By now you should be familiar with how much of a superstar Kendrick Lamar is. If you aren’t, where have you been? His latest album DAMN. was both critically acclaimed and his most commercially successful yet including his first number one single as a lead artist “HUMBLE.” and was Billboard’s Year-End number one album of 2017. He won four out of seven Grammys he was nominated for at this year’s ceremony making a total of twelve Grammys under his belt. He is the undisputed king of hip-hop and he proved it to a crowd of 20, 000 adoring fans this Tuesday at the O2 arena in London. Coming off the back of the massive success that DAMN. had Kendrick couldn’t stop there. He had been working on the official Black Panther soundtrack album while touring DAMN. around North America, which he curated and executive produced and appears on most of the tracks. The hype was real.
I’m a huge Kendrick fan. Like embarrassingly huge. Like I’ve had him as my phone wallpaper for months. Like I cried the first time I saw him perform live. I first saw him in 2015, he didn’t tour To Pimp a Butterfly but he did make festival rounds. I caught him at Leeds Festival and I was blown away by how much of an incredible experience it was. To Pimp a Butterfly is still my favourite album, ever. For the Leeds Festival performance, he had a live band and they sounded so great. When I saw him again at British Summer Time Festival it was a similar experience not as emotional but an even better performance. Third time lucky because he gave the best performance that I’ve seen live on Tuesday, the second date of a two-day London stop on the European leg of The DAMN. Tour. DAMN. has a much more minimalist approach in its production than To Pimp a Butterfly. That isn’t to say the production isn’t also incredible but whereas To Pimp a Butterfly had jazz and funk production and live instrumentation the production on DAMN. is much more stripped back and bass-heavy. There was no live band or DJ on stage just Kendrick.
Supporting Kendrick was James Blake who had collaborated with Kendrick on “ELEMENT.” and the recently released track from the Black Panther soundtrack “King’s Dead.” I missed most of James Blake but I managed to get to my seat and catch a couple of songs. I wasn’t too gutted as I had already seen James Blake headline Field Day Festival in 2016. When James Blake finished his set the anticipation was palpable. A huge black curtain with the words “DAMN. THE DAMN. TOUR” covered the stage and fans eagerly hurried to their seats. Before long the curtains lifted and on a large screen on stage played the short film which accompanied the album “The Legend of Kung Fu Kenny.” A slightly tongue-in-cheek take on Chinese martial arts films featuring Kendrick as a Kung Fu warrior on a quest it played at different times during the set. Kendrick appeared on stage resplendent in a regal white robe looking angelic, godly even. He began with a bang performing the fiery “DNA.” a track which blew my mind when I first heard it. He didn’t quite match the studio version considering the vocal effects and editing involved in making that track a Molotov cocktail but he spat the bars with incredible dexterity and breath control.
The set was expertly constructed. There were brief interludes where pre-recorded vocals repeated “ain’t nobody praying for me” a recurring line on the album. He didn’t just perform tracks from DAMN. he also performed “Goosebumps” a track he features on by Travis Scott and “Collard Greens” by label-mate ScHoolboy Q. He also performed songs from his back catalogue including “King Kunta”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “Money Trees.” For “FEEL.” He simply had a performer dressed as a ninja with a blade performing incredible dances moves to the instrumental. When that ended he appeared on another stage, the golden circle, and performed “LUST.” with lucky fans surrounding him, while he performed the stage rose and a cage formed around him. For one of my favourite tracks on DAMN., “PRIDE.” he performed on the main stage but lying down on the stage. My favourite moment of the entire night, however, was after he performed “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The energy in the crowd was at its peak and the entire arena erupted in woos, cheers, applause and shouts. It lasted for several minutes, Kendrick watching on stage in awe. Every time I’ve seen Kendrick he seems incredibly humble you know he still can’t believe he’s performing in front of 20, 000 thousands of miles from his hometown. He expressed his gratitude calling London “his second home.” The set concluded with “Alright”, my personal favourite track by him and “HUMBLE.” which he had the crowd perform the hook and then performed it a second time. What an end to the night…but wait no, not without an encore performance of “GOD.” He absolutely commanded the crowd on that night. The king’s not dead he’s very much alive and the greatest living rapper.