All photos: Cesar Olivares
Compton, California native and rising rapper of the moment Kendrick Lamar comes to Washington, DC to make stupendous superstar statements. It was in 2011 when the then internet popular performer, buoyed by album Section 80, headlined at the 9:30 Club. One year and a plethora of incredible co-signs from an excited industry later, his good kid, m.A.A.d city album drops on October 22nd. In preparation for what industry insiders portend to be a well-received and game changing debut, he returned to the nation’s capital to celebrate. Sponsored by BET Music Matters and supported by confident Maybach Music sergeant-at-arms Stalley (pictured below), plus fellow Top Dawg Entertainment crew members Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, Friday night’s Howard Theater event was an orgasmic Kendrick Lamar love fest.
At present, Top Dawg Entertainment represent the Freudian triumvirate of the psyche of the average, mainstream rap loving, under-30 American citizen. Schoolboy Q is the id. When the thickly-built, cannabis-enhanced and familiarly bucket-hatted Seattle-native made a surprise guest appearance during Lamar’s headlining set to drop bars from his instant classic duet with A$AP Rocky, “Hands on the Wheel,” the Howard Theater became the epicenter of hip-hop’s most powerful notions in youth culture. Young men wailed, young women squealed. It was the very personification of the electric moments that crown entertainers as cultural icons.
Jay Rock and Ab-Soul are the dual-edged sword of the ego. For those less than aware of psychology, baseball terminology works well with these members of the TDE team and their Friday night performances. Ab-Soul is a wonderful leadoff hitter. “As y’all know, I have a lot of styles, and people know me for my diversity,” he proudly claimed during his performance, and he delivered to that expectation. Providing a plethora of ways to score a hit, from lo-fi stoner raps, quasi-revolutionary rhymes or “turnt up” party starters, he’s still yet to have a major smash, but hitting his stride with consistent singles. Tracks from his latest mixtape, Control System, wowed the sold-out crowd. Jay Rock’s stage presence is clear and obvious. The Watts, California native comes on strong like a hood rap favoring #3 hitter in a baseball lineup. He has the heavy hitting lines to smash home runs as a solo artist, but as a member of a larger collective is okay with consistently getting on base. As additions to allow Kendrick Lamar, the most powerful of rising players in rap, to smash base clearing drives, Top Dawg is THE rising crew to watch in rap music.
Kendrick Lamar represents the super-ego and is rap’s golden child. The Compton, California native’s story of growing up as an intelligent and well-meaning child surrounded by bad intentions informs his rap with a harmonious ebb and flow that gives him unique crossover potential. Tracks like “Pussy and Patron” are hook-driven songs with noteworthy lyrical content. Thus, Lamar’s style is perfect fodder for a crowd made up of the digital generation. These are children raised more aware than ever before, able to believe that intelligence and ignorance are ideals that can live in synergy. They, like Lamar’s lyrics, thoughtfully merge everything about what is very right and what is very wrong into the perfect ideal.
Noteworthy about Lamar’s set was the brevity with which he touched upon past hits like “Rigamortis” and “Michael Jordan.” The songs that informed his past are clearly not the more well-defined hits that create his future. The former’s machine gun flow and the latter’s owing of it’s excellence to bathing in the absurdity of Lil Wayne hooks pale in comparison to good kid, m.A.A.d city‘s lead single “Swimming Pools.” The pinnacle of his performance, it may as well be the top moment of underground-to-mainstream rap in 2012. Sneaking onto your iPOD as a drunken party anthem but staying as a midnight confession of everything wrong with the glamorous life, it’s an exquisite song. Again, Lamar excels as a perfect interplay of hooks and raps, and portends well as a rapper for all seasons and all times.
In the current era, young rap performers are proclaimed as phenomenal young men on a daily, possibly even hourly basis. However, when the cream of the crop take the stage, the line in the sand is drawn between the brightest young hype and the biggest young stars. Between Stalley’s presence, Ab-Soul’s intellect, Jay Rock’s stentorian delivery, and the je ne sais quoi of Kendrick Lamar, Friday evening was a showcase of the best of what hip-hop culture’s future has to offer.
- Jay Rock: