Weird rap fact: Kendrick Lamar made a song called "War Is My Love," for the 2012 video game Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
For all the track's mediocrity, one line stood out, even then — he began the song by asking the listener to "look inside my eyes and tell me you see a warrior."
Dubious corporate sponsorship aside, Kendrick's spent much of his career asking some form of that question. Over and over again, he's challenged listeners to look at him as a person and question his authenticity. In fact, sometimes that question sounds more like an accusation than a friendly prod, like the first question in an interrogation.
Which makes the setting of Lamar's newly released video for "DNA.," a standout from his new album DAMN., so fitting.
The video begins with an intense Don Cheadle remarking, "Kendrick Lamar, two first names, huh? The fuck is up with that?"
Quickly, things get crazy. Cheadle and Kendrick start rapping the lyrics to the Mike WiLL-produced banger over an interrogation table equipped with an imploding polygraph machine. On surface, the video is just cool — it looks nice, it has Don Cheadle in it, it's well acted, it has Don Cheadle in it. But it also adds a layer of depth to a song — and album — that doesn't prioritize clarity.
Just being able to look into the rapper's eyes — like in the video's second half, where Kendrick glares directly into the camera as he spits bar after bar after bar after bar — you can see the intensity behind lyrics like, "You ain't sick enough to pull it on yourself / You ain't rich enough to hit the lot and skate." There's pain and confidence and most importantly, conflict.
The lyrics on DAMN. are notably cryptic, using repetition and wordplay to explore political, social and personal themes. But the video does something the album can't — it shows, rather than tells. The themes are spelled out for you, rather than hinted at through lyrical subtext. The malfunctioning polygraph is a symbol of truthfulness, the second half shows Kendrick's link to his community — all things that make up his "DNA."
For an album as dense as DAMN., videos like these can help contextualize and explore the music in clearer terms. In fact, as you watch the "DNA." video, it's hard not to imagine DAMN. as a Beyoncé-style visual album.
Which would be really, really good. But if that's not an option, let's at least get a few more of these videos, Kenny.