Last night at about 5pm in a rainy Midtown, a line — full of kids and adults alike in oversized hats, fur hoodies, ironic t-shirts, skinny jeans, and any other article of clothing Vice might consider a “do” –stretched down the block from the Roseland Ballroom. The mass amount of people continued, whipping around the corner, up Broadway another block, and around another corner, down 52nd Street about halfway, finally ending near the backdoors of Roseland, where massive beats from a hype DJ leaked through the cracks in the doors.
The reason for this commotion? Kendrick Lamar had arrived in town to play his first official New York show since the release of his critically-lauded, mainstream-approved debut good kid, m.A.A.d city this past fall. So much hype surrounded the rapper that he decided to perform two shows in one night, one early and one late. Tickets for each went for about 70 bucks, and outside the venue, people haggled for nearly twice their value.
Before the early show’s packed, sweaty house, Lamar stood in a simple outfit: a white t-shirt and black hat with a white “NY” sprawled across the front. Towering on the edge of the stage, he pounded his chest, “This is like my second mother fucking home.” He bounced around, thrusting his hands in the air, trying to get the rest of the crowd to do the same. Somebody commented about how, since the last time they saw him perform in New York, his flow and control of the crowd had improved immensely. Next to me, less insightful conversation happened as a couple danced and aggressively made-out, taking breaks from their kisses to rap along with Lamar, fumbling their way through the lyrics.
Lamar performed ’em all, or at least everything your average Lamar fan could want, tackling the likes of “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Poetic Justice,” and “Money Trees.” He even pulled out a couple from his mixtape, Section.80, and his EPs before that. Throughout the set, each member of Black Hippy, Lamar’s rap collective, made an appearance. Ab-Soul’s hair shot out like a UFO from his flat bill hat. Jay Rock sported a red Adidas sweatshirt that looked like 1992 in the best way possible. And Schoolboy Q rolled in with his signature camouflage bucket hat. Each joined Lamar for a song, but Q was the only one to take it solo, giving a short rendition of his most popular track, “Hands on the Wheel.” Afterwards, though, he said what everyone was thinking: “FUCK that song, okay? I am so fucking tired of playing that song. I can’t wait for y’all to hear my new music.” Us either, Q.
Like his music, Lamar’s live performance is orchestrated in a calculated way. The set, which lasted just over an hour, seamlessly moved from one song to the next, Lamar guiding it like the captain of a ship. He even directed the crowd how to interact. Before “Vibe,” he ordered everyone to find a gloomy someone and tell them to not kill your vibe. What’s more, where most rap shows suffer from a poor sound mix, Lamar broke that stereotype. His technical skills as a rapper, which are illustrated so sharply in his recorded music, reveal themselves even more live. His flow is dirtier, less-nasally, and aggressive. Among the flashing lasers and lights, Lamar tightly controlled the night.
Moreover, the rapper didn’t shy from the themes found on good Kid. He told stories about the hard-times he experienced growing up. He credited rap music for keeping him off “those mother fucking streets.” He wanted the audience to know, over and over, that he doesn’t really know how to yet deal with fame. “I’m having trouble adapting now,” he said. But as he stood stoically before us, staring out and listening as the entire Roseland Ballroom rapped “Backstreet Freestyle” a cappella at him, it’s safe to say he’s adapted fine.
Critical bias: Rumor has it A$AP Rocky and 50 Cent showed up for the late show. If that’s the case and you were there, I hate you.
Overheard: “I’d recognize those ears anywhere.”
Random Notebook Dump: I can’t believe I’m seeing a rapper perform before midnight.