Tonight in Miami, Kendrick Lamar gave a performance that was, in a word, humbling.
With its thrilling special effects, high-wire stunts, and the raw star power of the greatest living rapper, the final stop on the DAMN. Tour at American Airlines Arena was wilder and more grandiose than any show this year. With a fiery aesthetic based on the Chinese martial arts films that inspired Wu-Tang Clan, the production featured costume changes, ninja battles, Kung Fu practitioners dancing across the stage, and pulpy video intermissions featuring “Kung Fu Kenny” in combat with a series of bizarre foes.
None of this was as impressive as the rapper himself, who fully committed to the show’s stylish adornments. At the beginning of his set, Kendrick entered the stage from below, surrounded by a literal halo of blinding white light. At another point, he re-entered balanced on top of an acrobat by only his right hand, the two stacked atop each other like Jenga blocks. Between these feats, he simply rapped his lungs out, spitting difficult, technical verses at breakneck pace while bounding across the stage. In hip-hop, where so much of a performance is predicated on ego and where fans are often placated simply by seeing their idols in person, it is very easy to put on a mediocre show. But Lamar gave his all, putting every bit of energy he possessed into entertaining the fans. By the end, he was sitting onstage with his head hanging while a video played overhead, a warrior whose long battle had finally subsided.
The openers, D.R.A.M. and YG, were formidable in their own right. Of particular note is YG, whose stage presence was both flamboyant and, at times, serious-minded. Near the top of his set, he beseeched the front rows to donate money to hurricane victims in Houston, saying that those that paid for the $800 seats surely have cash to give away. He concluded by bringing out a nefarious Donald Trump impersonator who threatened the audience with pussy-grabbing before being chased off by YG performing his now-anthemic “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump).”
Politics were not quite as overt in the main show, which is a credit to the star and producers considering the socially conscious nature of Kendrick’s music. In a sense, the subtext became background noise, brought to the fore only by strobing police lights during “XXX,” as well as stylized footage of arrests. It’s likely they assumed that, after listening to the artist’s records for years, they would not need to educate the audience on the nature of race relations in America. Instead, they opted for pure entertainment, and they executed it with bombast and grace.
It’s difficult to call to mind a recent hip-hop show that could possibly approach the levels of intensity, ambition, and joy reached by the Damn tour. Even during Kendrick’s nationwide trek, it’s become clear that Kendrick has evolved from simply being a legendary rapper to an outstanding performer and showman. During the song “HUMBLE.”, he cuts out the sound to let the audience sing the second verse, which the fans carry all the way to its end. In Phoenix, at the tour’s start, the rapper was rendered speechless by the crowd’s ability, but at its end, here in Miami, at the AAA, he switched into a call-and-response with us. He was in complete command. It was incredible to watch.
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By now, it’s clear that the Compton rapper can do anything he damn well pleases. In 2015, he wanted to revolutionize the genre of hip-hop with a wide-reaching, genre-bending opus, and with To Pimp A Butterfly, he did. Earlier this year, he wanted to throw out his previous soulful works and produce a mainstream album that both doesn’t shirk from quality and perfectly captures the zeitgeist, and he did. And this summer, he decided he wanted to embark on a spectacular arena tour with production values and intensity rivalling only the dramatic productions of Kanye West. Guess what? He fucking did that too. It was flawless. There’s nothing else to say.
- "YAH. "
- "King Kunta"
- "untitled 07 | levitate"
- "Mask Off" (Remix)
- "Collard Greens"
- "Swimming Pools (Drank)"
- "Backseat Freestyle"
- "Money Trees"
- "m.A.A.d city"
- "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" (Remix)
- "HUMBLE.: (audience singalong)
- "HUMBLE." (with D.R.A.M. and YG)