The music video for ‘For Free?’ (Interlude) was released Friday. The second track off of Kendrick Lamar’s landmark To Pimp a Butterfly is one of the record’s most creative, and the new video continues right along that path of creativity.
I have been ranting and raving about the genius behind Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly ever since its release earlier this year. Its incorporation of various musical traditions and its progressive take on these traditions had a heavy effect on me. During my very first listen to the album, this track informed me that the album that I was about to experience was not an ordinary one, nor one that I was going to easily forget. “For Free” let me know that this record was operating on another level entirely.
This video does an excellent job representing both the meaning and the tone found in the song. A sound grounded firmly in the jazz tradition is heard from the very start, soon transforming into a full-on swing feel (driven by the genius piano playing of the renowned Robert Glasper). The significance behind the sound created by this jazz ensemble is the almost unsettling nature of the rhythm section. Constantly playing with time, this take on rhythm is precarious and difficult to grasp. The listener is skeptical: surely the band will fall apart any second now. However, they never do. They stay together. And what’s more, Kendrick goes right along for the ride. A mixture between spoken-word and rap, Kendrick’s delivery is just as haphazard as the underlying rhythm section. Almost miraculously, his rap is expertly placed. It is situated very “in” in a very “out” setting, which is no small task.
The video itself is unsettling, just like the song’s sound. Elements of horror, humor, and fantasy make up what I would call “Kendrick’s Wonderland.” Bright colors, uncomfortable lighting, and nonsensical situations make up this video and strongly emphasize the various layers of meaning that make up the song. On the surface, we can see the message of the rapper being played for his money. He suffers at the hand of the gold-digger, the modern-day Siren who lures him in and then sucks him dry. It is this conflict that Kendrick is caught in; he will no longer stand for the abuse. Moreover, on a much larger, much more significant note, we see the message of the Black man being played by America. The work and effort that have fallen on the Black community for centuries, the work and effort that helped build this country at its beginnings, is not to be unappreciated any longer. The Black man is done working for the sole benefit of Uncle Sam, The Man. Utilizing the symbols of the gold-digger, Uncle Sam costume, and more, this video presents a visual aspect to the message behind the song. The final shot especially makes Kendrick’s confident and assertive tone evident. He is not alone. This is a movement.
There is so much going on in this video that I find myself pressed for both time and space. There is simply too much to discuss in order to do this work justice. I will continue to listen to this song, and I will continue to watch this video; I am sure that I will have no problem in finding more and more elements that will surprise me and amaze me. I suggest you do the same. Let us know what you think in the comments. There’s A LOT to say about this joint. These cats don’t play no games.