Kendrick Lamar’s “Element” Music Video Does Not Make Violence Look Sexy
Kung Fu Kenny extends the flawless streak of videos that began around “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
Published on June 29, 2017

“Element,” a James Blake-produced highlight on Kendrick Lamar’s stellar DAMN., is built around a hook that centers on the unforgettable line, “If I gotta slap a pussy ass n**** I’ma make it look sexy.” Those lyrics have already spawned memes aplenty, and now they seem to have formed the basis for the song’s video too. 

Past DAMN. visuals “Humble” and “DNA” have focused on high falutin symbolism and expressive acting performances, respectively, and by comparison, the “Element” video is relatively straightforward. The focus here is hand-to-hand combat, and directors Jonas Lindstroem, Dave Free, and Lamar (the last two under their alias “The Little Homies”) offer us a picture of what it means to young men growing up in Kendrick’s neighborhood. 

We see a father instructing his son how to properly deliver blows, a synchronized phalanx of well-dressed young men punching the air at Tai Chi speed, a couple of textbook hook-to-the-jaws (one delivered by Kendrick), and a group of men packed into a car quickly hop out for an altercation, with those who aren’t immediately involved filming the event on their phones. This isn’t necessarily presented as a linear progression, but it could be-- childhood, school, coming-of-age, climax.

Other scenes lurk in the margins, providing context for the violence. Houses burn, a very White Nationalist-looking group of inmates leers out of a cell, cops steal glances, nuns’ eyes judge, the father who once instructed his son lies bloodied in the street. These, the video seems to say, will be waiting for you even if you “make it look sexy.”

Once again, Kendrick extends the flawless streak of videos that began around To Pimp a Butterfly. Stylistically, he’s attempting things that most other music videos shy away from these days, and visually, he’s putting together at least a few perfect shots per video. Even if you’ve played DAMN. ad nauseum at this point, it’s relieving to know that Kendrick will give you a million new things to think about with each new video. 

Patrick Lyons
Patrick Lyons is a music writer based in Portland who is equally enthralled by black metal and Southern rap-- catch him making maddeningly eclectic choices on the aux cord.
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