Alright (Kendrick Lamar song)
|Single by Kendrick Lamar|
|from the album To Pimp a Butterfly|
|Released||June 30, 2015|
|Kendrick Lamar singles chronology|
"Alright" is a song by American rapper Kendrick Lamar featured on his third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). The song expresses ideas of hope amid personal struggles and features uncredited vocals from the song's co-producer Pharrell Williams during the chorus. "Alright" was released to radio stations as the album's fourth single on June 30, 2015. Most music publications considered it among the best songs and videos of the year. "Alright" received four nominations at the 58th Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Music Video, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, winning the latter two. It was also nominated for a MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year.
The song was associated with the Black Lives Matter movement after several youth-led protests were heard chanting the chorus. Publications such as The Rolling Stone, People, and Complex noted the song’s importance in the protests calling "Alright" the "unifying soundtrack" of the movement. In 2019, it was named the best song of the 2010s by Pitchfork. Lamar, alongside other acts including Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, performed “Alright” at the Super Bowl LVI halftime show on February 13, 2022.
Inspiration and composition
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After creating the beat, Pharrell Williams came up with a hook six months later, which inspired Lamar to find the right lyrics. The hook, "We gon' be alright!" allowed Lamar to use the symbolism inherent to spur the rest of the song's lyrics that eventually resonated with an entire movement. In an interview with MTV News, Lamar said it was inspired by his trip to South Africa, witnessing other people's problems in the country: "their struggle was ten times harder." The track opens with lines from Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "Alls my life, I had to fight". Lamar introduced the character "Lucy", who plays an essential role in the remainder of the album. According to the lyrics, as Lamar gets bigger so does Lucy: "ain't a profit big enough to feed you". At the end of the track, Lamar talks about his suicidal thoughts once in a hotel room "I didn't wanna self-destruct... The evils of Lucy was all around me." For music critics a "celebration of being alive", Lamar described "Alright" as message of hope. The song begins as a spoken-word treatise before exploding into a shapeshifting portrait of America that brings in jazz horns, skittering drum beats and Lamar's mellifluous rapping as he struggles with troubles and temptations. Musically, it features marching band propulsion and a jazz band's breezy reeds. For his sole production credit, Pharrell Williams, who made the track with Digi+Phonics' member Sounwave, sings the hook.
Ranked number one on Pitchfork's "The 100 Best Tracks of 2015" and "The 200 Best Songs of the 2010s", an editor praised the chorus "We gon be alright," and described it as "an ebulliently simple five-syllable refrain, a future-tense assertion of delivery to a better, more peaceful place. In more than one instance, the song's chorus was chanted at Black Lives Matter protests. It has soundtracked a movement. That's largely due to its holistic sentiment as a siren against innumerable injustices, but it has just as much to do with the fact that it's a great hook on a ferociously catchy song." Consequence of Sound also ranked the song number one on its "Top 50 Songs of 2015" list, the magazine's editors described the song as "buoyant, festive, serious, personal, and all-encompassing. Only a song so brilliant in so many ways could earn the honor of becoming a protest song ... 'Alright' isn't about determination; it's about forgetting cold, harsh reality and hoping for something brighter and better if only for three minutes and 39 seconds." Complex magazine quoted an organizer of a Black Lives Matter protest in Denver: “Music uplifts our community, and so we were playing different songs that have been our ‘struggle anthems’ to equality so that black people can say their lives matter,” he explains. “And so Kendrick’s song is something that is a rallying cry.”
For The New York Times, writer Nate Chinen placed the song atop his "The Best Songs of 2015" list, adding "the verses harbor a (more) internal struggle – and some of Kendrick Lamar's most inspired showboating as a rapper." Billboard ranked "Alright" at number eight on its year-end list of 2015: "Lamar made the struggle his message on the soul-stirring To Pimp a Butterfly cut "Alright." ... The fight-the-power anthem became the nation's rallying cry in 2015, especially for the Black Lives Matter movement. The plight of police brutality victims can be heard in every breath Lamar takes on "Alright" as he tackles society's ills with resilience: "Homie you fucked up/But if God got us then we gon' be alright." In a second list for the year's best hip-hop songs, Billboard placed "Alright" at number three. Village Voice named "Alright" the fourth-best single released in 2015 on their annual year-end critics' poll, Pazz & Jop. Newsday's editor Glenn Gamboa also ranked it as the best song of the year. From over 35 outlets, global critic aggregator Acclaimed Music went on to rank "Alright" fourth on the list of the greatest songs of the 2010s. In 2018, Rolling Stone placed the song at number 13 on their list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the Century So Far." In 2018, Billboard ranked the song number four on their list of the 20 greatest Kendrick Lamar songs, and in 2021, Rolling Stone ranked the song number two on their list of the 50 greatest Kendrick Lamar songs.
Release and synopsis
Lamar was spotted filming the song's music video on Treasure Island in San Francisco, California and atop a traffic light pole in Los Angeles, California. It was released on Lamar's Vevo page on June 30, 2015. The seven-minute-long clip, directed by Colin Tilley and The Little Homies, was filmed entirely in black-and-white.
