Kendrick Lamar Delivered The Funk At Not-So-Secret Show in Brooklyn [Recap + Photos]
Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express.
With the year winding down and snow steadily approaching in New York City, it was only right to try and take in a show before my hibernation truly begins. Word on the street was that Kendrick Lamar was going to be in town performing a secret show for the good folks of American Express (you know, the commercials he’s in with Shaq). The plug had already hipped me to the news and reserved a spot for me, so I had to go and pay my respects to the game’s best MC (despite what MTV thinks).
After getting ushered in through this side door at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the crew I was with ventured upstairs to the VIP area to catch the show. Amex card holders were asked if they brought their joints to receive some free swag, but I was more interested in getting a good seat so that I could see A Tribe Called Quest‘s Ali Shaheed Muhamaad get busy with his opening, energetic DJ set. He played some new hits (“Yes Lawd,” “Threatening Nature”) and, of course, some celebrated classics from his own discography (“Scenario,” “We the People”).
The certified Brooklyn legend even got much love from the Williamsburg crowd when he spun the theme song to Netflix‘s Luke Cage series with Adrian Younge.
Once his set ended, Wesley’s Theory took to the stage, ready to go and kill it on cue. Dazzling lights blared, the funk swelled in the room and Kendrick Lamar immediately came out and performed his untitled.unmastered hit, “Levitate” for the anticipating audience. It was all about making sure the hits were in full swing for the Amex crowd. As we stood in VIP around guests like Olivia Wilde, Jason Sudeikis, Santigold, Steven Baldwin and his daughter Hailey Baldwin and Wyatt Cenac — it was apparent that we were going to be held captive by Cornrow Kenny and we were all glad to be willing hostages.
After “Levitate,” the crew transitioned into a medley of hits from To Pimp a Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d city respectively, as “Institutionalized,” “BackSeat Freestyle,” “m.A.A.d. city,” and “Swimming Pools” had folks climbing up and down the walls. Below the balcony from where we stood, the cool kids were waving their hands like they didn’t care and rapping-every-word-for-each-and-every-song. A frenetic performer, K Dot never stood in one spot for too long, made eye contact with people and made everyone feel welcome in his world of Hub City hip-hop. In fact, he even swerved at one point to show just how strong TDE is as a record label and a muthafuckin’ crew by performing his verse on ScHoolboy Q‘s “Collard Greens” and then followed that up by making the crowd rap Q’s verse on “THat Part,” which everyone was more than happy to do.
Slowing things down a bit, the West Coast MC shared some words about To Pimp a Butterfly and its impact. Wesley’s Theory laid down some chords to express what was going on in the studio while they were creating and “These Walls” began to form as an under-bed of sound. It was so good to hear “These Walls” live and in living color through some crispy speakers. It was also interesting to see how at home K Dot feels in Brooklyn, shouting out friends, dapping up Day Ones in the crowd. While that story was going on another one was going on behind Kendrick and the band, as different pop culture icons + legends adorned the big screen. For instance, during “These Walls,” Pam Grier played suggestively, following a subtle, yet strong storyline where Kendrick was going to hit us — without knowing — with black legends (Oprah Winfrey), heroes (2Pac), victims (Rodney King), fighters (Mike Tyson, Snoop Dogg) and villains (Don King, Bill O’Reilly) while bearing his own flaws.
The slow down in tempo transitioned us into “Get Top on the Phone,” which found black folks scanning the mixed room to see if others were bold enough to say “jigaboo” with no qualms. They did. A few in my row did it with glee, but that’s another discussion for another day. “Complexion” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” were up next, which had the crowd bouncing in a frenzy, even as Snoop Dogg awaiting his fate during his 1993 murder trial played in the background as a subliminal testimony to black people’s resiliency. “Money Trees” had the whole music hall shaking from left to right, as the beautiful, melodious breeze from Wesley’s Theory had everyone feeling like they were on the beaches of Panama instead of in Brooklyn with 16 degree weather outside.
As a segway, the band continued to show off their playing chops by hitting Earth, Wind & Fire‘s “Can’t Hide Love” into “m.A.A.d city,” which blew the fucking roof of the place. From every angle there was someone going “yawk, yawk, yawk” on point and with conviction. It was the high moment for some, but also a workout for those (like me) who haven’t used their knees in a while. Before taking us back to his underground, beloved album, Overly Dedicated, he thanked the crowd for their unyielding support. “Music comes first, but I wouldn’t be on this stage to tell my story without y’all,” Kendrick confessed to the crowd. Then he hit them in the head with “A.D.H.D.,” which I thought would have more people rapping along with, but my section might not have had all the real Day Ones in it. “King Kunta” and “Alright” followed, as I immediately got a chance to cross seeing those songs performed live off my bucket list.
Videos of James Brown‘s drunk television appearance, happy African children dancing and profiling and Don King flashed in the background while he picked his bone with false, ghostwritten-adled MCs.
Afterwards, a brief intermission of sorts, as Kendrick did what he’s done since forever ago: bring people on stage to rap + freestyle. The first contestant to the stage was amped, showcasing a bravado that made people feel like this is it. He got his beat, he was handed the mic and… womp womp womp. Boo’d off stage. The guy was crunchy, but he wasn’t a spitter, so he had to get the boondocks. Up next was another MC, he was pretty decent, and had some lines that got the crowd involved. But mostly, he played backup to Kendrick when he finally decided to spits some lines and the guest performer was relegated to ad-lib, hype man help. The one artist in particular who came up, wrecked shop and got a pretty solid co-sign from the headlining act himself was Kemba, formerly known as YC The Cynic, who showed future star potential and quite the aplomb as a MC.
With everyone’s vocal chords exhausted, Kendrick closed out the show with an encore performance of “A.D.H.D.” and “I,” which was another must-see performance for me. That latter song specifically made what I’m going through — the stresses in life, the problems with my health, the annoyance of things that get us all down and out — fade away for just a moment as those grooves blared through the speakers. Kendrick came, saw and conquered the land of Williamsburg. He did what he set out to do and had fans raving and chanting in hopes of getting a second encore, yet by that time he and Wesley’s Theory were already off stage and heading away from the venue in their super-stretch tour bus.
Everyone got busy, Amex held a fantastic event that stopped Brooklyn in its tracks and Kendrick proved that his stage show is one of the best in the business.
Be sure to watch the whole thing yourself by checking out the performance here!