Music

Kendrick Lamar - "For Free? (Interlude)" (video)

Kendrick Lamar has released a new video from the lauded To Pimp a Butterfly and it has sparked a lively conversation.

As a painfully white dude, I feel like there's a pretty finite amount of value I can bring to the conversation around Kendrick Lamar's latest opus so I'm sure everyone will take this for what it's worth. One of the many beauties of To Pimp a Butterfly is its brazen complexity. The album is a extended celebration of blackness that refuses to elide the conflict and contradictions inherent in that identity that are often suppressed for one reason or another in American national discourse. The fact that Kendrick can release an interlude like "For Free" as a single showcases not only the album's ridiculous depth, but also his deftness as a songwriter. It's a 2:13 double entendre about both the worth of black males in relationships and the insidiousness poisoning of black culture by American consumerism. That would be impressive enough but to back the whole thing with some straight-up jazz riffing from Robert Glasper and still make it commercially viable in 2015 is nothing short of spectacular. Kendrick's albums seem to be generating a prodigious output of singles like Michael Jackson in his heyday and it's just as thrilling now as it must have been then. -- JOHN M. TRYNESKI (8/10)

(8 of 10)

Is Lamar hoping for a second wave of intrigue for his much discussed To Pimp a Butterfly? What a peculiar song to pick for a video. In an album of uncomfortable moments, the girlfriend of this song, decked out on a mansion with a feather boa in the video, is one of the most irksome for me, even though she’s essentially a stand in for the U.S.’s queasy relationship with black male celebrity. And it seems like this reductive role could become a target for the quickfire liberal attack squads pacing up for backlash season (Lamar already, ridiculously, has FoxNews on his jock, why not add Jezebel?). Of course, Lamar’s lament here is ineffable, un-F-withable, an exhausting, dizzying, breathless admonishment of the quick, cheap shortcuts American society has taken between its various forms of black exploitation. That this oppressive force is manifested as a nagging, never-satisfied gold-digging black woman, itself a stereotype as ancient and difficult to circumvent (not to mention overly prevalent in hip-hop), is all manners of problematic -- which I’m sure Lamar knows -- and why packaging this track between “King Kunta” and “Wesley’s Theory” on To Pimp a Butterfly gave it the much-needed context that’s not qualified here. However, to reduce Lamar to institutionalized misogyny on an album that’s essentially about how we’re all constantly being gamed against one another is to quickly lose the script. Terrace Martin’s manic jazz and Lamar’s silver tongue together form an epic blitz against white supremacy’s reigns. So go on and stream it, but this hit ain’t free. -- TIMOTHY GABRIELE (9/10)

At first with the sax solo, I thought Kendrick is covering Joni Mitchell's classic tune of the same name. But no such luck; it's the same old misogynist rap crap bathed in good beats. Look, she's a sexy beast. Oh, but she's greedy. My dick is worth more than her whole body. Yes the song is short and snappy. The lyrics are funny. It's just a damn shame it is all in the service of putting down hos as a way of feeling more manly. Give it a 5, which is probably larger than that dick whose length he brags about. -- STEVE HOROWITZ (5/10)

Like eating a copy of Infinite Jest while rolling naked in a bath full of candy floss and pornography while inhaling laughing gas through your kneecaps, this is idiotic, terrible, obnoxious, brilliant, rude, clever, foul, ridiculous, and as such is easily the best single I’ve heard in ages. Kendrick ghosts around a mansion atonally exclaiming, “this dick ain’t free", to a scattershot jazz backing. And that's it. The final line is smart, but don’t let that put you off. -- PAUL DUFFUS (9 of 10)

This a great music video, that really picks up on the manic energy of the track from the quick jump cuts and juxtaposition of ugly racist caricatures. It’s a quick 2:12 but you wish it lasted a lot longer. -- ANDREW CROWLEY (10/10)

Aside from “i,” this is the only Kendrick Lamar track I’ve heard, and like that one, this one is masterful. The contrast of elaborate jazz/swing music and incredibly sexual/vulgar lyrics (which are, stereotypically, a major part of mainstream hip-hop in general) is hilarious, as it seems like Lamar is offering self-aware satire of his stylistic siblings. There’s a certain kind of humorous irony here that makes it very clever and inventive, with Lamar celebrating the inherent lunacy and redundancy of being so aggressive and sexual in the genre. On a technical note, his flow and wordplay are fantastic too. It’s a simple interlude as well, so it can’t be judged as a full track (which is to say that if it were, say, twice a long, it would outstay its welcome, but as a brief jolt of creativity, it works). Based on these two tracks alone, I really want to check out the rest of To Pimp a Butterfly. -- JORDAN BLUM (9/10)

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