Live Review: Kendrick Lamar | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Live Review: Kendrick Lamar

After months of anticipation, Gaming Editor Emma Kent takes on the task of trying to encapsulate Kendrick Lamar's Birmingham leg of the already legendary DAMN. tour

On the release day of the new Black Panther soundtrack, and after a year of winning nearly every award and accolade in the book, Kendrick Lamar was due to perform at the Genting Arena in Birmingham on the second leg of his European DAMN. tour. As the album's giant red letters were revealed on the curtain, the anticipation for the event was palpable amongst the audience. The same questions were on everyone's lips: after so much success, what kind of performance would Kendrick bring to Birmingham? How would the legend translate into real life? Just how good would this show be? 

After a year of Kendrick winning nearly every award and accolade in the book, the anticipation in Genting Arena was palpable

Even in spite of these high expectations, Kendrick was still able to blow everyone away in what can only be described as a master class of entertainment and showmanship. The performance was a true tour de force of Kendrick's greatest works, further cementing his position as one of the best hip hop artists we have ever seen. Racing out of the starting blocks with an explosive performance of 'DNA.', Kendrick never let the energy drop, pulling out hit after hit from his extensive back catalogue of first-rate tracks. The antagonism of 'ELEMENT.' was followed by the ever-funky 'King Kunta', and before long the audience found themselves doused in the dark and heavy sounds of 'Swimming Pools (Drank)'. 

Amongst Kendrick's most famous works there were also some surprises, including a stylish and well received cover of SchoolBoy Q's 'Collard Greens', plus Kendrick's own, earlier track, 'untitled 07 (levitate)', which, despite being unfinished, made every audience member fly from their seats. 'XXX.' took the show in an unapologetically political direction, blue and red flashing lights accompanying the sirens as Kendrick delivered a powerful sermon on gun violence and the hypocrisy of American society.

Kendrick's rapping was, as usual, powerful, varied and expressive. Even when suspended horizontally in the air on a giant swing, he was still able to deliver his lyrics with flair. In some songs, such as 'LOYALTY.', some of the words became a little breathy, but this was never much of an issue due to Kendrick's exceptional stage presence. It would be easy for a solo performer to be swallowed up by a stage of this size, yet Kendrick managed to command the attention of all purely by force of his dynamism. He also surprised and delighted everyone by popping up in a platform in the middle of the crowd, rising from the masses to perform 'LUST.' and 'Money Trees' surrounded by his adoring fans. 

Kendrick's rapping was, as usual, powerful, varied and expressive

In the transitions between songs, Kendrick's alter ego 'Kung Fu Kenny' (or 'Black Turtle') made an appearance in several short, martial-arts-inspired videos. This even included a parody of a Mortal Kombat battle, which Kenny naturally won. Due to the serious nature of many of Kendrick's songs and performance style, the videos provided an opportunity for Kendrick to let out his quirky sense of humour. As if self-aware of the hilarious absurdity of the films, Kendrick winked down from the screens to the audience below, and I couldn't help but feel as if we were all included in his private joke. 

He surprised and delighted everyone by popping up in a platform in the middle of the crowd, rising from the masses to perform 'LUST.' and 'Money Trees' surrounded by his adoring fans

As a man of few words, Kendrick largely chose to speak through his music. When he did address the audience, it was often to appeal to his long-term fans, and thank them for their continued support. Able to control the crowd with only his hands, Kendrick led a cheering competition between the left and right sides of the arena, whipping his fans into such a frenzy that the cameras recording the stage began to visibly shake. In response, the fans chanted 'Oh Kendrick Lamar' to the tune of 'Seven Nation Army': quite possibly the most British thing imaginable. Kendrick seemed amused by this, smiling in acknowledgement of their enthusiasm before simply concluding, 'That's love'.

The true climax of the evening came with the To Pimp a Butterfly track 'Alright', which almost literally brought the house down when Kendrick encouraged the crowd to jump on his command. Following this, Kendrick began to perform the one and only 'HUMBLE.', before allowing the crowd to sing nearly all of it by themselves. It was a truly amazing moment to hear thousands of voices chanting the words in perfect unison, and a testament to Kendrick's fantastic skills as a lyricist. After guiding the crowd through their acapella rendition, Kendrick re-started so that he could perform it himself. I had mixed feelings about Kendrick's decision to do this, however. Although allowing the crowd to do the track by themselves created an amazing moment in the show, it also took the momentum out of Kendrick's second performance, leaving it a little flat. Perhaps allowing the crowd to chant only one verse would have been the better option. 

Kendrick seemed amused by the crowd's chanting, smiling in acknowledgement of their enthusiasm before simply concluding, 'That's love'

Kendrick chose to end the show with the more subdued 'GOD.', creating a moment of quiet reflection after an evening filled with energy and fury. It was an apt way to finish, underlining his ascension to god-like status in both the rap world and now mainstream music. If you are one of the ones lucky enough to have a ticket to see Kendrick in a later leg of his European tour, you are in for a real treat. This was a powerful, energetic, yet controlled performance by an artist who seems to only improve with each passing year. As for those who must remain in Birmingham, be reassured by Kendrick's final line of the evening: 'I'll be back.' Until then, we will all be watching and waiting with baited breath for Kendrick's next move.

Final year Liberal Arts student and Redbrick Gaming Editor. Star Wars enthusiast, American politics nerd, wine and cheese guru. (@GoneEFK)


12th February 2018 at 9:00 am