At His Friday Show At The American Airlines Center, Kendrick Lamar Made Everyone In Attendance Feel As If They Were Witnessing Something Special.
Five years ago, before performing at Trees in support of his debut Section.80 LP, Kendrick Lamar stopped by the Dallas streetwear shop Centre for a meet-and-greet with the fans who’d later pack out the venue he was performing at that night.
On Friday, a few hours prior to performing to a packed American Airlines Center — a venue 30 times greater in size than Trees, an increase that’s commensurate with his raised profile — Lamar again stopped by a Dallas streetwear shop. This time, it was at Black Market USA, where he greeted fans who spent their day lining up outside the shop for the chance to buy merchandise for his DAMN. tour in advance of the show itself.
In other words: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Or do they? Maybe. As his career has progressed and his lyrical content has become more charged and increasingly political , one thing that’s remained a constant with Lamar is his clear talent as a rapper. His is a singular voice — when you hear Lamar rapping, there’s never a doubt that it’s anyone but him — but, as his message of strength against civil strife has taken shape (see: “Alright”), that voice has helped transform Lamar into The Voice of His Generation.
Yes, the entire lot: Of the many remarkable things about Lamar’s showcase at the AAC on Friday, the most remarkable was the obvious diversity of his draw. Name a stereotype — hypebeasts, bangers, basic bitches, country bumpkins, whatever — it was present out in the audience at this event. No, it’s not a new thing for performers who provide a voice to a specific set to see their celebrities outgrow their perhaps initially intended audiences, but whereas other performers sometimes inherit an almost voyeuristic crowd, Lamar’s seems to be one that’s genuinely enthralled with the man himself.
To that end, Friday’s performance appropriately highlighted Lamar over all else. Apologies to the inebriated teenager overheard excitedly exclaiming “This is like a play or something what the fuuuuuuuuuuuck?” when he became so enthralled by Lamar’s magnetic stage presence, but this was not Chance The Rapper performing with a stage full of puppets at The Bomb Factory in an offering that felt befitting of Broadway; this was The Kendrick Show through and through.
Following opening sets from Travis Scott and D.R.A.M., Lamar began his show at 9:20, rising up through a hole in an otherwise spartan stage. At times, Lamar would be joined by two other performers — a male ninja and a female dancer — but, for the most part, this was a performance that would be crafted upon stark nothingness, with Lamar the only focal point. Sure, a giant LED screen projected images behind him and, at one point, Lamar would take to an ancillary, in-the-round platform set out in the middle of the arena’s floor for a quick two-song offering, but this set — with few exceptions, like when his stage transformed into the embodiment of a police siren during “XXX.” and “m.A.A.d. city” — largely circled around Lamar stalking a bare-bones stage that lacked even a DJ rocking alongside him.
Curious in the sense that arena shows tend to be spectacles filled with bombast — and at least partly due to the fact that his award show offerings in recent years have indeed included notable theatrical elements — the decision to mostly leave the stage devoid of any distractions from Lamar himself added a real intimacy to the proceedings. During an aside to the audience in which he referenced that Trees show from five years ago, back when he was only performing to “like, 500 people,” intimacy was something the rapper indicated that he misses some these days. But on this night, with little standing between Lamar and his fans except for, well, maybe some other fans, Lamar was able to capture a similar effect.
He is no doubt a cunning artist, something that his music, beginning with his 2012 true breakthrough release of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, has long showcased. And that cunning showed itself here, too: With Lamar at the center, his aforementioned clear rapping abilities were put on a pedestal. In this setting, even with the sound awkwardly reverberating off of the AAC’s walls at times, his voice was enthralling and its percussive characteristics were given their due highlight. Lamar knows his own talents well, too, and he used his body to punctuate his vocal proclivity — a fist bump here, a shoulder bop there — like a maestro leading a symphony.
And Lamar was indeed quite the conductor on this night, leading his adoring crowd through singalongs to hits of including “DNA.,” “King Kunta,” “Swimming Pools,” “Backbeat Freestyle,” “LOYALTY.,” “Money Trees,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and more. Lamar handled the crowd’s desires to shout along with his raps with grace, walking them right up to the points where he wanted them to sing along, then gently letting go of their hands as he let them take the lead. Never was this more clear than during his main set-closing performance of “HUMBLE.,” during which Lamar let the crowd take the lead on the performance from its memorable “My left stroke just went viral!” moment and all the way through the hook. With Lamar looking on in awe as his crowd screamed his words back at him, the crowd experienced what no doubt felt to them like a genuinely special moment — never mind, of course, that this bit is Lamar’s ace in the hole on this tour, a bit he’s repeating at stop after stop like his own version of Kanye West and Jay-Z seeing how many times they can perform “N***** in Paris” in a row during their Watch The Throne tour.
In the end, the only important thing was that this crowd believed that Lamar was giving them something truly special, which is something that he’s been able to accomplish well off the stage and in the recording booth, too. His calculated selection of too lesser DAMN. songs as his encore performances — “FEEL.” and “GOD.” — similarly offered the night an air of spontaneity.
That’s the mark of a real pro: The ability to make every action, no matter how predetermined (including a “surprise” appearance at a streetwear shop), feel special. And, on Friday night at the AAC, Lamar proved himself a real pro, indeed.
He knows not just what his fans want, but how they want it. And, at this show, he gave it to them perfectly.