Kendrick Lamar may not have dropped a whole second album on Easter Sunday, but he’s still releasing new material: On Tuesday he gave us “DNA.,” a video for the second song off his new album DAMN.. Directed by Nabil Elderkin, it’s a gripping condemnation of racist lies told by the media.
On “DNA.,” K. Dot celebrates his personal history, as well as black history and culture, all of which he says is in his DNA (the video reveals a double meaning for the acronym). The song samples a 2015 clip of Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera saying that “hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism.” While the song can be heard as a more general critique of insincerity and inherited privilege (“Heritage inside your DNA / Backbone don’t exist […] / See, my pedigree most definitely don’t tolerate the front.”), the video more specifically rips apart media dishonesty.
In the video, actor Don Cheadle — whom you may know as Marvel’s War Machine or any number of memorable roles — interrogates an arrested Lamar, who sits calmly beside a lie detector machine. As Cheadle activates the machine, Fox News commentary about Lamar’s song “Alright” starts to play, and the lie detector needle stars whirring frantically (in “polygraph tests” like this, the machine draws large lines when it detects potential falsehoods).
Cheadle, overwhelmed by the force of these lies, becomes possessed by the spirit of Lamar’s sincerity. He begins to rap the lyrics to “DNA.” and imitate his body movements. The two men take turns spitting out the words of “DNA.” at each other until finally, K. Dot wins; on the line “salute the truth,” the truth triumphs, and Cheadle releases Lamar. Kendrick leaves to finish the song in a new outro not found on the studio version of the track, and ScHoolboy Q punches the camera in a powerful closing shot.
Authenticity is a theme throughout DAMN.; on “Humble,” which also has an awesome accompanying video, Kendrick unloads on what he sees as a fake, egotistical society.
Watch “DNA.” here: