Produced by Mark "Sounwave" Spears ("Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"), this politically charged funk track finds Lamar rapping about the Kunta Kinte character from the famed Roots mini-series:
Now I run the game got the whole world talkin', King Kunta Everybody wanna cut the legs off him
The African Kunta Kinte was brought as a slave from Gambia to Virginia in 1767. The story of Kinte, whose right foot was cut off because of his attempts to escape his plantation. is the basis of Alex Haley's novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which was made into a popular TV mini-series in 1977.
"It's just him expressing how he's feeling at the moment," Sounwave told Rolling Stone of Lamar. "And right now, he's mad."
The song was first mentioned back in October 2014 when former Entourage music supervisor Scott Vener revealed in a series of tweets that he heard some of Lamar's new material when he was visiting Pharrell Williams in the studio. Lamar happened to be there as well and he previewed some of his upcoming record to the pair. Vener said this track took him, "all the way back to '90s hip-hop and back and gave me a tour of the cultural fabric of L.A. like never before."
Vener also commented that Williams praised the track by calling it, "so unapologetically black and AMAZING."
Shot in Lamar's hometown of Compton, California and helmed by Director X (Kanye West, Drake, Nicki Minaj), the music video finds K-Dot taking us on a journey throughout city's underbelly.
We see the MC rapping from the roof of the Compton Swap Meet, a store he says he visited frequently while growing up in the area. Those shots purposely connect with 2Pac's "California Love" video, whose opening scene at the Compton Swap Meet was witnessed by a young Kendrick. (He was in the crowd watching his idol shoot the clip). "I just went back to that same Compton Swap Meet, jumped on the roof of the Compton Swap Meet and shot 'King Kunta' there," Lamar told MTV News. "And all them kids was out looking and a good friend of mine said, 'You was one of them kids looking at 'Pac when he was up here doing that; now they're looking at you.'"
Lamar told MTV News: "I've been called many things growing up. In the state of just being a black man, I've been called many things. From my ancestors, they've been called many things. But it's taking that negativity and being proud of it and making it to your own. Saying I am a king no matter what you call me."
The original version of the song was much jazzier. Sounwave recalled to Spin: "Me, I was like, 'This is it! We got it right here.' Me and Kendrick, we always work very hands on together, and this track, I just knew it. And I was waiting for his reaction as he was listening to it, thinking, 'Yes, this is it.' And he's like, 'It's cool… but… I want it a little more nasty.' And I was like, 'What are you talking about? This is like the most beautiful thing I've ever made.' And he was like, 'Just, trust me on this. Simplify it.'"
"I ended up stripping a bunch of stuff off; I took all ten guitars off, and it just left one little bass line, and once I did that, I understood 100 percent exactly where he wanted to go with it. He's a genius, he really should have got credit on it, but he was being modest - as long as the art was there, he was happy. A lot of people will never hear the original but it was, like, the jazziest record in the world. And it ended up being one of the nastiest records in the world."
Describing the track to NME, Lamar explained that it was, "the story of struggle and standing up for what you believe in. No matter how many barriers you gotta break down, no matter how many escape routes you gotta run to tell the truth. That's what I think we all can relate to."
"Just being the most confident in the things that I wrote and the ideas that I have," he continued. "Going back to the essence of being a true lyricist at heart."