Kendrick Lamar was the concert of the year in Charlotte

 By Cameron Lee

August 31, 2017

You could just tell walking into the arena, it would be a different kind of night. The unusually mild autumn-like temperatures in late August paved the way for a special evening in the Queen City. There’s been some chatter about Charlotte being a generic or a “basic” city and, although that may be true for most nights, this was an evening that defied the Luke Bryan, Bud Light drinking, instagram foodie stereotype about Charlotteans. The city showed out in a colorful, vibrant fashion as people of all walks of life eagerly awaited Kendrick Lamar’s return to Charlotte with Y.G. and D.R.A.M. So much has changed since his last performance in the city back in September of 2012.

When the DAMN. Tour was announced in April with rapper-singer Big Baby D.R.A.M., there was a real elation knowing that Chance, J. Cole, Logic, Joey Bada$$, and Kendrick would all be making stops in Charlotte this summer. Hampton, Virginia’s D.R.A.M. has had an odd but meteoric rise to music industry success with the annoyingly gleeful chart-topping single “Broccoli” with Lil Yachty and his more recent feature in the fifth Gorillaz studio album, Humanz. D.R.A.M, much like his radiant smile would suggest, brought some good energy to the crowd. His playful and colorful backdrops and bubbly rapping/singing was an ideal prelude to what was to come.

Y.G. was a bit of a throw back; his style and demeanor is reminiscent of the khaki-laden West Coast rap era of Warren G, Too $hort, and Westside Connection, mixed with a more modern trap-rap flare. His hardcore Compton bravado is raw and uninhibited, and you can sense it through his energy. In June 2015, Y.G. was shot in the hip while recording music in a California studio. He suffered minor wounds and immediately returned to the studio to record his second studio album, Still Krazy. Despite his West Coast gangsta persona, Y.G. has broad appeal in the hip-hop landscape having collaborated with artists like Young Jeezy, Drake, Nipsey Hussle, and 50 Cent.

During his short set, he played all the bangers, like “Don’t Tell ‘Em” and “Who Do You Love” but, by far the most memorable part of the evening, was when he brought out a Donald Trump impersonator to spew some discouragingly accurate satirical hate speech. A few giggles quickly turned into loud boos, as he spit the lyrics, “Just when I thought it wouldn’t get no sicker / I woke up one morning and heard this red ass mothafucka talkin’ out the side of his neck.” The crowd bounced to the catchy West Side bump and shouted, “Fuck Donald Trump!” Even though he was a late addition to the DAMN. Tour, Y.G. proved his sound and energy can fill the large space.  

The evening flowed smoothly up to this point, and the crowd filled the arena preparing for one of the biggest artists in music to hit the stage. His latest moniker “Kung Fu Kenny” was heavily present with a vintage-style kung-fu instructional video backdrop leading into his introduction. Drawn out with sound effects and chants of “Kendrick, Kendrick” rumbling through the crowd, Geraldo Rivera’s voice echoed the words: “Years of police brutality with the line in the song, and we hate the popo, wanna kill us in the street fo’ sho,” Kendrick emerged from the clouds of smoke, “I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” The crowd erupted, and the anticipatory energy built up during the intro exploded with vigor.

From K.Dot to Kung Fu Kenny, Kendrick Lamar’s catalog of music is robust and filled with a myriad of interesting soundscapes, styles, and his profound dialect. He swiftly transitioned into “ELEMENT.” from the latest album DAMN. then into “King Kunta,” bringing the energy back up to a higher level. He performed “untitled 07 I 2014 2016” from the much slept-on surprise untitled unmastered. release in March of 2016 and had some fun with his “Mask Off” freestyle on the popular Future track, which is a staple in most rap shows in 2017. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” brought back the 2012 vibes, as this was his first commercially appealing song from good kid, m.A.A.d city. It was awe-inspiring to think about the wide-range of songs from the last five years. Equally impressive was the diverse audience the music has impacted.

From his hypnotically bouncy track “LOYALTY.” featuring Rihanna, to his monster street anthem, “m.A.A.d city,” Kendrick displayed the precision and delivery of a finely tuned luxury sports car. The lighter more sentimental moments included an array of phone lights that lit up the audience after “LOVE.” and a dedication to those suffering in Houston from Hurricane Harvey before “Alright.” This song has been the source of hope in dejected moments for many people and an hymn for those who are looking to overcome. “Alls my life I had to fight / Hard times like yah / Bad trips like “God!” / Nazareth, I’m f*cked up / Homie you f*cked up / But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright,” he projected.

The defining moment of the evening came when he performed “HUMBLE.” and, much to the shock of many in attendance, Kendrick went silent toward the end of his first set of lyrics, and the crowd took over. Voices carried through the softly-lit arena as Kendrick gazed into the crowd appreciating the moment. It was poignant and it expresses the shift in culture in our city. We’ve been through a lot in Charlotte over the last few years, and we’re bound to go through more turmoil as this city grows into a bustling metropolis, but Tuesday night affirmed that we are indeed gon’ be alright.

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