It's got ninjas
Few artists arrive for the beginning of their first UK arena tour with as blank a slate as Kendrick Lamar has this month.
For one, he’s truly earned the right to be here; he hasn’t been elevated to this position purely on the back of the universal acclaim that his records have garnered since ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, a modern masterpiece of storytelling, handed him his breakthrough in 2012. Lamar has the commercial clout to back it up; it remains astonishing that ‘Untitled Unmastered’, an awkward compilation of demos and offcuts, went straight to the top of the U.S. charts upon release a couple of years ago.
Lamar’s star has only continued to ascend since then, and he crosses the pond whilst very much riding the crest of a cultural wave, with the previous week’s stirring opening to the Grammys providing further evidence of his uniquely incisive political outlook (as Dave Chappelle put it on the night, the only thing more frightening than a black man being honest in America is being an honest black man in America). Lamar’s delves into societal themes have been uncommonly deep over the course of his career, so it might be a little bit disarming to witness him on much more playful form tonight; he takes the stage decked out in martial arts robes after one of a series of kung fu flick spoofs plays on the big screens. This isn’t Kendrick but his alter-ego, Kung Fu Kenny, and he brings a lightness of touch to the opening salvo; ‘DNA.’ and ‘ELEMENT.’ are wildly energetic, whilst a katana-wielding dancer shares the stage with him for ‘King Kunta’.
There’s an awful lot of space for Lamar to fill on his own tonight, physically and sonically, because, potentially divisively, he arrives without any kind of backing band, and the stage looks massive with just him up on it. He covers every inch of it a hundred times over, racing around with boundless vigour and lending to the early suggestion that this is to be a hip hop party first and everything else second by dropping a couple of covers that he guested on, Rich the Kid’s ‘New Freezer’ and Schoolboy Q’s ‘Collard Greens’, before segueing seamlessly into old-school banger ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’.