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It was the second of two nights Kendrick Lamar sold out at the Barclays Center – a date added after his first one sold out instantly. A date for Kung Fu Kenny to celebrate the biggest success of his career so far: a two-times platinum-selling album and a number 1 single in Humble.
It was a different show to the one he last put on in NYC at the Panorama festival, which I just realized I saw on exactly the same date a year ago – 23 July. Aside from this being his first big headlining arena tour, there was a different atmosphere. That show was more political, coming in on the weight of the presidential election and the rise of Donald J Trump. Videos of George Bush and police brutality played in a black and white backdrop to Kendrick’s rhymes. It was a moving and urgent and felt more like a conduit for outrage and support.
Last night’s show felt lighter, even if Kendrick himself felt more formidable. He had more bravado, which – granted – he’s earned since releasing a big-on-swagger track like Humble, and he seemed to grow to fill out the arena. With just his rhymes and only two guest appearances (Travis Scott for Goosebumps and 2Chainz for a frenzied rendition of his new single, 4 am), Kendrick demonstrated his prowess as the greatest rap talent we have right now. His words, his stories are all he needs. He wove them altogether into a kung-fu story, wearing a yellow and then red tracksuit that looked like Bruce Lee’s iconic jumpsuit. Short videos played in between the tracks, as “Black Turtle” made his quest through songs like DNA, ELEMENT, LOYALTY, LUST, and LOVE, and then older material like Swimming Pools, Levitate, Backseat Freestyle, and of course the Collard Greens cover. It was most thrilling to hear him jump from XXX to m.A.A.d City at the part where Bono usually comes in.
He made sure to thank his Day Ones, as he always has, and remembering the love the East Coast showed the West Coast when he first started playing here, noting his gigs at SOBs, before ending with an encore of GOD. Stay humble.