Live: Kendrick Lamar Arrives In New York, Takes Over S.O.B.’s


Kendrick Lamar
Wednesday, August 31

Better than: bringing back that old New York rap.

“There are two rules for a Kendrick Lamar show. First rule: everybody put one hand up. Now everybody put two hands up.” Those were Kendrick Lamar’s instructions as he led us into his third song of the night. (He repeated it throughout.) It was an unnecessary run through the rulebook, an airline attendant showing how to use a seatbelt. Hands had been up ever since he touched the stage; the five-foot-six rapper peeked over waves of fingertips, Compton’s version of Wilson from Home Improvement.

With Los Angeles firmly in his grip—Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Game all co-signed him at a show there—a friendly crowd greeted Kendrick as he arrived in New York, a French army giving up their arms ahead of the takeover. (Earlier this summer, he’d packed Southpaw.) There are many worse people who can get the keys to the car, and few better.

The industry turned out: MTV cameramen, a BET producer, magazine writers, bloggers, label reps. A-list manager Kevin Liles sat in the back eating a “ten-course meal,” as gossip went. Wearing a black “I [heart] New York” hoodie, Kendrick threw his elbow skyward, black power fist held tight. Topped by an on-trend messy high-fade, his face looks young but his brow old: a man in a child’s body, his mind surprisingly grizzled for someone his age. He says he wants to be the voice of this generation; no one speaks more to recession-era hopelessness than he does. He raps about the destruction of the society around him, confusion—NWA without the violent undertones. Growing up, his upbringing was imperfect; he re-enacted childhood scenes of his blunted-up parents arguing over the appropriateness of telling a six-year-old Kendrick to not snitch on motherfuckers. (He referred to his father as “an intelligent ignorant motherfucker,” his mother, “a gangster.”)

As a performer, he’s full of poise and intensity, a shoulders-back soapbox rapper preaching to an eager choir. He scowls through his vocal box, though he never rises above boiling point; jabbing, juking, float-like-a-butterfly, sting-like-a-bee style. He’s controlled, certain of his ability to move and what gets the crowd to join him.

At times, the audience was louder than he was, though his microphone was turned on and volume up. The chorus to “ADHD” was spun back five separate go-rounds, each “fuck dat!” getting louder than the last. The same thing happened for “Chapter Six,” an endless, gleeful medley like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” As they shouted, Kendrick stood onstage like Caesar, one hand waving his approval.

He walked through his songs, his banter meandering but never losing complete direction. At times his concert felt like a one-man show: a song for every story, a story for every song. A tale wove its way into introducing “Rigamortis,” though the DJ played the wrong file: a soon-to-be released remix featuring Busta Rhymes wound its way through the wires. (Even his bursts of panic are cool-headed. He performed the original version, then, upon the crowd’s insistence, played a snippet of Busta’s verse, warning that playing it in its entirety would “burn the place down.”)

On the wrong side of midnight, as the concert was winding down, Kendrick said, “This my first time at S.O.B.’s and I’m finna kill this shit.” Well, duh.

Critical bias: The Source recently asked me for my five favorite songs of the summer, and I regret not putting “ADHD” on there.

Overheard: “She looking at me like she gon’ cut my dick off after the show”—Kendrick, after having the entire audience rap “Tammy’s Song” at one female attendee. (He tried to make good by having them lovingly chant “Alien Girl” in her direction afterwards; it seemed to work.)

Random notebook dump: Low Key and DJ Meka (of should host every hip-hop event in New York City. Whereas most stand onstage and make with the awkward banter, these two give something different; they put on a show, even without the effort of trying to put on a show. Fun translates. I told Low afterwards that I would’ve much rather listened to Meka spin and him yell at the audience for an hour than hear the anonymous acts that interrupted their hosting duties. (One G-Unit outlier trotted out Juelz Santana and Lloyd Banks to perform “Beamer, Benz and Bentley,” and introduced it as “the hottest song in New York,” which provided a bit of a time-warp.) Even against such weak competition, this isn’t empty praise: Liles reportedly told the two hosts that they remind him of what he and his friends were doing twenty years ago, namely having fun and not being too cool to dance.

Set list:
The Heart Pt. 2
Fuck Your Ethnicity
Hol’ Up
Monster (Freestyle)
P&P (Pussy & Patron)
She Needs Me
Ignorance is Bliss
Hail Mary/Juicy – Interlude
Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)
Alien Girl (Today With Her)
Look Out for Detox
The Spiteful Chant
Rigamortis (Remix) with Busta Rhymes
Ronald Reagan Era
Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)
Blow My High
Chapter Six
Michael Jordan