Watch Kendrick Lamar's Historic Kennedy Center Performance w/ The NSO [Video + Exclusive Recap!]
Kendrick Lamar took to the stage at Washington, DC's Kennedy Centeron Tuesday night. Lamar and his band had a little extra support throughout their set, courtesy of the National Symphony Orchestra. From the look and sound of the video that was shot during the performance, it was exactly as epic we knew it'd be. Okayplayer's go-to DC correspondent Mr. Mel Blunt was on hand to experience this historic moment--a clear high-water mark for hip-hop--firsthand. Read his exclusive recap below, then watch video footage of "These Walls"; "Alright"; "King Kunta" and "i" (and keep scrolling for Kendrick'scurrent tour itinerary).
"I was just thinking earlier, DC has some of the most beautiful people. Real talk; dark, light, brown, it's all beautiful...and beyond that; white, yellow, red is beautiful. That's the same beauty that To Pimp A Butterfly represents!" - Kendrick Lamar
From Compton to Congress! Kendrick Lamar came to DC last night and did he ever represent--with the National Symphony Orchestra no less. The mission: adding new dimensions, textures and depth to the already lush musical opus To Pimp a Butterfly while introducing it to a whole new audience. Amidst the glimmering chandeliers, balconies and ornate octagonal ceiling tiles of the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall, this generation's best pound-for-pound MCcame out chill and composed, dipped in basic black.
Just as Kendrick's good kid, m.A.A.d. city was compared to Nas' Illmatic, this performance at the Kennedy Center offers another parallel in that both of these Major MCs have now rocked with the National Symphony Orchestra.A group of special musicians joined Lamar and the NSO to help put a little stank on the situation: John Whitt Jr. on keyboards; Robert Gueringer, guitars; Tony "Chicago" Russell, on bass, Tony "Rico" Nichols on drums and music director Dion "DZYNE" Friley.This band of brothers and the NSO enjoyed a well-orchestrated interplay throughout the performance, with each taking the forefront as Lamar, his catalog and NSO conductor Steven Reinke dictated. It was a beautiful marriage of Funk and classical music sensibilities.
Reinkecame out to the Concert Hall stage of the Kennedy Center concert Hall to thunderous crescendos and together offered a resounding medley of Kendrick Lamar hits that offered keen foreshadowing to a special and historic night. As the musical nucleus of "Alright" was presented, the crowd roared in approval. The melodic notes with hints of thunderous drums and beautiful strings segued into "These Walls" next, sweet warm orchestral swells followed by the menacing strings provided the perfect "The Blacker the Berry" teaser.
Kendrick led off with "For Free" showcasing verbal dexterity rapid fire delivery and a composure that most excess simply do not possess. He followed up with the funk explosion known as "Wesley's Theory."He moved the crowd consistently with a unique, active stage presence.
In the next flurry of goodness, Kendrick let off "Institutionalized" and an energetic delivery of "Backseat Freestyle"that the band skillfully infused the high pitched beeps of Eazy E/NWA's "Boyz-N-Tha-Hood" into. Kendrick freaked the call-and-response crowd interplay on this and many other cuts throughout the night. This was no laidback chamber music crowd as they were truly wild for the night from the tuxedos to the Nikes...
Mellow guitars introduced a "Swimming Pools"interlude fully equipped with brooding bass. Next, the wondrous strings to "If These Walls Could Talk" came in major. The sounds provided by the NSO were impeccable--so proper, so right.
Last night,Kendrick showed once again that he is a consummate performer, delivering crisp flows, hand signals a NYC crossing guard couldn't muster, complemented with a slew of manic nonverbal cues that underlined and added exclamation points to his unique grammar. He showed further versatility in singing Bilal's hook in a bluesy howl.
He also proved that he is the preeminent MC in hip-hop music. When Nas stated hip-hop was dead Kendrick was like John Conner, striving to save the embattled genre. Last night, he resuscitated it.
Kendrick's next combination of hooks and uppercuts included"For Sale"and of course he could not rock in DC without discussing "Hood Politics,"which he rocked so hard it quite possibly made "Obama say what it do?" The cut's live guitars and looping strings possessed the glide and grace of gossamer wings. Lamar stayed rocking with assuredness, even serving as Conductor in places--and handling business! The NSO went mosh-pit H.A.M as guitarist Robert Gueringer Kirked-out, Hendrix style, on a sick solo.
Nothing could rattle or phase Kendrick on this night. That is, until a woman in the audience yelled "I love you!" Kendrick paused, he was literally stuck with back to the audience, blushing.
After a few seconds it was back to business as he delivered a vicious lefthook in the form of "good kid m.A.A.d. city, performedrock-style.The crowd was actively hype and showed Kendrick m.A.A.d. love and his appreciation emanated from the stage and through his performance. Even as heoffered "U" --and delivered the angst and confusion that makes this cut, he shared:
"As I listen to that last verse I remember where I was when I wrote it. I wasn't not in a good space. But there was GOD. I was down, but now I'm up, it all falls down."
The funk overload of "King Kunta"followed and the crowd was again on its feet for the umpteenth time!An energetic sea of hands rhythmically undulated up and down like a raucous crowd in a dank basement battle, but this was the elegant Kennedy Center, where decorum and reservation reign supreme. By the end of the cut, Kendrick, the catalyst of this visible, soulful chain reaction was exhorting crowd to shout "we want the funk!" even the tuxes in the upper balconies were rocking.
Kendrick exuded a controlled, measured emotion that ratcheted up and down like the soaring crescendos of the NSO throughout the night.Then came Isley Brothers thump of "i"followed by a groove tease of "How Much a Dollar Cost?" and super hero music courtesy of the NSO in the form of "Blacker the Berry."
Even with all of its dramatic effects,Kendrick's raw, well paced emotion matched the intensity of the National symphony Orchestra as they launched into what could be called the "Robert Glasper-Layla HathawayOutro" followed by "Mortal Man." The NSO horns makes their presence felt here, the bass rumbling as it posted up, down, low in the paint like a bear!"The Ghost of Mandela / All my flows they propelling.." -- the horns and strings made this so authentic.
Kendrick then launched an a capella blast in which he seemed to catch the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues. As he finished, he bid farewell.The crowd was electric, manic--and vocal, hearkening for an encore. Kendrick came back to deliver the knockout: "Alright."
"See moments like this it why I made To Pimp a Butterfly. [It's] about music people could connect to, could live their daily lives to. I went in on the first album but I did it times 10 on the second. Don't clap for me this is your moment. Let's have a moment of silence I want to feel the energy in the room."
The energy was clearly felt. This was one of the biggest most important hip-hop events that I have ever experienced in DC. A truly special moment in music! Earlier in the night, Kendrick pointed out:
"I think the last time that I was here [in DC] was for my mix tape Section 80..." - Kendrick Lamar
You've come a long way, good kid.
10-20 Washington, DC - Kennedy Center
10-22 Brooklyn, NY - Barclays Center
10-24 Columbus, OH - LC Pavilion
10-25 Chicago, IL - United Center
10-27 Atlanta, GA - The Tabernacle *
10-29 Dallas, TX - South Side Music Hall *
11-01 Washington, DC - Lincoln Theatre *
11-02 New York, NY - Webster Hall *
11-03 Philadelphia, PA - The Trocadero Theatre *
11-04 Cleveland, OH - House of Blues *
11-08 Los Angeles, CA - The Forum
11-10 Oakland, CA - Fox Theater *