Kendrick Lamar took to the stage at Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center on 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’s current 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 MC came 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.
Reinke came 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…