Written by Emilee Lindner • Photography by Getty Images • April 28, 2017
Kendrick Lamar will be touring his DAMN. album on the similarly monikered tour this summer with Travis Scott and D.R.A.M. as special guests. And with his reputation as an epic performer, Kendrick's fans have been flocking to grab tickets for their chance to see him live. (Grab your tickets here.)
Perhaps you've seen him at a major festival. Or maybe you caught him when he opened on Kanye West's Yeezus Tour. Or maybe you've just seen him on TV, causing a riot at the Grammys or ripping up Saturday Night Live. Either way, Kendrick knows how to command a stage, and we've got the proof.
Here are the seven Kendrick Lamar performances you should get acquainted with before seeing the DAMN. rapper live:
The Grammys is where you solidify your place in music history, and that's exactly what Kendrick Lamar did with his performance in 2014. Well respected in the hip-hop community, while relatively a new artist in the eyes of the general public, Kendrick made a lasting impression by teaming up with Imagine Dragons for a combination of "m.A.A.d city" and the rockers' "Radioactive." While Imagine Dragons provided the hard-rock, head-banging anthem, Lamar rapped steadily and with fiery passion. And with that sort of gusto, you need lots of flames. Fire poured out of the stage, perfectly encapsulating Lamar's delivery and getting everyone talking about the performance for the next week.
Kendrick had a lot to live up to during his follow-up performance at the Grammys two years after his first one. Coming out in a blue pison costume, hands in chains, Kendrick and a group of men stood unmoving as he rapped the intro to "The Blacker The Berry." Some men stood behind bars. Kendrick chained himself to the microphone. As the song exploded, his crew did the same, jumping out of their formation and freeing themself. A blacklight revealed tribal patterns on their shirts, and dancers busted out on stage. It was a meaningful performance that called out America's prison problem and racial oppression.
Everyone brings their best at Coachella, and Kendrick wasn't the exception. Of the buzzier sets, Kendrick's was at the top of all lists the next Monday. It had been a few days after he dropped his DAMN. album, and his Coachella set was the first time fans were hearing some of the songs live. He rolled through the brand-new "Humble" with unrelenting energy, he got the crowd doing some sychronized bouncing during To Pimp a Butterfly's "Alright" (check 4:52 for that madness) and even brought out Future so he could get out his feature on "Mask Off." Not to mention the audio and visuals had everything feeling larger than life.
Kendrick's performance at Saturday Night Live in 2014 is just one of the many examples of how he's great at performing without over-the-top themes. Taking the stage with just a band -- a big, funky and diverse one at that -- Lamar stayed at his microphone as he rapped. But look at his gestures and his body movements -- Lamar could command a room by just twitching and spasming at the right moments. On top of that, add his impeccable flow and masterful lyricism, and you've got the whole package. Now, add some black contacts, a double-styled head and a sick group of backup singers, and that's the Kenny experience.
Ellen DeGeneres and Kendrick Lamar are huge fans of each other, so he chose her show to do a special performance of To Pimp A Butterfly's "These Walls." The gig is especially artsy, with a lot to look at. First off, there's Kendrick in a sweater, looking the part of a sensitive poet. Then they're two ballroom dancers, swinging around the studio dance floor. Then, a painter stood on the sidelines, working on a live painting of the two dancers. It was a representation of our art affects others and how we can be inspired by others' creations to create ourself -- just as the painter was inpsired by the dancers, who inspired by Kendrick's music. The 'Ellen' performance was the epitome of Lamar's careful curation of artist and his inimitable vision for theatrics. And in the end, DeGeneres got the original painting!
Lamar visited a Best Buy to celebrate the release of his good kid, m.A.A.d city and decided to give his fans at the store a unique performance. Everyone already knew the words when he busted out Backseat Freestylee (hell, even Taylor Swift eventually learned the lyrics). While Kendrick can obviously blow everyone away onstage, it was cool to see him stripping it back a little and interacting with fans. Give him a mic and a DJ, and he can make any venue his stage, even if it's on the floor at Best Buy. Fans huddled huddled around K.Dot, edging closer to get a glimpse and rapping along like some sort of hip-hop chorus.
Kendrick Lamar was the very last guest on the Colbert Report before the show's host left for The Late Show, and with legends like Paul McCartney closing out the Comedy Central program, it was notable that Lamar was taking the same stage as those guys. Lamar blew everyone away with a full band and an odd performance syle that had him starting and stopping the song (if you're not watching, it's so convincing that you'll think your computer is lagging). With his onstage theatrics and haunting music videos, it's only a matter of time before Kendrick is hitting the big screen.
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