Written by Alex Seradj
Kendrick Lamar has undoubtedly had one of the most rapid progressions of any artists in recent memory. He announced his presence with the release of section 8.0. He proved his mass appeal with the success of Good Kid M.A.A.D City. It may be too early to make such a bold claim, but it seems with the release of his latest album, To Pimp A Butterfly, he has cemented his legacy as one of the great lyricists of his generation. He’s in a stage of his career where as far as his fan base is concerned he can do no wrong. He could have easily started an arena tour back in March, when the album released, phoned in every performance, and still sold out every show.. He instead chose to play only a dozen shows in intimate venues, in cities that have supported him since the beginning of his career. That’s what made the Kunta Groove Sessions spectacular.
The show opened with a brief set from label mate Jay Rock, who made waves with his latest release, 90059, this past summer. He notably played three tracks that featured Kendrick, without him. It was perhaps the most off putting when he traded bars with the pre-recorded Lamar vocals on “Easy Bake.” That being said, it is obvious that they were trying to build anticipation for Lamar’s set. During the intermission Jay Rock visited the merch booth and met fans. He was extremely friendly and seemed genuinely excited to be there.
When the curtained opened for the headline set, Kendrick and his 4-piece jazz/funk band, The Wesley Theory, emerged. The band immediately announced their presence with a brief cover of “Can’t Hide Love” by Earth Wind and Fire while Kendrick sat on a couch. After the band fell silent he teased the crowd, stepping up to the mic to thunderous applause, only to shudder and fall away a few times. After soaking in the applause as the crowds anticipation mounted he opened his mouth and proclaimed, “This dick ain’t” as the crowd responded “freeeeeee.” “For free? (interlude)” served as a fantastic showcase for his band as they nailed its frantic pace. He went on to perform all of To Pimp A Butterfly, excluding “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Moma Said.)” In addition he played most of the essential hits off of Good Kid M.A.A.D. City. He surprised the crowd when he free styled alternative lyrics to “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and threw in an unrecorded track. Knowing his track record, based on his unreleased “untitled” track preformed on The Colbert Report finale and unfinished freestyle snippet in his “Alright” music video, it seems unlikely I will ever hear that track again. That being said I hope I’m wrong.
He spoke about the last time he had performed the Fox Theater, in 2012 to 350 of the loudest people he had ever seen. He did a few bars of his first major hit off Section 8.0., ADHD, acapella, leaving it up to the crowd to finish the verse. They passed his test with flying colors roaring the remainder. Prior to his encore the crowd belted out the chant “We gonna be alright!” When Lamar came back onstage he urged the crowd to get louder for a few minutes before conceding “alright,” and dropping the track. He dedicated the track to the city of Oakland and reminded the crowd he chose to film the tracks video there for a reason.
This show was far from a typical hip-hop show. There were no features or surprise guests for that matter. The stage setup resembled an art installation with canted metal bars and a neon arrow reading “pimps only” pointed at the mic. The Fox Theater itself was a spectacle. It was my first time at the venue and did not expect it to be a renovated movie palace from the silent era. It was the prefect venue for the type of show Kendrick Lamar wanted to deliver. It was equal parts grandiose and intimate. It was a thank you to his loyal fans, as well as, a celebration his success as well as the city of Oakland itself.