Riding the train in Sydney, at the best of times, can be an odd experience. All sorts of peculiarities keep you in your seat, eyes to the floor or your phone, every instinct averse to human interaction. So you can understand how extraordinary it is for a train full of passengers to burst into song. No preorganization or flash mobs. Just sudden, Disney-esque outbursts of lyrical joy.
What could possibly make every passenger leap from his or her seat, reciting lyric after lyric verbatim, in unison with their fellow passenger, sharing something special in the process?
Well his name is Kendrick Lamar, and somewhere between the impoverished streets of Compton, California and here, he’s cemented himself in the annals of history as something extraordinary.
Setting foot into the Allphones Arena in Sydney’s Olmpic Park, the air of anticipation was palpable. Word of Lamar’s Melbourne show pervaded the conversation of the crowds as they stormed the gates. Many struggled with the reality that in a few short minutes they’d be witnessing a show of equal measure. If anyone was concerned the show wasn’t going to live up to the hype, they certainly kept it to themselves.
Inside the crowds chanted like followers of a zealous cult. This energy spilled over into the moshpit as it filled at a rapid rate. The famed lines of Lamar’s racial anthem Alright became testament to this new Cult of Kendrick. As the warm up act left the stage, the chanting escalated ten-fold. The crew hadn’t performed a single sound check before the arena was already filled with bellowing requests for Lamar to make his appearance.
When he did make his appearance, the crowd grew only louder. For what felt like ten minutes, Kendrick stood there at the mic as the crowd bellowed with an unwavering energy. A coy smile breaking Lamar’s onstage intensity only invigorated the crowd further. One can only imagine how Lamar would feel to be standing there as 18,000 fans can’t even contain their joy long enough to let him play.
‘This is gonna be the livest motherfucking show you’ve ever seen’ Lamar makes this promise to his audience early into the show, and he certainly does deliver. He kicks things off with the vibrant, jazz-infused For Free, and with that track the tone for his set is immediately established; one of an astounding energy. Kendrick Lamar has already asserted himself as a great rap artist, but his energy and performance on stage is something that can only be seen to be believed. Whether throwing himself into m.A.A.d city, leaping across the stage, or deliberately choking on lines of U, Lamar is a performer like no other. The only time Lamar slows is to make an impromptu dedication to the late Phife Dawg, a touching moment that adds even more meaning to ‘we gonna be alright’, which leads out his dedication.
With the press for To Pimp A Butterfly long since passed, and Lamar’s latest worked based on the very concept on no publicity, Lamar’s Sydney set isn’t part of an elongated tour, and instead consists of his most famed tracks from Butterfly, Good kid m.A.A.d City, and even toward the end, his first mainstream success, Section 80. Each song was strung together with complete synchronicity. To Pimp a Butterfly’s tracks let Lamar unleash his strength as a rap artist upon the crowd, while Good Kid m.A.A.d City’s m.A.A.d city and Swimming Pools had every seat in the stadium empty with their encompassing, unrelenting energy. The entire performance is accompanied by an incredibly strong
band, who brought to life the Jazz elements of To Pimp a Butterfly that helped make that album such a success, and leant some amazing guitar work to the tracks of m.A.A.d City.
To Pimp a Butterfly found a place in the playlists of mainstream listeners and rap fans alike. It’s not because Kendrick in any way sold out, rather he created an album that so perfectly exemplified the strengths of the rap genre but also as a piece of lyricism and composition, with its Jazz influence and amazing assortments that carry over into his live performance.
‘Am I mortal man or make-believe?’ Kendrick spills over the inflation of his ego following his recent success in his latest work, Untitled Unmastered, later critiquing the very nature of his own psyche.
Kendrick is an artist in his prime, creatively and commercially. Watching him perform on stage it was clear Lamar has transcended the rap game. He is no longer in the same league as Kanye West or Drake. Instead, Lamar has cemented himself as an historic artist who won’t soon be forgotten. He is no longer the best rapper in the game, he is quite possibly one of the greatest, and certainly most prolific, artists working today. To see a once almost niche genre such as rap fill an arena, and to imbue the audience with such energy is astounding. What’s even more astounding is the message Lamar pervades; ‘We gonna be alright’, words that carry such weight in the context of Lamar’s work. Where Beiber may be pleading with us that he’s sorry, and missing more than just our bodies, Lamar is convincing us the black culture, no matter the trials and tribulations, will persevere.
Toward the end of the show, Lamar has everyone in the audience turn on the light of cameras, filling the arena with 18,000 individual lights. It was clear then exactly how far Lamar has come. ‘Whether you’re white, black, blue, it doesn’t matter’, Lamar says to his audience. It doesn’t matter who you are, Kendrick has amassed an audience of every shape, size, and colour. The young rapper who found himself on the set of a Tupac music video as a kid, inspired to reach such heights himself, has surpassed every expectation. Who knows where Lamar will go from here. As a performer and an artist alike, it is clear he is competing on a level that the rest of the rap game can’t even comprehend. Years from now we’ll look back at the greats; Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Kendrick Lamar.