August 4, 2017
Photo by Tom Dellinger.
“Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide,” are the first words uttered at the beginning of “BLOOD.,” Kendrick Lamar’s opening track on his latest DAMN. record. He tells the story of a blind woman revealing herself to be the devil or a demon, shooting the rapper and casting him into the depths of hell, I believe. For about 53 minutes after, the listener gets entangled in Lamar’s mind, constantly sifting through his cluttered thoughts, his insecurities, and his fears. DAMN. is arguably Lamar’s most inconsistent record. There’s no storyline to follow like on good kid, m.A.A.d city and neither does he carry the declaration of black power and pride as he displayed on To Pimp a Butterfly.
DAMN. yet again presents the listener with a revamped Lamar. See, we have here a very familiar man but with a completely different mindset. This one being a tormented rapper swallowed up by the industry he’s in and feeling completely lost or abandoned by his god for his greed and vanity. Meanwhile, Lamar seems to be competing with his contemporaries’ radio friendly sound. Trap beats, luscious rap pop, and trap soul are scattered throughout. Drake, Bryson Tiller, Future, and a bit of The Weeknd come to mind in terms of the flavors offered on DAMN. Nonetheless, this reviewer thinks that Lamar takes those sounds and arguably outdoes these artists. He most certainly out-raps Drake and Future. Because even though DAMN. suffers from a compromised sound, there’s still razor sharp bars on here to be amazed at with “DNA.” or “FEEL.” or even the incredible origin story of “DUCKWORTH.”
Lamar has been on an album roll not too many rappers have these days. When Outkast, Eminem, 2Pac, A Tribe Called Quest, and Jay-Z were releasing records they felt less like compilations and more like tightly knit musical journeys handled with care. Since the debut of Section.80, the rapper has crafted wonderful records that aren’t just vehicles for hit singles.
With this DAMN. tour, Lamar handpicks many tracks off the new album but also includes old gems that sound cinematic when played to a live audience. First off, Kendrick has created an alter ego for DAMN. called “Kung-Fu Kenny,” a reference from Rush Hour 2. So, his shows start like an old Bruce Lee film. Two giant screens displayed Lamar in full kung fu uniform, listening to sage advice from an old Chinese kung fu master, by the looks of it.
After a giant explosion rocked the Oracle, a clip of a few Fox News anchors bashing Lamar’s 2015 BET performance (and utterly embarrassingly themselves) kicked off the night. The banger “DNA.” was Lamar’s first song of the night. A masterfully performed tracked where Kendrick picks apart the black man’s DNA as containing “pain,” “ambition,” “riches,” “royalty,” among other things. “ELEMENT.” followed, a track that zooms in on some of what Kendrick brought up on the last song. He flexes his muscles here, telling the listener of his position in the rap game.
The bouncey “King Kunta” got many cheers. The single from To Pimp a Butterfly was one of Lamar’s most celebrated tracks to date. Then the gooey and eerie “untitled 07 | 2014-2016,” a leftover song from the Butterfly sessions, kicked off a wild dance party from everyone there.
Two songs that Lamar has features in were performed. The smash hit “Mask Off” from Future and fellow Top Dawg Entertainment rapper – ScHoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens.”. Lamar breezed by these two songs, offering his full, uncut verses leaving room for the choruses for the audience to enjoy. Lamar was humbled by the audience, offering his gratitude for those that have been with him since “day one.” He followed this speech with two songs that helped Lamar achieve mainstream success in 2012 – “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Backseat Freestyle” are two wildly popular earworms that are so much fun to sing out loud. We claimed our loyalty to Lamar and he saluted us back with “LOYALTY.” This buzzing, sexy anthem off DAMN. features a very smooth verse from Rihanna.
While the audience was enthralled by two kung fu masters fighting it out on stage, Lamar snuck off to his B-stage for “LUST.” and “Money Trees.” In the middle of the Oracle Arena, Lamar’s platform gave him wings. He looked upon his audience, spitting more excellent verses.
Once again, Lamar’s alter ego flashed on screen, this time Kung-Fu Kenny and a woman were trapped in a Mortal Kombat style game, moving like the characters in an arcade game. Only the first verses of “XXX.” and “m.A.A.d city” were performed shortly after. Lamar gave us permission to shine our lights for “LOVE.” The entire arena was lit during the song, it was as if the sun came out.
Finally, the night wrapped up with the sultry “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” the roaring “Alright,” and “HUMBLE.” The latter track had the entire audience singing the song’s chorus a capella. All of a sudden, the music stops but people continued rapping along. Lamar was astonished. You can tell this bit was added for this tour, however, I believe when you have thousands of strangers rap to your songs in front of you, the feeling of amazement doesn’t quite go away. He encored with “GOD.,” the final track off DAMN. and poof! He was gone.
D.R.A.M. and Travis Scott supported Kendrick Lamar that night. D.R.A.M.’s set was short and sweet. He performed seven songs, the last three his huge viral hits “Cash Machine,” “Cha Cha,” and the Lil Yachty featured “Broccoli.” The crowd erupted for the latter track. Travis, on the other hand, played a collection of 18 songs. His enticing “pick up the phone” and the groggy “Antidote” were fan favorites. He threw in a bit of Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and SZA’s “Love Galore.”
Setlist: DNA. | ELEMENT. | King Kunta | untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016 | Mask Off (Future cover) | Collard Green (ScHoolboy Q cover) | Swimming Pools (Drank) | Backseat Freestyle | LUST. | Money Trees | XXX. | LOYALTY. | PRIDE. | m.A.A.d city | LOVE. | Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe | Alright | HUMBLE. | | GOD.
For more information about Kendrick Lamar, check out his Facebook page.