Rap Music Director
Earlier this year, L.A. rapper Kendrick Lamar made a huge comeback by releasing his highly anticipated and long-awaited fifth studio album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. This album comes almost five years after the release of his critically acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize-winning fourth studio album, DAMN., released in 2017. After the album dropped, plans for a supporting tour, appropriately named The Big Steppers Tour, were quickly announced. This tour marks his return to the road since The DAMN. Tour held in 2017.
Lamar has managed to stay out of the spotlight for nearly five years, leaving the public with hardly any traces of him to stay in touch with. He even alludes to his straying from the public eye with lyrics such as “and they like to wonder where I’ve been, protecting my soul in the valley of silence,” from track 14, “Savior”, off his latest release. Stepping back into the spotlight with this album that delves so vulnerably into his personal life, while also being so transparent with his self-reflections and his downfalls, came as a shock to most after the first listen. It’s like we finally got to catch up on all the time we missed without him, while also learning more about him than we ever knew before. Lyrically and sonically, this album has the ability to transport you into his world, and it’s a reflective, heartbreaking, yet also joyous and liberating perspective to digest and experience.
Lamar is my favorite rapper, and with Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers being in my top five albums of the year so far, I knew that I would have to see him while I had the opportunity. Having been a fan for over a decade and having never seen him live before, I couldn’t have been more excited for this day.
The night’s first opener was up-and-coming rapper Tanna Leone. Leone is a relatively new rapper to the game, signing to Lamar’s joint multi-disciplinary creative collective with Dave Free, pgLang, this past March. My only prior knowledge of him was his feature on the track “Mr. Morale” off of Lamar’s latest release. I was pleasantly surprised by the solo music he performed, and I was immediately captivated not only by his music but also by the charisma he exuded while on stage. Although being so new to live performances, he was an excellent performer and knew exactly how to maneuver around the stage and still actively engage with the audience. He has a very bright future ahead of him, and I will definitely make sure to keep a look out for later projects.
The second opener of the night was L.A. rapper and cousin of Lamar, Baby Keem. He opened his performance with “trademark usa”, the opening track off his debut studio album, The Melodic Blue. Keem already has an established fanbase and credentials, so I would go as far as to say that most people there were just as excited about his performance as Lamar’s. He performed 12 songs, which included all the fan favorites such as “ORANGE SODA”, “lost souls”, “16”, and even his featured track, “Praise God”, off Kanye West’s 2021 studio album, Donda. While a little more stagnant on stage compared to Leone, he too was great with audience engagement. The audience was hyped throughout his entire performance, and overall it was really a great time.
After Keem finished, the stage was then covered in long draped sheets in order to prepare for the upcoming performance by Lamar.
The concert opened up with “United in Grief”, which is also the album’s opening song. He performed the entire song while holding a puppet version of himself that rapped along with him. I’m not sure what the puppet was supposed to add to the performance, but I loved it regardless. The entire duration of the concert was filled with high production theatrics from shadow figures, live dancers, multiple stage and lighting props, a quarantine skit, a levitating stage, and even the use of smoke and fireworks. You can tell that a lot of creativity and work was put into this production, and it definitely paid off.
With a setlist of 24 songs all pulled from his four most popular bodies of work, we were treated to 13 songs off Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, five off DAMN., four off good kid, M.A.A.D city, and one off of To Pimp A Butterfly. The only song performed that wasn’t from any of those four albums was “family business”, which is Lamar’s featured track off Keem’s album, The Melodic Blue. The two cousins performed this song together, and the crowd went nuts for it.
Although I was sad when the concert came to its inevitable end, I was more filled with amazement and love for what I had just experienced. The overall scale and production were unlike any other concert I’ve previously attended, and it just solidified to me that Lamar is one of the greatest artists and performers to come from our generation. I am beyond grateful to be able to witness such an artist in my lifetime. For years, I have waited for the opportunity to see Kendrick in concert, and now that I have, it’s a memory that I’ll cherish forever.
Image Credit: Kenlie Golleher
Written by: Jordan Young