Kendrick Lamar At Barclay Center, Thursday, July 20th, 2017
The penultimate song of the Damn Show 2017 at Barclay Center Thursday night was “Humble,” with Kendrick Lamar, the hottest rapper in the world, handing the first verse and chorus to the audience before claiming that now he’d prove why the world should be humble in its treatment of him, and spitting the entire rap out with a power drive delivery.:
(Hol’ up lil’ bitch, hol’ up lil’ bitch) be humble
(Hol’ up, bitch) sit down
(Sit down, hol’ up, lil’ bitch)
Be humble (bitch)
(Hol’ up, hol’ up, hol’ up, hol’ up) bitch, sit down
Lil’ bitch (hol’ up, lil’ bitch) be humble…
Self-aggrandization is a singalong to Kendrick, though where you and I enter the scene I don’t know. Kendrick Lamar not the catchiest nor the most gifted nor the most politically astute rapper of 2017 and yet nobody has a better flow anywhere. Perhaps that’s why his performance was so vocal heavy, to distraction ,and also to complete concentration on Kendrick’s rapping, his rhyming, his hard spit, wordy, endlessly inventive flow to the disarmament of all his other skills. Rappers rap, but if they are rapping with no fat to their leanness, a component is missing. When I saw Kendrick in 2013 he was rapping to backing in tapes, when I saw him in 2015 he was still rapping to backing tapes -neither performance was all that. It took his Global Citizen performance in September 2016 for him to blow through to another dimension with a full band -a great performance. Last night he met in the middle, with a live band to the side, but they sure sounded taped, Tomas Doncker said he mostly heard the drums and anything else was just augmenting tapes.
Nearly a year later the Damn. revue reached Barclays and the show wasn’t appreciably better than the Power 105 show back in 2015, both Kendrick and Travis Scott were at both and neither have learnt much in the interim. Opener DRAM -Lil Yachty’s buddy ,brought out a good rock band to perform hit “Broccoli” and would be hit “Gilligan”. Dram was a real surprise, he has some of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s wonkiness though not ODB’s rapping skills, but he sings better and he is a charming performer. Travis Scott is a charmless blowhard, atrocious both times I’ve seen him, he autotuned his voice to extinction, and despite maybe three solid bangerz, each song sounded the same. Most of the time he was flying over the stage on a bird but at one point he touched down and stopped a security guy from strangling a kid in the audience, “Spread love is the Brooklyn way,” he claimed. That was the set highlight.
For such a strong and concentrated evening, the stage was stark, everything hidden from view except a coupla Ninjas at one point, it had a distracted quality. Why have a band if they aren’t seen and don’t sound live? Some really stupid martial arts film, featuring Kendrick Lamar as Kung Fu Kenny, interrupted the show three times, so Kendrick could be elsewhere on the stage, not a bad idea in theory, in practise its stupidity was an annoyance. Luckily for him and us, at his best,and that was a lot of the time, the man was a powerhouse, the first seven songs were great, simply unreal. “DNA,” Element” the two best Untitled songs early on “Levitate” and “I See Jiggaboos,” a fun cover of “Masks Off” and “Collard Greens” and especially a funky as hell “King Kunta”. Then it stalled, and not simply because of a loss of quality but because the lack of a full on aliveness made it static and two dimensional. I liked Damn, a lot but not that much, I liked Damn the show a lot but not that much. Kanye or Jay-Z or Drake, or Joey Bada$$ or Ghostface Killah woulda blown Kendrick off stage. He is very good but he isn’t that good.