Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly album continues to reveal itself as one of the most complex musical works in years. Nearly every song on the LP seems to function as several metaphors, at once. Perhaps none are more intricate than the two minute interlude, “For Free?”
At first listen, the interlude is Kendrick’s response to a woman who seemingly only wants him for his money, as is made clear in her “what have you done for me lately” intro. With several refrains of “this dick ain’t free,” he lists the copious things he’s done for “her,” with no compensation, letting her know that she’s more than gotten the better of their exchange. Digging deeper, however, it’s also clear that the song is Kendrick’s statement about America and how it was built on the backs of Blacks, for free. He talks about past captivity to present (“Livin’ in captivity raised my cap salary,” “I need forty acres and a mule,Not a forty ounce and a pitbull,” “Oh America, you bad bitch, I picked cotton that made you rich, Now my dick ain’t free”).
As complicated as the song may be, the video is even more layered. It is filled with stereotypes from the old, white, patriarchal Uncle Sam, to Sherane to lawn jockeys. Clearly intended to be provocative, Kendrick ends the short but dense clip by re-claiming America for himself.