Kendrick Lamar is already well known as one of the best new artists on the rap scene and he is likely to continue to climb. Last night’s show at Jacobs Pavilion proved he’s one of the most talented emcees today. Though still very young, given time and more experience, he could become the greatest emcee of a generation — last night’s set was just a taste of that greatness.
Throughout the show, openers Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock all echoed the anthem “throw your threes up.” Not knowing what it meant to throw three fingers in the air, I continued to stand awkwardly in the back too ignorant to go up and ask someone. But that’s what Wikipedia is for. Threes up is the sign of HiiiPoWeR, which is Lamar’s movement to get a new generation to live by heart, honor and respect. Turns out the lyric “Kendrick had a dream” refers to the rapper’s vision of Tupac Shakur coming back from the dead and telling Lamar to continue writing music and keep the legacy of Tupac alive. I don’t know about all that vision stuff but Lamar’s music does have a fresh style combined with poetic lyrics reminiscent of Tupac. Regardless of the validity of this new social movement, I’m all about bringing real meaning in lyrics back to rap and legitimizing it as an art form once more.
That being said, Lamar could have done a little more performing and a little less crowd pleasing. He spent most of the concert pitting the left, right and center sections of the crowd against themselves in a contest for who could be the loudest. Essentially every chorus of Lamar’s songs had to be sang by the crowd as he raised his mic to the bleachers for every song. When he did rap his verses, there was so much speed and precision in his words, it’s a wonder he holds anything back on the chorus. Although he didn’t rap a verse, Machine Gun Kelly made a surprise appearance on the second-to-last song “m.A.A.d city.” And after also appearing at Juicy J’s show at the House of Blues less than a month ago, it’s probably safe to say he’ll be at every large rap show in Cleveland this summer (America’s Most Wanted Tour at Blossom, anyone?). Lamar played all his big hits, including “Money Trees,” “Poetic Justice,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and of course closing with “Swimming Pools (Drank).” The beats on these songs are in some cases the best part and thankfully they weren’t drowned out in the live act. During the encore, fans from the bleachers stormed the pit, leaping over railings and barriers to be closer to the stage. That only served as a testament to how fervent the artist’s fans are.