Kendrick Lamar morphed from rapper to preacher at New York City’s Terminal 5 on Monday night for his first show on the Kunta’s Groove Sessions tour. “Music isn’t something you can market all the motherf—in’ time,” he said. “That shit belong to you and you only.” His third studio effort, To Pimp a Butterfly, is unequivocally Lamar. A wild dance between emotionally frustrating and aggressively real, the Compton rapper’s unspoken mission of the night was to unify and uplift through the universal thread of struggle.
After pre-gaming with a half-hour set from Lamar’s Top Dawg cohort Jay Rock, the TDE hoodie-clad crowd waited patiently for their rap savior. The cerulean blue decor glistened in the spotlight as a large neon sign that read “Pimps Only” was the sole centerpiece of Lamar’s simple stage setup. His four-person band put in as much work as Lamar did, bringing the grooves to life by employing every high hat and guitar riff to match Lamar’s aggressive bars. His opening line, “This dick ain’t free,” set the tone.
Despite being the man of the night, the cornrowed rapper had no issue playing hype man during the crowd’s sing-alongs. Cuts from his 2013 debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city — like “Backseat Freestyle,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” — were instant hell-raisers and a nice salute to the album that took Lamar out of the ‘hood and onto the map.
TPAB in a live setting sometimes felt like a spiritual awakening. While Lamar (sadly) did not “hit the Quan” — as he did with Terry Crews in the “These Walls” video — the Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat-assisted jam along with other deep cuts stood on their own, sans viral dances or big-name guests. The magic in live renditions of “Wesley’s Theory,” “Institutionalized,” “The Blacker the Berry” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” was witnessing the variety of ethnicities in attendance subtly find “the gold” that lives inside of them.
“Making this motherf—in’ album was therapy not just for you but for me, know what I’m sayin’?” he asked the crowd, explaining how it it took six months for him to figure out who he was and the message he wanted to deliver on Butterfly.
“Like I said on The Kendrick Lamar EP, I need to be me, gahdammit,” he added.
After leading the crowd in a mosh pit of self-love on his finale “i,” Lamar let the crowd chant “We gon’ be alright” for nearly four minutes before launching into his encore, the Pharrell and Sounwave-produced “Alright.” Despite his platinum-level success, the rapper once known as a “good kid” showed that greatness can be shared.
For Sale? (Interlude)
Swimming Pools (Drank)
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
The Blacker The Berry
I Am (Interlude)