This Pharrell Williams co-produced jazzy hip-hop infusion finds Lamar, despite all his bad trips and hard times, ready to face another day. With God on his side, he is confident everything will be "Alright."
This was one of several songs on To Pimp a Butterfly that were inspired by Lamar's time in South Africa during 2014. He told MTV News: "When I got to Africa and saw other people's problems, their struggle was 10 times harder and was raised crazier than what I was. Going out there really inspired - I wrote a lot of records off the album just by visiting South Africa. That was the moment I knew, OK, I could either pimp this situation or fall victim to it. That was a turning point."
The song's opening lines ("Alls my life I has to fight, ni—a. Alls my life I...") reference Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple and Oprah Winfrey's portrayal of Sofia in the period drama movie of the same name.
Lamar's third verse was created very quickly. "Probably 15 minutes, just walking back and forth," co-producer Tae Beast recalled to Revolt. "No pen, no tablet to jot in. Just all mental. Went in the booth, knocked it out."
Pharrell explained some background regarding his contribution towards this track during Mawazine Festival's press conference. "I wanted to do something that felt like it was in that vein but just a little bit more colorful and add Rhodes (electric piano) and instruments that are not usually used in that style of music," he said, "and just try to bring something a little bit more mystical. I kind of had my Tribe Called Quest hat on that day. I'm a huge Q-Tip fan."
Pharrell Williams previously worked with Kendrick Lamar, when he supplied the beat for Good Kid, M.A.A.d City's
" as well as lending some vocals to the track.
The nearly seven-minute-long video was directed by Colin Tilley, who's also worked on music clips with stars such as Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber. It was filmed entirely in black-and-white and shot on Treasure Island in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The video starts with a young African-American man lying on the ground as police flood the scene. We then see Lamar rapping a verse from an unreleased song in a car with his friends ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock accompanied by police officers. Tilley told MTV News how Lamar fine-tuned that particular scene: "The intro where Kendrick, Schoolboy, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock are all in the car and we make that big reveal where the cops are holding up the car," he explained. "We were talking about this specific image with everything that's going on right now with the police and we kind of got to that point where we were sitting down with each other and we were talking about this big reveal with Kendrick and the guys being held up by cops like a carriage or something."
"But the crazy part is, when we're sitting there, all of a sudden, Kendrick was like, 'Hold on, man. I'm totally hearing something completely different for this right now,'" Tilley continued. "He's like, 'I'm gonna write this song and we'll send it to you tonight. But we'll do this song as a segment before the video even starts.' So, they sent me the song like two days later and we continued to build on it."
Throughout the video dancers perform in the streets as Lamar flies through the city, Tilley explained: "The dancers were a huge part of this. We really wanted to make sure that there is a positive message behind all this. It's taking something negative and putting a positive spin on everything that's going on. It's giving hope. When you see people dancing, that's an act of celebration. That's expressing yourself in a certain way. That expression is so key to this whole video. It's letting everybody know that there is a positive behind all this."
At the end of the clip Lamar meets an untimely demise by the hands of a cop but the Compton rapper faces the injustice and flashes a smile . "Well, you know, it's all a dream world. So, he's really saying, 'Everything is still gonna be alright,'" Tilley explained. "At the end, really, when he smiled, we were all playing around with the fact that we should just have the chorus come back like, 'We gon' be alright!' But then it would have just kept going. But like I said, it's really all about the positivity. The video starts off so dark and it just progresses and gets lighter and lighter as it goes."
The staff of Consequence of Sound
named this as their Top Song Of 2015. They said: "'Alright' is 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."
Lamar did a striking performance of this song (along with "The Blacker the Berry
") at the Grammy Awards in 2016, where the song won for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. To Pimp A Butterfly
also picked up Best Rap Album.
Speaking to GQ about "Alright" becoming a modern day protest song, Lamar said:
"I was sitting on that record for about six months. The beat's Pharrell. And between my guy Sam Taylor and Pharrell, they would always be like, 'Did you do it? When you gonna do it?' I knew it was a great record - I just was trying to find the space to approach it. I mean, the beat sounds fun, but there's something else inside of them chords that Pharrell put down that feels like - it can be more of a statement rather than a tune. So with Pharrell and Sam asking me - 'Am I gonna rock on it? When I'm gonna rock on it?' - it put the pressure on me to challenge myself. To actually think and focus on something that could be a staple in hip-hop.
And eventually, I came across it. Eventually, I found the right words. You know, it was a lot going on, and still, to this day, it's a lot going on. And I wanted to approach it as more uplifting - but aggressive. Not playing the victim, but still having that We're strong, you know?"