Kendrick Lamar is truly a voice to reckoned with in hip hop right now. Rising up in the last half decade to just knock genre fans on their ass by shedding genre tropes that normally haunt hip hop and using his unique approach as a writer and vocalist (count how many “voices” Kendrick uses on rap compared to other rappers. He is like a one-man Wu-Tang Clan). Between that and the power of his lyrics and videos, it can easily be said Lamar is one of the strongest voices in modern music, and he uses his voice and celebrity for a reason. He educates while he entertains. Paints us all a picture of a life we may not have ever experienced, and paints it so vividly clear we can smell the cinder in the air.
As many have noted, KL’s most recent “Damn” album is a masterwork, and the music videos he has released in the wake of "Damn" have also left a great many of us speechless. But which ones are the best and which ones are the worst? Damn, that is tough as they are all so fucking good.
But (and there is always a butt in hip hop)
That is exactly what we are here to try to do. Best to worst Kendrick’s "Damn" videos that have released, thus far.
Side note, even Kendrick’s “worst” videos on this list are better than 90% of visuals coming out of music right now, so we are using “worst” here with quotes for a reason. His worst is still better than some other cat’s best.
Disclaimer: Seriously, ALL of these music videos are unreal so it is not so much best to worst as best to least best which is still to say, hype as fuck. Compiling this was hard AF! This was as close to a three-way-tie as something can get.
Having the brass balls to recreate da Vinci’s last Supper with yourself and your squad. That image alone is what places Humble at the top of the list. Yes, D.N.A may throw an amazing Don Cheadle performance at us, and Element may show us a violent life most of us are lucky enough to not know, but the music video for Humble is like Kanye West’s Runaway video. It is pure art. Compare the two and how they both use iconic images to resonate with the viewer. It is getting to the point when three minute music videos are getting better than feature-length films.
Humble holds the same kind of visual high water mark as Runaway. It uses images to tell a story but a non-linear, more symbolic story of struggle and self-doubt mixed with the backdrop of an oppressive and/or elitist society.
Doesn’t hurt that the song (like all his songs) is tighter than a balloon knot’s asshole (that’s a thing), and that he has the balls to embrace some of the imagery he does shows how brave he is. Kendrick is one of those dudes who really needs to use a wheelbarrow to carry his balls around with him when he goes out. Humble is a shining example of an artist EARNING the title artist, in every sense of the word.
That effect (@ 0:46) is unreal, too. Do not be surprised if some “major director” steals that shot conceptually for a film. Happens commonly in this medium, sadly, especially to the TRUE artists like Kendrick Lamar.
Speaking of true art (and true urban grit)....
Just the opening shot of this video (Christ-like hand rising up out of the murky water) lets you know you are buckling in for a ride, and you have no idea where it is taking you but you are 100% sticking with this shit.
What then follows is a glimpse into urban life that most wouldn’t understand or relate to from the safety of their cul-de-sacs. You see fathers teaching sons how to fight. You see the bloodied end result of what we assume is a brawl, but never really know. The video is so primed with sweat and blood, you can almost smell the burning crosses and metal-esque scent of blood, heavy in the air while you watch.
Whereas Humble is more like a collage of abstract thought and notion, made to look beautiful even at its grimiest, Element plays off the same ideals of short-shots and quick, tight angles for its cinematography, but is more sickening in the sense that it lands you closer to violence than would normally allow yourself to be. It doesn’t glorify violence, though. That is key to understanding this video. It slows it down and shows you how nasty and useless it truly is, make no mistakes. Also, someone has to say it, you don’t need to see the bloodied African American man on the pavement and then a shot of four cops standing around, (shot from his lower angle) to put the two together. The message is clear and powerful, but NOT shoved down our throats.
It makes a world that seems unbelievable suddenly palpable to very many who, moments before watching Element, had no idea this shit was really real, like everyday real for some people. Some hip hop “artists” may seem like they’re playing ‘roles’, but regardless, the message is as real as death itself.
That “flying off roof of building shot" at the end of the video and the underwater Christ pose shot (@ 2:20) are breathtaking, too.
Guess I know why he named the album that now.
“You know what D.N.A stands for?” Damn, the way Don Cheadle delivers that line and the utterly disgraceful follow up line I refuse to type here is just staggering. It reminds me of the boombox scene in Do The Right Thing. This video is a profound examination of race relations in our country right now, and shows that the powerful can remain powerful, even when choosing not to speak at first.
While it could be said Kendrick is pulling some Jedi shit here on Don Cheadle, it could also be a play off the fact that Cheadle’s character was “awoken” in that moment, to just who he was, the power he had, and the role he chose to take versus the path that could’ve been paid out for him.
And then to see the video turn into an on-and-off exchange between the two is just badass. It is like Kendrick is in a rap battle against himself.
Then we get the payoff and see the final exchange between the two before Lamar leaves (did HE just tell Cheadle that opening D.N.A line? DAAAAMMMMNNN) and hits the streets with his crew, barking more aggressively at the camera then ever before.
It is a very powerful examination on race and influence, and even as genius as it is, it is simple enough that it places last ONLY BECAUSE the other two hit with a southpaw that is just a little but more impactful, though the creativity on display here is astounding in concept and execution.
Huge props to Don Cheadle for his performance here, too. Spitting Kendrick’s lines At Kendrick and the viewer feeling it, that is some remarkable acting, without a doubt. Ain't seen that much
swagger on screen since Training Day Denzel, real fucking talk.
But then he gets taken down a few pegs by our boy K and the fun really begins.
Damn, this should be in second place but I can’t rewrite this for a fifth time. Like I said, compiling this shit was hard, and obviously I am still tied about it.
There is no such thing as a bad Kendrick Lamar video. Even the worst of the best are still the best, dude is THAT good. He uses his fame and influence to educate, and that puts him tiers above most “artists” out there, notice we used quotes again.
Kendrick Lamar is a true artist. Those others, not so much.