Kendrick Lamar was two hours of pure fire in Melbourne last night

Kendrick Lamar was two hours of pure fire in Melbourne last night

It took about 90 seconds for Kendrick Lamar to utter his first words on the opening leg of his Australian tour last night. Instead, he stalked the stage for what seemed like an eternity, only threatening to step up to the mic, while the crowd’s chant of “Kendrick, Kendrick” merged seamlessly and without prompting into the #blacklivesmatter rallying cry “We gon’ be alright”.

When he finally opened his mouth, the words came tumbling out: This. Dick. Ain’t. Free. Kendrick wasn’t talking about his literal dick, but the machinations of an industry that values exploitation over artistry. “Thanks for letting me make this album with no radio singles,” he later told the crowd in a three-minute monologue about self-love and positivity, but also the difficulties he went through while making his most recent odyssey To Pimp A Butterfly.

The fact he’s touring such a complicated album – “about overcoming my own personal fears, my own personal responsibilities, and looking in the mirror and facing them” – in arenas as big as this defies conventional logic. And while the crowd’s energy levels were noticeably higher for the Good Kid, M.A.A.D City cuts, the more exploratory work from To Pimp A Butterfly – from the rapid-fire beat poetry of ‘U’ and ‘For Free?’ – was lapped up with fervour as well.

Was this an indication of how far his audience has progressed as listeners from the gangster boom-bap of Section.80? Who knows. But as Kendrick himself said: “You’re not here because you believe in me. You’re here because I believe in every single one of y’all.” Preach.

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One of the architects of To Pimp A Butterfly’s rich sonic tapestry, the LA saxophonistKamasi Washington, opened the show with a support set that furthered his credentials as the man most likely to bring jazz to the masses in 2016. Washington cut an immense figure, wearing a flowing robe and leading his amazing band – featuring members of the West Coast Get Down, vocalist Patrice Quinn and Thundercat’s big bro Ronald Bruner Jr on drums – through a tiny cross-section of his 173-minute opus The Epic.

Washington even brought out his “pops” Rickey Washington for the emphatic closer ‘The Rhythm Changes’, but it was Bruner Jr who stole the show with a powerhouse drum solo, which saw him lose two sticks and pound a cymbal right off the riser.

While Washington was a central figure on the album’s recording, his rumoured cameo never came. Instead, the horn parts and dense orchestrations were recreated by a team of men hovering over laptops side of stage, while Kendrick’s fresh-faced band were sometimes subsumed by the Motorhead-loud samples. (Rappers are the new rock stars, right?) “This is gonna be the loudest motherfucking show you ever seen in your life,” Kendrick announced right after M.A.A.D City centrepiece ‘Money Trees’, which was pitch-shifted to accommodate his sung second verse vocals.

The band added some extra bottom-end heft to ‘King Kunta’ and brought the funk to ‘These Walls’, but this was Kendrick’s stage to own. On his last Australian tour for Eminem’s Rapture non-festival in 2014, you got the feeling his humility was the only thing holding him back from upstaging the Marshall Mathers show.

Two years later, and it’s hard to imagine any rapper – or artist – doing what Kendrick did tonight with so little. Clad in a black hoodie and backed by a fairly bog standard light show, he commanded us to raise our hands, and we listened. He put us through a three-part loyalty test that culminated in “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, and we passed. And when he told us to get on our feet and dance during the revelatory ‘i’, the place literally bounced.

When Kanye toured My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – an album of similar scope and complexity to To Pimp A Butterfly – he brought out a giant cherry-picker and ballet dancers. Some may confuse Kendrick’s comparatively sparse set-up with a lack of Yeezus-like ambition, but it ties into something bigger he mentioned in passing last night. “Me and you are the same,” he told us with all the intensity of one of his his firebrand rap songs. It seems no matter how high his star continues to rise, this boy from Compton will always be a man of the people.

Source : Faster Louder by Darren Levin

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