The music video starts by showing shots of life in a neighborhood. A young African-American man is seen lying on the ground and Lamar begins speaking. Police and destruction flood the scene as the music starts, and Lamar begins rapping a new verse alongside his Black Hippy cohorts (ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock), in a car carried by four police officers. During the video, Lamar flies through California, while his crew is throwing out money to everybody and dancers perform in the streets. At the end of the music video, Lamar stands on a lamppost and a policeman shoots him down. The rapper falls to the ground finishing his monologue from the beginning of the video, but ends the clip with a smile.
Pitchfork ranked it as the best music video of 2015, highlighting "Lamar's own flight above the streets of L.A., his inner-city Icarus providing one of the most arresting – and liberating – images of the year." Consequence of Sound listed the video at number one on its "Top 5 Music Videos of 2015", concluding "The video works as a microcosm of the sad and wretched state of many cities: crooked cops, burning cars, abandoned buildings, and bleak backdrops of an urban sprawl. It's powerful, harrowing, bleak, and hopeful all at once." Spin also listed the clip atop its "The 25 Best Music Videos of 2015".
Eric Ducker for Rolling Stone wrote "Lamar emerges as a charismatic but vulnerable superhero, flying through the city and doing donuts in a parking lot as a kid gleefully sits shotgun," and also commended the director Colin Tilley's work, "he creates a starker experience befitting one of the most ambitious albums by a major artist in recent history. Tilley rises to the challenge of matching Lamar's beautifully complex and conflicted vision." The editor listed it at number six on his best music videos of 2015 article. Slant Magazine staff named it the 4th best video of the year. The music video received seven nominations at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year, Best Male Video and Best Direction, ultimately winning the latter. Furthermore, it received a nomination for Grammy Award for Best Music Video.
Live performances and controversy
Lamar performed the song for the first time at the 15th BET Awards on June 28, 2015. The performance featured Lamar standing on a graffiti-embossed police car flanked by a gigantic battered American flag. Geraldo Rivera of Fox News called the performance "disgusting", and criticized Lamar, stating that "Hip Hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years". Lamar, later, responded to the comments with a short video questioning Rivera's claim, stating "How can you take a message of hope and turn it into hate?" Lamar later used audio of Rivera's comments in his song "DNA.", and mentioned Rivera in the song "YAH." "Alright" was featured on the Kunta's Groove Sessions tour. Lamar and Pharrell Williams performed the song together at LA radio station Power 106's annual Cali Christmas concert.
Lamar performed a medley of "The Blacker the Berry" and "Alright" at the 58th Grammy Awards. It was ranked by Rolling Stone and Billboard as the best performance and best moment of the night, with the latter writing "It was easily one of the best live TV performances in history."
It was performed by Lamar in the Super Bowl LVI halftime show on February 13, 2022.
In 2015, several youth-led protests against police brutality across the country were heard chanting the chorus to "Alright". Rolling Stone's writer Greg Tate commented: "Lamar's 'Alright' has been touted by many a comrade in today's student activist cadre as their 'We Shall Overcome'". Additionally, several contemporary progressive news outlets, including BET, raised the idea of "Alright" being the modern Black National Anthem. Lamar was featured on Ebony Power 100, annual list that recognizes many leaders of the African-American community, emphasizing "how the chorus of his song "Alright" became a chant for Black Lives Matter protestors". Producer Sounwave stated "I didn't expect "Alright" to be the protest song but I did know it was going to do something because the time we're living in made it the perfect song." Protestors at a Chicago rally against Donald Trump chanted the chorus of the song in March 2016.
Usage in media
Kendrick Lamar made a cameo in a promo ad for ABC sitcom Black-ish. A minute-long clip was released featuring Lamar's song in a music video the show's Johnson kids create to become an "overnight viral sensation." The remainder of the promo ad moves into a music video setting where the Black-ish casts raps along to "Alright" while Lamar himself sits on the family couch munching on snacks.
- James "The White Black Man" Hunt – recording
- Derek "MixedByAli" Ali – mixing
- Terrace Martin – alto saxophone
- Pharrell Williams – background vocals
- Candace Wakefield – background vocals
- Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner – background vocals
|2015||MTV Video Music Awards||Video of the Year||Nominated|||
|Best Male Video|
|Best Hip-Hop Video|
|BET Hip Hop Awards||Best Hip Hop Video|||
|Track of the Year||Nominated|
|MTV Europe Music Awards||Best Video|||
|Soul Train Music Awards||Best Video of the Year|||
|Rhythm & Bars Award||Won|
|Camerimage||Best Music Video|||
|Best Cinematography In A Music Video|
|2016||Grammy Awards||Song of the Year||Nominated|| |
|Best Rap Performance||Won|
|Best Rap Song|
|Best Music Video||Nominated|
|BET Awards||Video of the Year|
|Belgium Urban (Ultratop Flanders)||44|
|UK Hip Hop/R&B (OCC)||20|
|US Billboard Hot 100||81|
|US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)||14|
|Canada (Music Canada)||2× Platinum||160,000|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||200,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000|
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.
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