Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Element’, Directed by Jonas Lindstroem and The little Homies
“A self-reflective music video. It consists of theme inspired snippets that visually capture and represent the intrinsic element of archetypes in America’s black demographic”
Originality – 4.5
Cleverness – 4
Entertainment – 3.5
The story has an ever-revolving narrative rather than a traditional terminative one seeing as the beginning is most likely a double-ended sequel to the the latter events of the story.
The story revolves around a kid who witnesses violence and death in the projects. He’s forcefully taught to fight and is naturally exposed to weapons and the ills surrounding him. This peaks his curiosity (as kids always strive to act as grown-ups) which lends him to play around with weapons. However, once he witnesses death firsthand, he repents with clear white water (cleansing himself).
The first shot (the most important shot) acts as a sequel that implies that cleansing himself of the ills plaguing the projects allow him rise from the water (that is the ghetto), freeing him. His head is then shoved into the water implying that he’s being forced back into the projects (hence he shouts) and not long later he drowns in the water (dies in the projects). The constant nature of the plot reflects how repetitive the narrative plays out in reality.
Jonas Lindstroem came out with a mind-blowing circular narrative style film for this song and the loop epitomizes how self-reflective the video is as it pretty much describes every other rapper that escapes the hood only to return to their demise. This also acts as an unconventional mode of storytelling seeing as lengthy symbolic snippets aren’t usually associated with enlightening pieces of work within music videos. The snippets are nevertheless entertaining, used here to much more avail (representation wise – more on this later) and the manipulation of the visual speed emphasizes the reflective nature of the video.
The groundbreaking element of this video is how the clips not only tell a story but are also symbols that represent an underlying social commentary which Kendrick and the little homies are relaying to the projects. Not only are they portraying the life of a black boy growing up in the ghetto (and providing insight for the violent nature), it also captures the ‘element’ of all parts of that demographic: the man, child and woman.
The ‘element’ of the population:
The Child: The innocent. Curious and guilt ridden. The institutionalization and curiosity is what leads the kid to violence and guns which should aid his transition to a violent man. (However, after seeing death, this one refrains).
The Woman: The saint. Passive, quiet and carrying good intentions and sentiment.
The Man: Violent, aggressive, disharmonious. Their fiery nature is what leads them to violent pitfalls (live by the hands, die by the hands).
Every time we see these people on the screen, they re-enact a situation or provide a look that implies and imposes the characteristics listed to their archetype. Kendrick however, embodies them all.
There are hyper-sexualised films and hyper-violent ones, the technique of over-saturation is one that incentivizes the audience to question their (primitive) awe and urges for such. This piece of work provides an alternative path for its target audience (the kids bro), it points them towards a path of refraining from the violence they see and coerces them to a better life. This also shows how the youth have to keep away from the vicious cycle that ‘old heads’ have ingrained in them. Kendrick, already institutionalized, still indulges in the ‘hood rat stuff’ whilst preaching idealistic values for kids. He’s the type to order a person’s death then drop the phone to talk to the kids about gun control (XXX), he’s a walking contradiction but at least now we know why (it’s in his DNA).
The use of water and the color blue are utmostly significant in the video. The bland light sea blue is constantly used in the shots and it’s the key to understanding the metaphorical ‘water shots’ which have great representational value. The sea is used to represent the projects constantly and clear white water is used to represent ‘cleansing’. This makes the video snippets have numerous allusions. One of them being that the dead body floating in the sea is everyone in the projects (their environment is drowning them) but it’s possible to fight (in the good sense) and swim to the top where you can reach nirvana.
Alternative Facts: the man’s head in the water could alternatively be attempted baptism but him shouting implies its impossible to do so since he’s old and stuck in his ways.
The fun part. The shots look extremely crisp and cool and the use of the color blue is not only a representation of the hood but a visual tone setting since blue is associated with sadness and depression…think the blues. This only makes sense seeing how the story plays out.
The ‘Damn.’ shot, which came out of nowhere, was especially suave and sort of functioned as a GIF version of the album cover. Sexy indeed.
That was the funk handed to us by Kung Fu Kenny himself. ‘Nuff said, it’s a wrap.