Plenty of emotions were on display at Kendrick Lamar’s Los Angeles Staples Center stop on Aug. 6, but the most evident one was ease. The Compton-native embodied a stage confidence that only few MCs possess. Opening a three-night run at the downtown arena, there was a palpable sense that Lamar was at home.
Not afraid of holding a stage on his own, Lamar jumped from new song to old seamlessly. Kicking off the show with his hit single “DNA” while wearing a bright yellow jump-suit that paid homage to his hometown Los Angles Lakers, the rapper barely skipped a beat as he pumped up the crowd.
Perhaps taking a cue from Wu-Tang Clan, a Kung-Fu theme was the throughline for the night and included the film “The Damn Legend of Kung Fu,” during which Lamar is shown as his alter-ego “Kung-Fu Kenny,” a common reference on the rapper’s tracks, nodding to the Don Cheadle character in “Rush Hour 2.” The film features Lamar as a rookie trained by a shifu and finishing with the rapper as a scholar capable of channeling the energy of a master, known as the “glow.”
In a way, the audience could be seen as new students with Lamar as the teacher, albeit delivering the technical skills that one is born with and can’t necessarily learn. In fact, martial artists were the only other humans to join the rapper on stage, though the crowd barely noticed as Lamar’s very presence was that captivating. The video would occasionally bleed in to Lamar’s performance including one impressive feat where Lamar appears to be hovering over the ground as he spits rhymes to his new song “Pride,” from the album “DAMN.”
Lamar takes a minimalist approach to his production, with flashing lights and the occasional shooting pyro the only real effect to join him on stage. Although, what kind of bells and whistles could feasibly accompany a beast of a song like “Humble,” anyway?
Even the setlist had a less-is-more feel to it, with Kendrick steering clear of any tracks from fan-favorite album “Section. 80,” and sticking mainly to new material. Lamar did hit on old favorites like “Alright” and “King Kunta” for the loyalists in attendance, and each time the crowd erupted in applause.
In a way, Lamar has earned the right to stay simple as the MC has always preferred a more anti-flamboyant vibe to that of his counterparts. Ironically, “DAMN” is his most accessible album and you’d think he would want to hip new converts to the hits that helped him get there — and return home.