Thursday, February 18, 2016

Kendrick Lamar & His Hip Hop Track "Alright" (Information & Partial Lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on Kendrick Lamar's Grammy award winning Hip Hop track "Alright".

Part I provides information about Kendrick Lamar, and information about the track "Alright". Partial lyrics for that song are also included in this post.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II showcases two videos of Black protestors chanting a form of the chorus of Kendrick Lamar's Hip Hop track "Alright".

The content of this post is presented for sociocultural and folkloric purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Kendrick Lamar for his musical legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post. In addition, thanks to the YouTube publishers of these examples that are featured in this post.

Click for another pancocojams post about Kendrick Lamar.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper from Compton, California. Lamar embarked on his musical career as a teenager under the moniker K-Dot, released a mixtape which garnered local attention and led to his signing with Carson-based independent record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). Lamar began to gain major recognition in 2010 after his first retail release, Overly Dedicated. The following year, he released Section.80, his first independent album, exclusively through iTunes. The album included Lamar's debut single, "HiiiPoWeR". By that time, Lamar had amassed a large internet following and had already worked with several prominent artists in the hip hop industry, including The Game, Snoop Dogg, and Busta Rhymes.

Lamar secured a recording contract with Aftermath and Interscope Records in 2012. His major-label debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released in October 2012 to universal acclaim...

In 2015, Lamar released his third studio album To Pimp a Butterfly, incorporating elements of free jazz, spoken word poetry, and funk in the hip hop record – it debuted atop the charts in the U.S. and the UK. The album was preceded by its lead single "i", which earned him his first two Grammy Awards at the 2015 ceremony. Later that year, Taylor Swift and Lamar's collaboration "Bad Blood" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Lamar has received a number of accolades, including seven Grammy Awards. Apart from his solo career, Lamar is also known as a member of the West Coast hip hop supergroup Black Hippy, alongside his TDE labelmates and fellow South Los Angeles-based rappers Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q.[3]
This post doesn't include a video of that Hip Hop track because of pancocojams' policies regarding songs that include a lot of profanity and/or what is commonly referred to as the n word. However, here is a link to that video:

""Alright" is a song by American rapper Kendrick Lamar, taken from his third album To Pimp a Butterfly (2015).[1] Lyrically a festive song about hope, it 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.[2] Both the track and its music video received acclaim from critics, highlighting their message in the social context of the time. The song was associated with Black Lives Matter after several youth lead protests were heard chanting the chorus, with some publications calling "Alright" the "unifying soundtrack" of the movement.[3] "Alright" received four nominations at the 58th Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year. It won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song.

Inspiration and composition

Lamar described "Alright" as a song about hope.[4] 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.”[5] The track opens with lines from Alice Walker's The Color Purple, “All my life, I had to fight”. Lamar introduced the character "Lucy", who plays an essential role in the remainder of the album.[6] 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."[7] According to music critics, "Alright" is a celebration about being alive[8] that features marching band propulsion and a jazz band's breezy reeds.[9] For his sole production credit, Pharrell Williams, who made the track with Digi+Phonics' member Sounwave, sings the hook.[10]

Critical response

"Alright" has received universal acclaim. Ranked number one on Pitchfork's "The 100 Best Tracks of 2015", 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."[9] 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." [11]
In my opinion, some of the reviews of "Alright" in this Wikipedia article place too much emphasis on Kendrick Lamar's song being "festive song" and less focus on it being "a siren against innumerable injustices."

WARNING: This track includes a lot of curse words and also frequent uses of "the n word".

As per the policy of this blog, curse words and the n word will be spelled incompletely.
From lyrics

Alls my life I has to fight, ni__a
Alls my life I
Hard times like God
Bad trips like: "God!"
Nazareth, I'm fu___d up
Homie you fu_____d up
But if God got us we then gon' be alright


When you know, we been hurt, been down before, ni__a
When my pride was low, lookin' at the world like, "where do we go, ni__a?"
And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, ni__a
I'm at the preacher's door
My knees gettin' weak and my gun might blow but we gon' be alright

Ni__a, we gon' be alright
Ni__a, we gon' be alright
We gon' be alright
Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright
Ni__a, we gon' be alright
Huh? We gon' be alright
Ni__a, we gon' be alright
Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright


I keep my head up high
I cross my heart and hope to die
Lovin' me is complicated
Too afraid, a lot of changes
I'm alright and you're a favorite
Dark nights in my prayers

I remembered you was conflicted
Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screamin' in the hotel room
I didn't wanna self destruct, the evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went runnin' for answers
This is the end of that track.

[Revised February 19, 2016]

The "Alls my life I has to fight" verse - minus the form of the n word- is from the 1985 American movie The Color Purple. That movie is based on Alice Walker's novel by that name.

In The Color Purple, Sophia (played by talk show hostess and actress Ophrah Winfrey) said:
"All my life I had to fight.
I had to fight my daddy.
I had to fight my uncles.
I had to fight my brothers.
A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men.
But I never thought I had to fight in my own house!
I love Harpo, God knows I do, but I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.”
Notice that Kendrick Lamar's version of those words from The Color Purple are given in an exaggerated form of what I call the "down home" style* of African American Vernacular English while the words from that movie weren't.

Furthermore, notice that Sophia in The Color Purple wasn't talking about systemic racism when she said those words. Instead, that Black woman character was talking about abuse that she had experienced (and she believed that other females experience) from Black males.

Click for a video of this scene.

*Among African Americans "down home" usually refers to rural (country) Black American Southern living (such as a way of talking that was called "Ebonics" in the 1970s; the food, and the old school way of singing and feeling the spirit in Black Southern country churches). The term was coined because for a lot of African Americans, the South is "home" (where their roots are). Describing something as being "down home" may be a nostalgic compliment, a mild putdown, or a serious insult.
White Americans use the referent "down home" also, but can refer to different things than it does when African Americans use that word.

"We gon' be alright" means [I'm confident that] we [Black Americans] are going to be okay [in spite of the tremendous difficulties that we face".

Another way of saying this is [I know that] we will be fine [in spite of police brutality and other aspects of the institutional racism]
While the first verse of "Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" (excluding the four letter form of the n word) are given in a down home form of African American Vernacular English, the remainder of that track is given in a Hip Hop form of African American Vernacular English.

"We're gon' be alright" has the same meaning as "We shall overcome". The song with that title became the unofficial anthem of the 1960s' United States civil rights movement. And some are saying that "Alright" is the anthem of the Black Life Matters movement.

Lucy = a referent for Lucifer (the devil, Satan}
"This song [Kendrick Lamar's "Alright"] offers a deeper insight into the previously introduced figure of Lucy (a character representing Lucifer).

As the song goes on, it is understood that Lucy is short for Lucifer, hence the lines about temptation and signing contracts"

Popo = African American Vernacular English word meaning "police"

"do you feel me?" = Do you agree with me? (Do you understand what I'm saying with your feelings and not just with your mind? [empathize with me]

This concludes Part I of this series.

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1 comment:

  1. Kendrick Lamar's last name is "Duckworth". I wonder if he is related to Willie Duckworth, the African American man who is credited with composing the 1940s army cadence that is widely known as "Sound Off".

    Click for a pancocojams post on that army cadence.