Home Music Review: Kendrick Lamar takes a victory lap

Review: Kendrick Lamar takes a victory lap

by Sarah Jesmer August 27, 2017
Review: Kendrick Lamar takes a victory lap

The show highlighted Lamar’s appreciation for dance, martial arts and, most of all, his fans

The DAMN. tour hit Montreal Thursday night, and it did not disappoint. Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar showcased his new album while incorporating an appreciation for martial arts culture and a gratitude for his fans.

The show opened with a light-hearted performance by DRAM, who danced along with the crowd in front of bright neon lights. Through and through, DRAM performed with a massive smile on his face to hits like “I Like To Cha-Cha” and the infamous “Broccoli.” He shimmied off stage to greet the crowd, which gave way to the confident YG.

I never realized how many songs I knew by YG, and it felt like I was in a club somewhere on St-Laurent Blvd. in 2015 — especially when he set up a fake strip club booth, complete with two stand-alone stripper poles and dancers to grind with.

YG’s set was mostly about having fun and getting “f**ked up.” His performance of “FDT,” which stands for “F**k Donald Trump,” was the only exception. YG brought out a Trump impersonator to open the outspoken song.

“This crowd is very big,” the impersonator said over continuous boos from the audience. “It’s almost as big as the KKK meeting I just came from.” YG chased the impersonator off the stage, and the crowd belted out the simple lyrics to the infamous song.

Aside from the YG song, I thought the show was going to be more political than it ended up being, which the audience clearly appreciated.

The DAMN. album has a much stronger political tone than Lamar’s older projects, but he never made America’s current political climate a focal point of the show. It really felt more like a victory tour for Lamar, with a set list packed full of timeless hits, art and a focus on having a memorable time with his audience.

Lamar draws heavily on his alter ego, Kung Fu Kenny, in DAMN. and in concert. I talked to some people before the show at his pop-up shop in Montreal. One of the things fans kept mentioning was Lamar’s tendency to assume different characters in his music.

“To me, there’s a relevance [between Kendrick’s lyrical themes and Canadian life]. I grew up in Montreal North, so there’s a lot of gang violence going on. Not as much as in Compton, but I’ve seen all that going on. So to see him rap about it without glorifying all that gangster stuff is really refreshing to me.”

— Anonymous Montreal native

A DAMN. album lyric is pictured on a fan’s hat as he stands in line at the pop-up shop in Montreal. Photo by Sarah Jesmer

Lamar’s set opened with a short video where he’s learning from a wise master, gathering wisdom about who he, Kung-Fu Kenny, is and what he’s capable of. It was reminiscent of the type of stop-and-go storyline that Lamar crafted using the poem in To Pimp A Butterfly, weaving the videos in and out of the show in between songs like a train of thought.

As the video ended, Lamar emerged from beneath the stage in the middle of what looked like the spring-back foam floor typically seen in a dojo. Lamar was crouched in smoke, and the audience felt more than a minute go by. This happened a lot during the show — Lamar would stand still and alone, looking out over the sea of people, nodding as he listened to the crowd roar regardless of whether he was making noise or not.

In between back-to-back hits like “ELEMENT.,” “King Kunta,” “Collard Greens” and “M.A.A.D. City,” there were pauses that made it seem like everyone was pinching themselves, trying to grasp the reality that they were in the same room as Kendrick Lamar. The crowd showed an overwhelming sense of appreciation throughout the whole affair.

“I think there’s a better word to describe what we got going on,” Lamar said before starting “Loyalty.” Lamar is one of the biggest, if not the biggest name in hip hop right now, and he’s aware of it. It was fitting to see him standing on a dojo floor in his yellow button down and matching pants. He was facing the front with a zen-like aura, calculating his next moves. Like a samurai or a martial arts master, he was focused.

By the time Lamar started “HUMBLE.”, one of his hits off DAMN., the audience was electrified after heartfelt performances of “LOVE.” and “LUST.” He rapped maybe two lines of the first verse, then cut the music and slowly faded his voice out. The audience carried the rest of the song, reciting it back to the artist on stage in acapella. When it ended, everyone got quiet and the air seemed heavier with the love shown. For a minute and a half, Lamar stood and looked out at the crowd, nodding in approval. The audience cheered and bowed their arms when they weren’t clapping. The show was full of awe-inspiring moments like these.

“I say he’s probably the most significant artist in hip hop right now. He’s got a lot to say.”

— Alex Bisaillion from Ottawa

Lamar’s performance revealed his deep appreciation for dance and martial arts. For example, at the beginning of the show, he left the stage momentarily to showcase a dance battle between a woman and a ninja.

The show’s visual elements consisted of big-screen video projections of Lamar in a coming-to-wisdom enlightenment story with clips of VHS-quality shots of King Kong and the Apollo 11 moon landing, which played behind the track “untitled 07.” The videos gave Lamar a chance to rest his voice. He is known for utilizing voice manipulations on his records, and the difference was noticeable between his natural voice and the studio. This was most apparent during older classics like “Money Trees.”

I appreciated how he didn’t shy away from putting the focus on his voice while rapping along to songs like “XXX.” towards the end of the set. Before Lamar closed with the encore track, “God,” he singled out a guy in the front and passed him a shirt that he’d grabbed from backstage. For Lamar, it’s all about the fans, his loyal following. And Montreal’s fans were no exception.

“I will be back,” Lamar yelled as he walked away for the night. A job well done, indeed.

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