Show Recap: Kendrick Lamar’s plan on conquest starts with hearts
Welcome to Kendrick Lamar’s three-step plan for world domination. Oh, so you came to the show thinking you were just coming to be entertained? Perhaps, but there’s a larger plan at stake.
Words: Kevin Lee / October 17, 2012
Welcome to Kendrick Lamar’s three-step plan for world domination. Oh, so you came to the show thinking you were just coming to be entertained? Perhaps, but there’s a larger plan at stake. In step one, we need a cause, something to fight for–we’ll get into that a little later. Step two is to make some powerful allies, and the blessings and resources of Dr. Dre, who now have twice given himself as the featured artist for two of Kendrick’s singles, should be more than enough firepower to propel him. The last step is to create an army, and having his crew, Black Hippy, watching his back is not enough. We need a legion. Originally scheduled for the Regency Ballroom (where he played earlier this year) before moving to the larger Warfield, Kendrick performed Tuesday night in San Francisco as a part of the BET Music Matters tour to a full house along with his Black Hippy compatriots Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, with kindred spirits, Ohio’s Fly Union and Stalley, at the vanguard. And it’s also here that we see step three in action.
Kendrick Lamar as a performer isn’t much different than he was the last time he came into town, a stop in the 2012 XXL Freshman Live Tour in March. Nor was he much different the next time we saw him at Rock The Bells just a couple of months ago, though he shared the stage with the rest of Black Hippy. Still talented, still gifted and still able to flex his voice into any inflection and meter, Kendrick gave a grand tour of his catalog, now deepened with a slew of new songs connected to his upcoming good kid, m.A.A.d city release on Interscope/Aftermath (coming October 22, which we were constantly reminded throughout the show). One song that showed off his technical prowess was “Look Out For Detox”, a track that replaces ratchet hi-hats with a speedy ratchet vocal delivery instead, proving what he could do in a studio he could do live as well.
His technical gift aside, Kendrick may be unique but he is not an island onto himself. Unlike so many other movements and styles that developed within hip-hop, like trap (from Atlanta), drill (Chicago), or screw (Houston), there is no geography to Kendrick’s style. Nameless as it is, this style is defined however, and like all the others listed before, by its primary area of dissemination—in this case the place is the Internet. This is how acts like Fly Union and Stalley get involved, kindred spirits that both hail from Ohio, far from Black Hippy and TDE’s LA home, but still have much of the same traits that Black Hippy does. And he’s not merely tapping into similar talent through the Internet, but also audiences as well untied to a certain geography. Yep, we’re talking about twenty-something millennials. For the Internet generation, music is first heard on a web site, not on radio, not at a club, and definitely not on a CD. And the prominence of Internet-only songs is reflected in his setlist. Songs like “Look Out For Detox” and “Cartoon and Cereal” (the latter was the show closer, more on that as well) are not attached to any record or mixtape, merely released onto blogs all by their lonesomes, yet are treated as a part of his canon. This is how music is treated in the twenty-first century, and credit Kendrick Lamar and his label TDE for realizing this and tailoring their output to serve their audience’s habits.
So in the way he treats his music, we can see who he intends to connect with. That piece of deduction turns out to be moot however, as Kendrick flatly announces during the show that he is the voice of his generation, and that he intends “to win your hearts before I win a Grammy,” a line he also repeated on his appearance on Jimmy Fallon. And with that declaration, he follows with the song in his repertoire that drew the most enthusiastic response, “A.D.H.D.”, his reflection about the overstimulated and overmedicated habits of his peers. The second biggest reaction came from “Cartoon and Cereal”, a tangent to “A.D.H.D” about how kids like him grew up with childish things and adult situations side-by-side, backed with an energetic and bombastic beat that compels people to start moshing. (Gunplay’s hook on that song was recreated by Ab-Soul, but the rest of Gunplay’s verse, which nearly elevates his character to something close to Shakespeare’s tragedies, was not unfortunately.)
With songs like these, Kendrick isn’t just aiming to give voice to a generation, he is trying to define what it is like to be a person of his age. And while he’s not the only person in hip-hop currently capturing the imaginations of these masses of young adults, he is so far the only one of his prominence who seeks to find meaning in their experiences. This is how he is going to raise his army of followers, by giving a so-far voiceless generation an outlet for the world to hear them. After three big performances with huge crowds before him that left completely enthralled, Kendrick Lamar definitely at the least has raised his flag over the San Francisco Bay Area. With his forces able to travel down the tubes of the Internet, lets see how far his empire will stretch.
Though Black Hippy had their turn to shine as a unit during Rock The Bells, it’s a different experience to see each member take their turns commanding the stage by themselves. In this case, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul proved to share traits, but also have provided their own identity as well. It’s clearly evident that these four (ScHoolboy Q was absent because he is touring instead of A\$AP Rocky) have been around for so long that their styles has meshed and each have picked up on each other’s idiosyncrasies. For instance, that voice crack and falsetto that ScHoolboy Q likes to wander off into every now and then has worked its way into Jay Rock’s and Ab-Soul’s style as well, although with their own quirks. Instead of Q’s sneer, Jay Rock’s voice is booming and clear. In this way, he’s the perfect opener for the crew, whose clear but loud and emphatic delivery draws all the attention in the chattering auditorium squarely on his mic. Ab-Soul as a follow-up kept the attention from wandering with a calmer voice, and the striking visual of his stage presence, with black hair, black sunglasses, and the feathery curls of his long hair that accentuates his movements. Ab-Soul also scored the first big pop of the night with “Terrorist Threats”, his track with Jhene Aiko and Danny Brown, featuring his slow burning style that emphasizes the rise over the climax. Black Hippy might just be one of the more cohesive yet individually distinctive crews out there, a balance yet unseen since the heyday of the Wu-Tang Clan.