Groundbreaking rap artist Kendrick Lamar has been nominated for a stunning 11 GRAMMY awards this year, one shy of Michael Jackson’s record. As part of this year’s “Witness Greatness” campaign for the GRAMMYs, Chiat Day commissioned Matt Baron to capture the essence of Compton, the city that inspired Kendrick Lamar and helped make him the artist he is today. In Matt’s short, we see locals rapping a cappella over Kendrick’s anthem “Alright" culminating with a surprise appearance by Kendrick himself to finish the song. Matt speaks about the vibe of Compton, the inspiration around the project and Kendrick’s influence below.
Tell us a little about this project: how was this project born?
Chiat Day reached out to me with a project they wanted to shoot for the Grammys. From the second I read the brief I knew I wanted to be involved… The concept was essentially to film several residents of Compton singing along to Kendrick’s “Alright” with an eventual small performance by the artist himself. I loved the idea and I really felt we had an opportunity to make something special together.
How did you get access to the keys of Compton?
We had a few key individuals that really helped us get access to Compton. Many people and locations were suggested by Kendrick himself, which was really useful, as it helped guide us to important landmarks and residents that mattered to him and his community. Everyone that we spoke with was really accommodating and enthusiastic and led us to more places and people so it was a great environment for a run and gun shoot.
Were fans and locals eager to get involved? What was the casting process like?
The tricky part about this shoot was only a select few knew that Kendrick would eventually appear in the video and perform. We had to withhold this information because the Compton holiday parade was taking place a few blocks away, and if 18,000 people got wind that Kendrick was doing an impromptu performance we wouldn’t be able to control the crowds that would be sure to arrive. Instead, we had to persuade people to be a part of the video without ever mentioning Kendrick’s name. We also had to get a huge crowd to show up for the final performance. We said there would be a free barbecue for the community after the parade and we were fortunate to have enough people show up. For the individuals, we placed ads on various casting sites with the condition they were Compton residents. On the day, we walked around and also did street casts to get as many performances as possible on camera.
“It was amazing to see how much of a positive voice Kendrick has become in Compton and in the African American community in particular.”
“Alright” has come to represent the voice of huge social movements. What was it like working with such passionate people?
Working on this project was incredibly inspiring. It was amazing to see how much of a positive voice Kendrick has become in Compton and in the African American community in particular. You could really see the way people who partook in the video felt about this song and its lyrics. They were personal, relatable, they had meaning, and I made sure that each person conveyed this in their delivery. This was in no way a “karaoke” session, and if people got too caught up in the vibes of the song as understandable with such a strong track, I would ask them to stop and think about what the words meant to them. We had people isolate lines that were especially meaningful to them and this made the performances authentic and often chilling.
“So many people we shot were in some way or another giving back to their community, active people of change, and that was really inspiring.”
What was Compton like?
I had never been to Compton before, but like most people I had seen a lot of movies and listened to songs that portrayed it, so I definitely came in with expectations. Those expectations instantly rocked. Everyone was so nice and enthusiastic. There was definitely a feeling of a city that was evolving and looking to the future with bright excitement. Having grown up in NYC where people are quite closed, it was refreshing to see a place that had such a strong sense of community. The residents were so proud to be from Compton and their shared experience seemed to bring everyone closer. So many people we shot were in some way or another giving back to their community, active people of change, and that was really inspiring.
How long did this project take?
We shot the project over two and a half days and had only had a few days for prep.
Considering the tremendous amount of talent, extras and locations needed to pull this shoot off, I think our production team, especially Christian Nurse and Alexander Needles deserve extra praise. It was definitely a guerrilla style job but I think the final outcome benefited from it.
Seems that the video is about to go crazy viral....?
I would hope so! We were lucky enough to get the opportunity to shoot a film that hits the important issues at the right time with influential talent. So I think anytime those ingredients come together you have the opportunity to make something that will be seen by many people, and hopefully speak to them as well.