Having barely digested his new release to accompany the Black Panther film, Kendrick Lamar took his blistering DAMN tour to London and in true sensei-style, delivered a lesson to remember.
In a similar vein to his recent GRAMMYs performance, the show opens with a pseudo-satire movie about Lamar’s alter-ego ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ and his journey to defeating evil, becoming ‘The Black Turtle’ and discovering the ultimate treasure in life. The series of clips throughout the show are subtitled to perfection and is nothing short of a comedic masterpiece, offering a welcome breather in what was a jam-packed gig.
Stepping out in head-to-toe black robes opening with the aggressive ‘DNA’ he sets the tone, sparring with a kendo stick-wielding dancer as the pyrotechnics grow fiercer. ‘ELEMENT’ is up next before ‘YAH’ merges seamlessly into ‘King Kunta.’
Rolling full steam ahead through older material such as ‘Collard Greens’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ to his verse from Rich The Kid’s ‘New Freezer’ and the epic ‘LOYALTY.’ The stage transforms throughout the course of the evening; the trippy visuals and staggering light show giving a flavour of what is to come.
Distracted by the ever-hilarious martial arts movie on screen, the first few chords to ‘LUST’ play out to a pitch-black arena, with Kendrick eventually emerging from a caged platform in the middle of the crowd. Prowling around the illuminated cage verse after verse, he ascends out of the prison to stand atop for a sensational rendition of ‘Money Trees’ which quickly became the highlight of the evening.
Sticking with good kid, m.A.A.d city, ‘Bitch, Dan’t Kill My Vibe’ gets a welcome response, but interestingly Lamar opts for two verses from the Jay-Z remix rather than the original, potentially indicating he’s switching up the setlist each night to keep things entertaining for himself.
Going back to DAMN. ‘PRIDE’ sees Kendrick suspended from the stage ceiling and rapping horizontally, from a distance it looks like he is floating in a straight-jacket. Weird and wonderful in every sense. ‘XXX’ is a movie in itself, the wailing police sirens in the song reflected by a lowering stage with flickering red and blue flashing lights ahead. It is simple, yet brilliantly effective.
‘Alright’ goes down as expected; powerful, poignant and politically potent. You cannot help but feel the sentiment of the #BlackLivesMatter anthem it has grown to become, particularly in the current political climate.
Just as we approach the close, Lamar stops and absorbs the energy of the 20,000 inside The O2. A moment of rare stillness amidst a raging show; he is visibly humbled.
No surprise then, as to what song is up next. His most commercially successful track to date lifts the audience into another world, and coming from someone who actively thought this was the poorest song on the album, it is excellent to see the O2 singing (or at least mumbling along to) near-enough every word a cappella.
The final song is the euphoric ‘GOD,’ an interesting choice – a great track but not the bombastic finisher London needed. Nonetheless the show overall is a visually impressive and all-round powerful spectacle. Kung Fu Kenny is at a stage now where he can push, kick and karate-chop his way through creative boundaries and claim his spot as the greatest in the world right now.