Kendrick Lamar – The O2 Arena, London – 12th February 2018

Photo by Dan White

Kendrick Lamar knows how to put on a show. From his 2016 Grammy performance, in which he arrived on stage as part of a chain gang before performing in front of a giant bonfire, to his show at the same awards this year where he (fake) shot his dancers one-by-one and was accompanied by military-inspired performers on the night. Kendrick’s shows are always eye-catching and more often than not, politically charged.

Opening tonight’s show at the The O2 Arena in London with a mini-movie depicting his Kung Fu Kenny persona that featured throughout DAMN., smoke began to fill the stage as anticipation grew for what was sure to be another awe-inspiring display.

As the lights fade to black and darkness envelops the 20,000-seater venue, a video begins to play showing two American reporters on FOX News discussing K-Dot’s lyrics, a segment in which one reporter claims, “Hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism.”

As Kendrick appears through the smoke on-stage the video cuts, flames explode behind him, a light show fires into action and the opening lyrics to ‘DNA’ blast in with: “I got, I got, I got, I got royalty got loyalty inside my DNA,” as a samurai-wielding dancer battles with the rapper.

Off to a searing start, he launches into an early setlist of material from DAMN., including ‘ELEMENT.’, ‘YAH.’, ‘LOYALTY.’ and ‘LUST.’, interspersed with crowd favourites from his most definitive records, good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly.

Testing the audience’s knowledge of his back catalogue with a number of tracks off his untitled unmastered album of 2016, the biggest test was still to come. From here on he shows off his impressive resume of anthemic tunes, with fan favourites such as ‘Backstreet Freestyle’, ‘Money Tree’, ‘m.A.A.d city’, Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and the inflammatory ‘Alright’.

Then a moment occurred that showed the truly iconic status that Kendrick Lamar now holds. After rapping the opening lines to one of last year’s biggest hits, K-Dot then stood motionless as the music cut and nearly every one of the 20,000 crowd sang back the rest of the lyrics to ‘HUMBLE.’. Hair-raising stuff from a night of epic proportions.

If I had one gripe from the evening it may have been the decision to close the set on ‘GOD.’, a down-tempo song that lost the energy at the end of a blistering show, which could’ve been swapped out for a more explosive number such as ‘i’. However, the lack of a visual band or accompanying artists, as so many hip-hoppers have featured on recent tours, didn’t lessen the show and Kendrick’s ability to excite and amaze continued during this one-man triumph that showed what a showman he is.

Politically charged or not, his shows are pure entertainment at its best and, as this man continues to dominate the hip-hop game in a way very few have done before – tackling massive issues in America and worldwide without losing any credibility or direction – it’s easy to forget the rapid rate at which he’s done it all. As he sings on ‘King Kunta’: Straight from the bottom, this the belly of the beast. From a peasant to a prince to a motherfuckin’ king”. Keep doing what you’re doing King Kendrick.

Daniel White