Kendrick’s natural progression to rap superstar provides for a simply breathtaking night
This is not just any normal concert, tonight is an event. Kendrick Lamar arrives in Birmingham following on from his latest record DAMN which was arguably the most critically acclaimed album of 2017. It’s also the start of his first UK headlining tour since playing the considerably more intimate O2 Academy for ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ way back in 2013. Since then he’s evolved his music substantially, starting with politically charged funk on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, then jazz-soaked poetry with ‘Untitled, Unmastered’ and of course finally the pop hook-filled mix of self-reflection and emotion that is ‘DAMN.’
Over those past five years, he’s also managed to conquer the United States, graduating from playing small sweaty clubs to headlining Coachella with an acclaimed festival stealing performance last year. When it comes to the UK however, Kendrick’s still has a lot to prove and by the look of determination on his face tonight, he knows it.
In the past few years it feels like both the Rap & Hip-Hop genres are becoming vastly over-saturated, this is down to the music being more accessible with a large number of young rappers producing in their bedroom for a low cost. This combined with the easy availability of mixtapes online due to services such as SoundCloud which itself has managed to launch a fair amount of new artists careers over the past decade.
However, there’s a vast difference between rappers that consider themselves visionaries and true artists such as Kanye, Jay-Z and Childish Gambino, all who have changed styles whilst crafting their sound over many years and then acts who are more focused on the short-term success, pumping out repetitive beats year after year such as Migos and Drake. Kendrick is a rare anomaly who manages to absorb a multitude of audiences, both casuals and critics alike, a rarity to the live stage, tonight truly is his chance to prove he deserves to be considered as one of the ‘Greatest of all time.’
Kendrick is an artist of two halves, the man who can erupt mosh pits with a single beat but also someone that can bring tears to your eyes with just a verse. Tonight, through his new persona of ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ (whose story we’re treated to through a series of both hilarious and high budget ‘old school’ styled karate films throughout the night) he manages to combine both of these qualities.
Kendrick has a sharp attention to detail which extends from the screen and it’s meticulously crafted interludes to the stage itself which is left intentionally bare, leaving all of the audiences focus to be placed purely on him, seemingly thriving on the audiences attention. This stripped back subtlety also makes the large arena space feel eerily intimate.
The show starts with a literal bang as Kendrick emerges from the smoke, dressed in Black karate gear to match Kung Fu Kenny’s narrative. Immediately launching into the fast paced intense verses of ‘DNA’ like a bullet from a gun. This high-octane energy continues throughout ‘ELEMENT’ and ‘King Kunta’ as the crowd scream every word back to him, each person giving 110% of this increasing momentum back to him, not at one point in the night does Kendrick allow that level to drop.
What impresses most however is not the single ninja that joins him onstage or the occasional bursts of fire. It’s the aspects of the actual musical performance itself; the live instrumentals where every drumbeat and guitar riff can be heard, Kendrick’s vocals which sound crystal clear allowing you to hear every word and verse, not to mention the minimal use of a backing track. All of these are true rarities at hip hop shows nowadays, Kendrick tonight is more than just a rapper however, he’s an artist and he doesn’t miss a single beat the entire night. It’s truly a sight to see him simultaneously prowling around the stage like a Panther whilst his arms direct the crowd’s participation like a conductor, he literally has them in the palm of his hand.
With over 70 songs from his solo records alone to choose from, the majority of which haven’t been played on these shores it was always going to be difficult to balance the greatest hits whilst incorporating DAMN. Not to mention the change of flow and styles between each album. Kendrick however has made this feel effortless, seemingly using the energy from the opening tracks to propel through and keep the crowds interest in deeper cuts such as ‘Untitled 07’ and ‘New Freezer’ before ramping back up again during fan favourites such as ‘Swimming Pools’ and ‘Backseat Freestyle’.
Much slower paced and more introspective tracks like ‘LUST’ and ‘Money Trees’ are smartly incorporated into the set via a mid section retreat to a second stage deep into the arena, on it he rises slowly out of a cage to tower above his fans, but by now they might as well be his disciples such is their admiration for Lamar.
Kanye once said “Rap is the new Rock N Roll”, Tonight it’s clear what he meant as we’re witness to some of the largest and wildest mosh pits to grace the Genting Arena, It’s sheer bedlam, only for one short moment is there room to breathe as Kendrick levitates above the stage horizontally performing ‘PRIDE’.
Kendrick closes out the night with each of his record’s largest anthems. ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’, ‘Alright’ and an absolutely electric performance of ‘HUMBLE’ in which Kendrick only has to utter a few words before the arena completely takes over, singing every verse and ad lib in unison. After the crowd manage a complete run through of the entire song, an amazed Kendrick restarts and the craziness ensues once again.
He remains silent for the majority of the night, opting to go through song after song at a relentless pace. when ‘HUMBLE’ concludes however, he takes a few moments to quietly absorb in the atmosphere surrounding him, he turns to a young man at the front of the audience who he seemingly remembers, “I recognise you from the beginning of my journey, you was here the first time I came to Birmingham” as he goes on to describe how everyone in the room is more “family than fan” his speech is suddenly drowned out by roars of “Ohh Kendrick Lamarrr” the Seven Nation Army chant that became such a cult chant for Jeremy Corbyn throughout last year is belted at the now bewildered rapper from Compton, a smirk appears across his face as he declares “That’s love y’all”.
Kendrick turns to the side of the stage “They said my time is up… but I’m playing one more… you best not cut off my mic”. Finishing the night on ‘GOD’ as he joyfully dances at the front of the stage to DAMN’s most uplifiting and celebratory track, it’s a fitting end to a triumphant evening. The only question this reviewer is left asking is “What’s Kendrick got left to conquer?”…. Glastonbury perhaps?
untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016
New Freezer [Rich the Kid cover]
Collard Greens [ScHoolboy Q cover]
Swimming Pools (Drank)
FEEL. [Intro only]
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe