Kendrick Lamar isn’t one to stand still. Every album and mixtape he’s crafted has been a forward step, contorting language and stretching pre-conceived notions of what people perceive rap to be. New album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is another stride into new ground – a logical next step for a multi-dimensional artist.
Finally taking to The Pyramid Stage after the pandemic placed the globe on pause in 2020, Lamar brought theatricality, poetry, and an abundance of daring to Sunday night. Following an extended choreographed opening, featuring a cast of dancers, the man himself took his spot. Wearing a crown of diamond encrusted thorns, this was a journey through the uncompromising mind of the West Coast rapper. Frontloading his set with some of his most enduring tracks such as ‘Backseat Freestyle’, ‘Money Trees’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’, Lamar was fearless and fierce, spitting bars and raising the temperature. In front of him, a sea of arms popped and worshipped enthusiastically. Highlights from 2017’s DAMN. went down a storm in the form of ‘DNA’, ‘HUMBLE’ and ‘LOYALTY’ too.
‘Kendrick made you think about it/But he is not your savior’ he may have rapped on new track ‘Savior’ but it was hard to shake the feeling that his protestations might not deter his congregation. The dense nature of his meticulously constructed raps is always going to be difficult for an outsider to process in a live setting and in real-time, and this thought crossed the mind as the set rolled onwards: would the uninitiated be converted? Or is it inherently the case for this genre that intimate familiarity makes it inclusive from that moment on?
Either way, the stirring denouement could speak to anyone. Genius is often taking the simple and communicating it succinctly, effectively and in a striking fashion. “They judge you/They judge Christ/Godspeed women’s rights”, he spat on a loop, the intensity increasing every round. His dancers had encircled him by this point. Blood pouring from his crown, streaming down his face and staining his white shirt, he threw his mic to the floor and left. The end. And, with that, he’d said it all.