“This d**k ain’t free.”
Four little words backed by a full band. Those were the initial words that kicked off Kendrick Lamar’s set at Terminal 5 in NYC last night. For some, “this d**k ain’t free” reminded their pockets of the few hundred dollars they paid as VIPs for an intimate night with their favorite artist.
And intimate was perhaps the best way to describe Kendrick’s first annual Kunta's Groove Session, an eight-city, eight-night tour featuring Jay Rock. The stage setup ditched TDE’s usual black backdrop and logo for a jazzy, sexy, more inviting stage that was complete with a white couch and zebra fur rug. Everyone from the musicians to Kendrick sat on the white couch, so basically it wasn’t like your mom’s friend’s white couch, on which you’re only allowed to sit after bathing twice. The white couch gave the feeling of "sit down, relax and enjoy the show," except really, it would be impossible to enjoy the show with a thousand people judging the way you sit. But the idea could make anyone feel warm inside. The entertainment was provided by Kendrick’s band, The Wesley Theory, which upgraded the notion of surround sound. All that was missing was a fireplace and a personal bartender named Steve to keep the vodka flowing.
The last time I saw Kendrick Lamar perform was at a music festival in Barcelona a few months ago in July. To Pimp a Butterfly had already gained national and international acclaim. Besides singles like “i” and “King Kunta,” he didn’t dive into any new material. As a fan, I was left wanting to hear “These Walls” and “Institutionalized” and wanting to see him perform his interludes. After watching him on stage tonight, I get why he didn’t perform more tracks off TPAB. The intimate messages weren’t meant for the open-air stage, where they would bounce from his lips into oblivion.
“I’ve been around the world, but coming back to this intimate spot, there’s nothing like it,” he told the audience.
This past year, the 28-year-old Compton rapper toured the international festival circuit where the massive crowds and short set times were out of his control. Under the red and blue lights, he kept reminding the New York crowd that there’s nothing quite like the intimacy between his music and his fans (intimate again being the best way to describe the mood). Kendrick’s fans listened as he rolled through To Pimp a Butterfly and threw their arms up when he played concert favorites off good kid, m.A.A.d city. He commanded the stage like a rock star dressed in all black and talked to the crowd like it was his first night on the tour.
He kept mentioning that this may be the last time he performs TPAB, and understandably so. The album’s themes of community and power dynamics and his personal connections to the album weigh heavy when performed time after time. In an interview with MTV, Kendrick said, “The overall theme, for me personally, for this album is really leadership. How can I use it for better or for worse? With money and with my celebrity, how can I use it? How can I pimp it? Can I pimp it negatively or can I pimp it in a positive way? Positive, for me, is showing what I go through with 'u' and how I bring it back with 'i' and saying, 'I still love myself at the end of the day.'"
The responsibility is tough to bear, but the rock star can handle it, even if it is just for a few more nights under the red and blue lights.
(Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)