Kendrick Lamar returned to Art Basel for American Express’ Music Meets Art showcase at Miami’s luxurious Faena Hotel in Miami on Thursday night. While the consummate crowd-pleaser has been shutting down stages for festivals across the globe, the Art Basel showcase marked a first for the Compton rapper, who teamed with visual artist Shantell Martin for the set. “I never did a visual performance where an artist is actually projecting the visuals, [the] concept of the music, and I think that’s pretty dope,” he said. “It’s an experience in itself.”
In the vibrant Faena Dome sitting on the beach, attendees were welcomed with intricate drawings of faces and shapes by Martin while Lamar’s performance featured montages of icons like Michael Jordan, the late Prince and Pam Grier, to name a few. Lamar says he connected to Martin’s work through her freestyling method, which resonated with his own studio flow.
“Her work had layers to it. It’s kind of like the music that I make,” he said. “Her drawings actually remind me of something at home [in Compton] when I was growing up in my neighborhood, and I seen different artwork on the walls — just gang writing.”
Lamar also recalled having a ball on set with basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal for American Express’ recent “Shop Small” spot promoting small businesses, where the two sniff out soap bars in the Los Angeles boutique Soaptopia. “Shaq is a real funny guy — it was natural. Everything you see in the clip is us freestyling, being in our own heads and vibing with each other,” recalled Lamar, who also took home a bar of soap called Luscious Lamar.
In the event Lamar and Shaq Diesel were to team up for a rap record, Lamar guarantees it would be West Coast vibes. “Shaq Diesel had the smash back then,” says Lamar before spitting a line from the Laker legend’s 1996 track “Strait Playin’.” “We’d have to remix that, bring that back and make sure we keep it L.A. all the way.”
He adds that hanging with the hoop star also reminded him of being in the booth. “Not really too much script — that’s what I like. I think of going to the studio and there’s no script. Sometimes I don’t wanna write it down, I just want to put my feelings out there.”
Lamar’s emotions were hard to deny during his 75-minute set, where he opened with “Untitled 07” off his latest effort Untitled, Unmastered, which dropped this past March. Like his festival runs, Lamar brought the funk to South Beach with a hefty mix of Good Kid, m.A.A.d City cuts like “B-tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Backseat Freestyle” and To Pimp a Butterfly crowd-pleasers like “These Walls,” “King Kunta,” “Alright” and the finale “i.”
When it comes to supporting small businesses, Lamar reps his home team, Top Dawg Entertainment, as well as the efforts within his community. “We been supporting TDE since day one. Anything that’s independent — record labels that’s coming up inside of the community, the projects in the city of Compton, mom and pop record stores that they be shutting down, our local swap meets — those the things that we support because those the things that got us here.”
One to be witty, Lamar also said that if American Express were to hand him a card with no limit, his next purchase would be “peace of mind.”