David Bowie is dead, Prince is dead, thank god we have Kendrick Lamar. Not my words, but one of many rave reviews (Guardian, New York Times) about the DAMN. Tour. So what the fuck is all the buzz really about?
This ain’t no regular concert, this ain’t no regular crowd, so much is clear on the way towards the Mercedes Benz Arena for the final night of the European tour. These ain’t the forty- and fifty-year old white males who don’t mind spending 100 or 200 euros on a ticket for U2 or Depeche Mode or Foo Fighters. This here is the hipster, hoody-wearing twenty-something, as likely to be male or female, black or white. This, so much is clear, really IS a new generation.
We discussed this generational topic many times when we had a blog (in Dutch) about the beloved Lowlands festival. We were the old guard, the people who grew up with rock and indie and were open for electronic music, who slowly got bored of the same headliners. It was time for change, but what kind of change?
Kendrick Lamar is the embodiment of this change. When he will perform on the festival for the third time in August 2018, he will be the undisputed headliner. The crowdpleaser and master of ceremony. The president of the new generation. Finally the moment has come. No more Nick Cave or Nine Inch Nails, as good as they are. And no more Prodigy as well: Always good for a good party, but also the personification of rock and dance music looking for fresh new ideas.
Under the surface
And then there was hiphop. A subculture that has been bubbling under the surface for some time. Usually associated with big guns such as Jay-Z, Kanye West and Eminem. Each of them able to fill arenas easily as well by now.
But everything about Kendrick Lamar is different. The big guns mentioned above also appeal to the older crowds. They still like to play with big beats, big money and big tits. The 30-year-old rapper from Los Angeles is completely different. He is god-fearing, humble and infuses his beats with jazz and latin. And his words are literally music in the ears of his young fans: It has been a long time since I heard so much crowd-singing.
In fact, it’s more than twenty years ago, June 21st 1994. The Beastie Boys played the Paradiso club in Amsterdam and that night was WILD. That was a mixed, young crowd, far away from the black T-shirts that made Metallica great in those days. And what happened on-stage was just as genre-busting: the Beasties mixed rap, hiphop, rock, jazz and punk as never seen before, reaching out to both sides of the racial divide.
Kendrick does the same. He had an excellent three-piece-band on the side of the stage, giving the music more oomph than when it comes from a box. The sound was a bit blunt sometimes, though that might have to do with my seat high up to the side of the stage.
That stage was his and only his. No gimmicks, except some firethrowers and video screens. The focus was on Lamar, from the moment he came from under the stage, in a Messias-like white dress. And so it started, with DNA.:
I got, I got, I got, I got
Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA
And that, my friends, was only the start. Almost half of the show was devoted to his latest album DAMN., his third classic in a row. It might not be your cup of tea (for me personally it’s a bit too slow and soft), but boring it ain’t. Not one album is the same, this guy never plays safe, and he is not afraid to speak out. And live the sound was much heavier and better than on record.
It didn’t even take three songs, until King Kunta, to transform the standing area into an unusual jumping mess. You don’t usually see that anymore at huge gigs, in these post-crowdsurfing days. But moshpits were everywhere, just as the ‘Kendrick, Kendrick’ chants from the crowd.
And so he took the arena by storm, in hardly ninety minutes. Impressive was the beautiful slow LUST. on the B-stage. Even better the poignant XXX (without the Bono vocals), segueing into m.A.A.d. city. Unforgettable was HUMBLE., sang word for word by the crowd, several times.
Unforgettable as a whole? Depends on your own taste. But one thing is for sure, it is the taste of a huge new urban generation, and Kendrick is here to stay.