“One, two, three, four, five, I am the greatest rapper alive” said Kendrick Lamar on the now-classic 2017 track ‘The Heart Part 4’. Five years later, and after dropping his latest masterpiece Mr Morale and the Big Steppers, this status hasn’t changed one bit. At the AO Arena, Kendrick exceeded all expectations, putting on a show that went beyond anything I’ve ever seen from an artist in my life.
Starting up with the two opening tracks from Mr Morale, ‘United in Grief ‘and then ‘N95’, Kdot illustrated immediately why he’d earned and retained his status as the best around, with the entire crowd going absolutely wild for the ‘N95’ chorus. Following up not too long later was an old classic, ‘Backseat Freestyle’, which had Kendrick at his aggressive best – we all know what he’d do for 72 hours!
‘Rich Spirit’ blended seamlessly into ‘Rich – Interlude’, paving the way for a show-stopping rendition of ‘HUMBLE.’ one of his biggest mainstream hits so far. I’d like to see Drake drop bars like Kendrick did in this song and still manage to achieve popular success (spoiler: he couldn’t ever). After another new track in ‘Father Time’, the familiar opening to ‘m.A.A.d city’ sent the crowd even wilder than they had been before, as Kendrick illustrated just what might happen if the Pirus and Crips did in fact get along.
‘King Kunta’ wasn’t far behind, and, as one of the more accessible tracks from To Pimp A Butterfly, it too elicited a huge response from the crowd, as Kendrick at his arrogant best poured scorn on a certain pop-rapper who may have already been mentioned in this piece.
Then came two shortened versions of fan favourites, in ‘Loyalty’ and then ‘Swimming Pools’ – the fact that songs as good as these have to be cut short in order to fit them on the setlist says it all about the strength of Kendrick’s discography. After this, it was the track that probably introduced a lot of people to listening to the man himself, in ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’. A friend told me before the gig that the version played live is always the Jay-Z edition, and I can confirm I felt very smug after screaming “Trinidad James in 4 weeks, now my album platinum as shit” in an otherwise quiet row.
John McClane’s favourite Kendrick track came next, in ‘Die Hard’, before two classics from DAMN stole the show. Whilst ‘DNA’ got much more airtime, I think that ‘LUST’ is one of the strongest tracks lyrically from Kendrick, with the subtle changes to each verse. Either way, the crowd predictably loved both. Another newer track followed on, in ‘Count Me Out’, but the string of belters which came afterwards absolutely overshadowed it.
First was arguably my favourite Kdot song – ‘Money Trees’ – one of the standouts from good kid, m.A.A.d city. It was great, although it was sad to know that Jay Rock wouldn’t be coming out after the third chorus to help us all imagine what his life would be like up in the projects. Flowing into Kendrick’s most radio-riendly hit, ‘LOVE’ was the filling in a sandwich closed by ‘Alright’, a song so good Kendrick himself had to reference it in the opener for DAMN, with the disapproving newsreader showing exactly what most of white America thought of this track. No matter what the media say about this track though, the experience of the entire crowd coming together with Kendrick to belt the chorus to this one out was really special, a proper display of unity.
Given the hard task of following all this up was a pair of Mr Morale tracks in ‘Mirror’ and ‘Silent Hill’, which were almost an opportunity just to relax for a second after the previous intensity. Baby Keem, the support act as well as Kendrick’s flesh and blood appeared back on stage to drop some of his tracks he has with Kendrick, including ‘Family Ties’, which was Lamar’s return to the scene after years away post-DAMN. They also had a great time spending about 10 minutes hyping the crowd more than I’ve ever seen at a gig ever – the fact they could get a crowd bouncing without even needing to play any music speaks volumes for the quality of the set.
To finish the night up, initial warm-up man Tanna Leone joined Kendrick and Keem for ‘Mr Morale’, before the final track which was ‘Savior’. There was no encore but it didn’t matter at all – it was totally unnecessary. Kendrick walked out, after giving a performance that nobody in the room will ever forget, ready to do it all over again for another lucky group of people the next evening.
To conclude, I would just like to apologise to the world for any British crowd shouting “Kendrick’s in a box” – I’m not saying everyone who did it should be banned from any gig ever for life, but it isn’t far off that at this point.
Read The Mancunion‘s review of Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale and the Big Steppers here.
Keep up with the latest news from Kendrick Lamar on his official website here.