Two thousand Kendrick Lamar fans can’t be wrong, but 30 degrees and icy snowfall was definitely an insult. Regardless of the less-than-stellar conditions during the wait outside, fans of the rapper trickled in and snaked around the outer rim of Williamsburg’s Rough Trade NYC. First they obtained a copy of this week’s biggest album release, To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as a yellow wristband to then face the bleak music of returning back to the cold for another joust with the weather. Though everyone looked like they had white powder caked to their jacket hoods and shoulder tops, spirits and anticipation couldn’t have been higher.
“He’s definitely changed the game of hip-hop,” says Tevin, whose full name shall be withheld because he cut work to get in line. “I grew up listening to hip-hop, but to me it was starting to get watered down and there were some really wack artists. I started to drift away until I heard Kendrick Lamar. Finally a new change — it brought me back into the game. So I had to meet him.”
Tevin was one of a few hundred fans who arrived around 2:30 p.m. While waiting to buy the record, the crowd was treated to a preview, with the good people of Rough Trade blasting To Pimp a Butterfly over the store speakers for the sea of beanies and ball caps.
When the second track came on, Josh DWH remarked on how rapid-fire Lamar’s vocals are on “For Free? (Interlude).” “He went off with that flow,” he says. “The jazz on it is crazy.” Josh downloaded the album when it sneaked online earlier this week. “It was something like ‘Rigamortus’ [from 2011’s Section.80], just fast flow. He killed it. He ran through that track.”
After purchasing To Pimp a Butterfly and receiving the bracelet, fans then returned to the snow-dusted North 9th Street to await the 4 p.m. arrival of Lamar. It was during this time that you could see the vast line of fans standing two by two consuming most of the sidewalk.
“I was really surprised. It’s the biggest signing that I’ve seen here,” says Mel Gottshall. Last year she attended Wayne Coyne’s signing at Rough Trade but had a rather awkward experience with the leader of the Flaming Lips.
“He was kind of a dick,” she says. “I got it signed for my boyfriend and [Coyne] was like, ‘Where is he?’ and I said he lives in Philly, and he said, ‘When are you going to move in together?’ And I said space is good. And then he leaned back and crossed his arms and said, ‘What do you mean, space is good? Don’t you love him? You should want to be with him.’ And I was like, ‘Can’t you just sign it?’ ”
If Lamar winds up giving Gottshall relationship advice, she thinks it’ll be nicer than Wayne’s.
Fans killed the next hour making conversation and discussing the plans they’d made or changed or broken after hearing of this event.
“Well, this is really depressing — instead of standing out in the snow for two hours, I was going to go to Miami,” laughs Ariel Richer, who’s currently on her spring break. “But then I was like, it’s Kendrick Lamar!”
When the time came to finally meet the man of the hour, fans approached his table while hastily trying to remove the godforsaken CD sticker with their frozen fingers so that Lamar could sign the inner booklet. Sitting in front of a large poster depicting the album’s already iconic cover image, Lamar appeared cool and calm as he signed “KL” in a single cursive flow.
With so many fans to greet, it’s obvious that each meeting was short (about ten seconds on average), but that didn’t mean fans weren’t prepared to ask a specific question or two.
“I’d love to talk him about race relations, but we don’t have enough time for that,” says Richer. Tevin adds, “For me, if I get to ask him a question, it would be how he stays so positive and true to the hip-hop game when an entire nation of fans just want stuff like twerk and party music. He says true to the old-school, West Coast style of rap.” Afiya Jackson wouldn’t have minded something a little chummier. “I know there’s a lot of people here, but I would like to pull him away and have a real heart-to-heart conversation for, like, twenty minutes. He’s amazing. I just want to pick his brain.”
Crummy weather aside, hundreds of New Yorkers bonded together and braved Mother Nature’s sick joke of a first day of spring and met a contemporary rap icon. And nothing was going to prevent it.
“Nah, man,” says Tevin. “They could have blocked the roads and I would have still tried to come in.”