Remember last Halloween when Kendrick Lamar played Southside Music Hall just nine days after his critically acclaimed major label debut dropped? Well, If you were lucky enough to attend, you'll probably tell your grandkids about it one day. The era of catching Kendrick in intimate venues is officially over. There is however, a silver lining to TDE's Black Hippy crew hosting a crowd 5,000 large at Verizon Theatre last night. It can be found in a sea of thousands of elated young faces, galvanized by conscious rap themes. The upside to losing the chance to see one of the greatest lyrical storytellers of this generation up close is that he can now inspire the youth of America on a much larger scale.
Just because Lamar's music has an often uplifting & positive message behind it is not to say that TDE/Black Hippy is a hip hop after-school special for the masses. The largely adolescent crowd was just as excited to hear Schoolboy Q & Ab-soul's "Druggys WitH Hoes" body of work as they were to hear Kendrick.
Black Hippy is proving that just because music contains what some would consider unsavory subject matter doesn't mean that it's a call to embrace or adopt any kind of unsavory lifestyle. It's important for kids today to know that it's okay and fun to jam songs about drunk driving or selling drugs, and to take them for what they are -- a form of expression and storytelling.
We made our way to our seats, catching the tail end of a solid set from Jay Rock. Often known as the black sheep of Black Hippy, he's easily the most lyrically gifted next to Kendrick. It would be nice to see TDE focus more attention on him this coming fall -- his reappearance during Lamar's set to spit his verse from "Money Trees" would be a highlight of the evening's performances.
Ab-Soul was next, who, much like Jay Rock, still hasn't grown quite comfortable with working an arena stage. The self-proclaimed "black lipped bastard" performed various tracks from his 2012 project, Control System to a warm reception -- but it would've been nice to see him make more use of his space on stage.
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Schoolboy Q, who's slated for the next big TDE album release, was slightly more comfortable on the big stage. The audience went nuts for older hits like "Hands On the Wheel," and newer releases like the incredibly catchy "Yay Yay." It was pretty exciting to see 5,000 kids chanting his signature adlib: "YAWK YAWK YAWK!"
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When Kendrick finally took the stage, he started with an electrifying verse from "M.A.A.D City," one of the most rousing and important tracks from his album. However, as someone who's had the pleasure of seeing Kendrick four times in the last 12 months, I keep holding out hope to one day see the five and a half minute song performed live in it's entirety. It's a long shot, considering the track contains a rare feature from Compton's Most Wanted's MC Eiht, but to even just to hear Kendrick's last verse (which was my absolute favorite sixteen bars of 2012) - would be a dream.
Less than a year after the release of good kid, M.A.A.D city, Lamar is growing into his budding celebrity with tremendous grace. He seemed perfectly at home in front of a crowd of that magnitude, and still dedicated a substantial part of his set to thanking the fans who have been supporting him from the beginning in those small room shows. It is incredibly exciting to see this young generation of rap fans watch Lamar and the TDE crew come full circle, and show their fans in real time how much hard work and dedication can pay off. Black Hippy is a powerful message executed in an extremely entertaining fashion, and these are exciting times for mainstream hip-hop because of that.