It’s hard to believe, but Top Dawg Entertainment will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year. Time does indeed fly — just as it did Thursday night during the Los Angeles Forum stopover on TDE’s Championship Tour. Kendrick Lamar, SZA and the rest of the TDE family slayed their way through a three-and-a-half-hour combination concert and rap/sing-along jam-packed with hits and fan faves.
Among the evening’s memorable moments and observations:
A Pulitzer Prize performance. From the moment he hit the stage rapping the first verse to “DNA.” until the “Humble” finale featuring the TDE family, Lamar — garbed in red, black and white car racing attire — kept the audience cheering and bouncing on its collective feet throughout his nearly 90-minute performance. At one point during “Humble,” he and the live band went silent and let the entire Forum crowd rap the verses back in unison as Lamar smiled and shook his head. In between, “Pulitzer Kenny” (a nod to the rapper winning the prestigious award that appeared in crooked print letters on a video backdrop at one point) ran through most of his career touchstones and then some, including “Element,” “King Kunta,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Loyalty,” “Money Trees,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Alright” and “Love.” featuring Zacari, who joined him onstage. As did Jay Rock, SZA and ScHoolboy Q at various instances. Throughout his performance, the engaging and lyrically mesmerizing Lamar underscored that TDE’s success was due in no small measure to its hometown fans. “LA, this is your own motherfucking team,” declared Lamar. “You all started this from the bottom to the top. It ain’t been done like this in a motherfucking long time!”
SZA comes into her own. After a whirlwind year of breakthrough hit singles, a platinum album and five Grammy nominations, SZA fittingly swung into commanding action from inside a boxing ring. Dressed in a long satin-trimmed hooded robe over black boxing shorts and a white midriff top, the singer delivered rock-solid performances of songs from her Ctrl debut, including “Supermodel,” “Love Galore,” “Go Gina,” “Drew Barrymore” and “The Weekend.” The house went nuts when labelmate Isaiah Rashad popped onstage to go toe-to-toe with SZA on “Pretty Little Birds.”
Black Panther redux. With the blockbuster film now out on DVD/Blu-ray as of this week, fans were treated to hearing several tracks live from Black Panther the Album: Music From and Inspired By, curated by Lamar and TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. Among the chosen selections: Ab-Soul’s well-received “Bloody Waters,” “Big Shot,” Lamar and SZA on “All the Stars,” ScHoolboy Q with “X” and “King’s Dead” with Lamar and Jay Rock throwing it down.
ScHoolboy Q promises new album is coming. The rapper, who is energy personified onstage, barreled through a set (including “Break the Bank,” “Studio,” “Hell of a Night” and “Collard Greens”) that also kept everyone on their toes — especially after the rapper jokingly admonished those who remained seated three songs into his performance. “You ain’t going to do me like that,” he said. “You’ve got to get into this anti-moron groove.” Before launching into “Man of the Year,” ScHoolboy Q noted that after spending time as a fulltime daddy and golfer, “I think it’s time to drop this album that I finished a long time ago within the next few months or weeks.”
SiR’s got next. Signed to Top Dawg last year, the soulful singer/songwriter drew enthusiastic applause for his 15-minute opening segment, in particular for the songs “W$ Boi” (Westside Boy) and “He Deserves Your Love.” The Inglewood, Calif., native received further shine when ScHoolboy Q brought him back to perform “Something Foreign,” which features Q and appears on SiR’s current album November.
A winning attitude. In keeping with the tour’s championship theme, each featured artist wore an outfit identified with a specific sport. Each set also sported fitting backdrops (a golf cart, checkered racing flags) while trading-card images of each talent, outlining various individual characteristics, flashed across a video screen behind the stage. The theme was carried through between sets as well, thanks to tracks like Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and the theme from the film Rocky.
TDE’s 29-city Championship Tour — its first with the company’s full roster — kicked off May 4 in Vancouver and winds up its Los Angeles stand Friday night (May 10). Remaining dates include stops in San Diego (May 13), Houston (May 19), Atlanta (May 25), New York (May 29), Boston (June 5) and Philadelphia (June 8) before the tour wraps in Pittsburgh on June 16.