentially saying that the violence which is being glorified through the medium of song (bass) exists outside of artistry and affects lives. Moreover, he comments that
homicide be lookin’ at you from the face down, suggesting that the justice systems uses the violent imagery of popular, manufactured hip-hop to justify police brutality against black men and women, a hugely relevant and important topic right now. Essentially, Lamar is saying that there is a relationship between the portrayal of African-Americans in the entertainment (specifically music) and how the systematic oppression they face is justified (in the minds of whites and law enforcement) through this imagery.
The Crisis of Police Brutality
This is by no means a defense of police brutality; in fact, Lamar is very clear that he despises police for the wanton slaughter of black life (
and we hate po-po Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho). The video itself focuses largely on the crisis of police brutality, ending with a white police officer pointing a finger-pistol at Lamar and shooting him down from an elevated—perhaps holy position.
It’s Going to be Alright
He comments on how many retreat into their vices to cope with this bleak reality. He says that
painkillers only put [him] in the twilight where pretty pussy and Benjamin is the highlight, suggesting that escapism through drugs only led him to the same vapid themes of sex and money that frequent parts of the genre. He refers to this temptation as
Lucy, presumably short for Lucifer (Satan), and uses it as a characterization of materialism and vice. Lamar, though, can
see the evil now, and makes it clear that he will use his resources to help those that would otherwise succumb to the temptation of vice and protect them from Lucy (
If I got it then you know you got it, heaven, I can reach you). He is effectively offering to lift people from the darkness by exposing the false refuge of vice, as he lifted himself.
In other words, he is saying, from experience, that it’s going to be alright.Kendrick Lamar - Alright
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