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​Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for pgLang, Amazon Music, & Free Lunch. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri.

(Illustrated photo) Kendrick Lamar performs onstage during The Pop Out – Ken & Friends Presented by pgLang and Free Lunch at The Kia Forum on June 19, 2024 in Inglewood, California.

Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for pgLang, Amazon Music, & Free Lunch. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri.

Did Kendrick Lamar Just Have the Greatest Rap Concert Ever?

History was made this week on the West Coast — let’s break it down.

Toward the beginning of his instantly iconic Drake diss, “Not Like Us,” Kendrick Lamar issued a symbolic, if casual statement of intent: “Sometimes you gotta pop out and show niggas.” With the release of the track, the fourth in a series of scathing anti-6ix God diatribes, he was in the midst of doing just that, and he did so again with The Pop Out: Ken & Friends, a Juneteenth extravaganza that unfolded this past Wednesday. Combining deft curation and masterful showmanship, the event was more rap messiah re-coronation than a linear set of performances. Shaped by circumstance, imagination and execution, Kendrick showed up, showed out, and showed us something we’d never seen before, making The Pop Out arguably the greatest rap show the world’s ever seen.

A mixture of eras and ethos, The Pop Out looks a lot like a Frankenstein of landmark showcases; the meticulous cultural representation of Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance, the raw West Coast spirit of Death Row Records’ 1996 House of Blues show, and the unlikely unity of Million Man March. It was nuanced, yet explosive — sprawling, yet self-contained. Here, mainstream musical luminaries like Tyler, The Creator and Steve Lacy took the stage, but L.A. favorite Tommy The Clown technically held down a longer set than either. Roddy Ricch rocked the crowd, but so did relative rap neophytes like Remble. Mustard got his proverbial flowers, fans got the reunion they always wanted — Kendrick, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul all took the stage together for the first time in years — and the headliner shined the brightest in his biggest moment.

Kicking things off with his frenetic Drizzy diss, “Euphoria,” KDot served up a generational exhibition for rap theater, flaunting a lethal combination of breath control and vocal projection; his verses sound as frenzied, controlled and somehow, as legible as his actual recordings. There weren't any backing tracks. Just as on-point was the sequencing, with the seamless mix of upbeat tunes giving it all a sense of propulsiveness he maintained the whole way through. His first micro-climax came with a Black Hippy reunion, a moment that represented homeboys meaningfully reconnecting before it’s too late; imagine if Snoop Dogg had actually gotten to perform with 2Pac at Coachella instead of a hologram? It was enough to see Jay Rock rap “Money Trees” alongside KDot before Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q hit the stage. But when “Like That” transitioned into “Still Dre,” and Dr. Dre himself emerged to deliver the interlude for “Not Like Us,” the whole thing turned into a rap fanboy’s lucid fever dream. Speaking of that, Kendrick ended up performing the track five consecutive times, inviting numerous other West Coast rappers, as well as fellow Cali natives like Russell Westbrook and DeMar Derozan for about 20 minutes of Crip Walking.

Kendrick ended things by having everyone onstage pose for a group picture that united various gangs and sections from California; think about a concert version of XXL’s Greatest Day of Hip-Hop. That’s a good way to describe Kendrick’s Pop Out, too. In the pantheon of legendary shows — and there are many — the Pop Out feels like an inimitable cocktail of spectacle and divine timing. With his array of Drizzy diss tracks, Kendrick proved he’s at the pinnacle of his all-around ability, and his dynamic Pop Out set proved his stage presence is more powerful than ever. The concert’s tight mixture of rap veterans and newcomers made it succinctly comprehensive. The fan service was fan service, but it was a wholesome embrace of the past rather than a tacked on entry on an extensive rap trope to-do list. The stage union of the California sections emitted a spirit of warmth and transformation befitting a Juneteenth celebration.

In its totality, it’s hard to remember an artist delivering such a multi-layered experience while still at the peak of their powers; Dr. Dre’s Up in Smoke Tour feels like its closest competitor, and even that one was narrower in scope. It’s even harder to recall a moment the whole world could watch such a virtuosic rap performance all at once; Pop Out was like a Verzuz on Creatine. There are ultimately too many concerts to give any one performance the distinction of greatest ever, and every generation will have their favorites. But like the best shows, Pop Out will be tethered to an indelible memory, with the live streaming platform making it as visible as any performance before it. With his all-encompassing lineup and multidimensional performances, the concert stands as an engrossing portrait of West Coast Blackness, much of which had never been seen on a global scale. Years from now, folks will remember the day Kendrick popped out and showed the world.