An energetic, confident show from the fast-rising Compton hip hop artist
‘My name is Kendrick Lamar,’ our host informs us. ‘I come from a place called Compton California. You know? West Coast, Tupac …’ That’s all he needed to say to remind us of the lineage he’s already managed to hustle and work his way into, after his early self-released mixtapes put him on the radar of the likes of Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and Drake long before major labels came calling.
The demographic of young guys with baseball caps and chin beards and girls in baggy jeans suggests he hasn’t quite crossed over to the mainstream on this side of the pond, but the packed-out show points to the fact it isn’t far away. His major label debut good kid, mAAd city hit number two in the States last year, and there was the real sense that he’s an artist on the verge of a major breakthrough here. With just Lamar on the mic and a DJ laying down slow, sinister grooves and occasional backing vocals, it seemed like this was also the closest he’ll get to a club show for a while.
From ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ to ‘ADHD’s communal ‘fuck that!’ chant, the show shone with energy and proper hard graft from Lamar, whose easy star quality saw him receive a gift of a T-shirt from a female fan and present her with a short burst of ‘Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)’ in return. In ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’, ‘mAAd City’ and ‘The Recipe’ there was strong evidence for his ability to play up to the macho posture of gangsta rap while subverting it with hidden thoughtfulness and meaning, all delivered with blazing rhyme hooks.
A salutary lesson emerged towards the end, when Lamar confidently proclaimed ‘we didn't run to mainstream, we made the motherfuckers come to us.’ It was triumphant but not boorish, a keen reminder that hard work does pay off, and a supremely crowd-pleasing moment as well. He followed it up with the grinding groove of ‘Swimming Pool (Drank)’, but it was the lightspeed solo a capella of ‘I Am (Interlude)’ which dazzled most, a blazing lyrical biography which took in Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, God, Mozart, his parents and the endearing declaration of intent ‘my plan b is to win your hearts before I win a Grammy.’ Mission accomplished so far.