After a five-year hiatus, the Compton rap phenomenon that is Kendrick Lamar decided to make his comeback this year with his fifth album, ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’, and, boy, didn’t the world take him back with open arms. In between his latest record and the one before that (the Pulitzer Award-winning ‘DAMN.’), the 35-year-old’s life has developed in so many ways; he’s become a father, and with that came a new sense of clarity on life. And now he touches Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage in a white shirt and tapered black cigarette pants to close out this year’s 50th birthday bash.
The award-winning, multi-Platinum-selling lyrical mastermind’s long-awaited return to the UK starts off with tantalising strings before the thunderous opening track of his latest release. Slender Black men march around the stage with intent but go nowhere, before Kenny is revealed, peeling himself away from his mirror.
Kendrick gives us the hits in his discography early on: right off the bat, ‘United In Grief’ finds Lamar taking a trip down memory lane back to his ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ days. The Compton star runs through more of these charming, nostalgic tracks: ‘Money Trees’, ‘Backseat Freestyle’ (whose religious imagery rings more true with the diamond-encrusted, thorned crown on Lamar’s head), ‘Swimming Pools’, and more.
From the jump, it’s a raging party despite the emotive choreography on stage. Kendrick Lamar allows his primetime spot, televised to the entire world, to showcase contemporary Black art – and this adds to this performance’s supremacy. ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ was a nuanced listened for Black people, and it feels like for his Pyramid stage debut is for us.
Once ‘Count Me Out’ comes on, there’s already been a shift in atmosphere; the blue lights that once surrounded Kendrick now burn a deep amber. He is confidently breaking free from his past experiences, now shifting to the feel-good funk of his third album, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, as the self-love anthem ‘i’ and ‘King Kunta’ emanates through the speakers.
There are a bunch of moments in his set where you believe Kendrick is no longer performing but talking to someone. Firstly, when the zippy ‘Silent Hill’ comes on, as he raps, “Picking my daughter up, she needs all the love”, he smiles and nods off stage towards his wife in the wings. For the sultry, Rihanna-assisted (no: she did not come out) ‘Loyalty’, everything bar the bassline is kicked out when he sings “tell me who you’re loyal to?”, as if it’s a serious question posed to us in the crowd.
Yet, the most poignant moment occurs when he plays his first Billboard Number One, ‘HUMBLE.’, where (after the stage blacks out and Kendrick reappears in a disheveled shirt), he looks towards the camera as well as the massive mirror he looked in at the start and raps the chorus to not only humble us, but himself too. This is the start of the section of where Kenny grapples with messiah complex.
The first sentence Kendrick says to the crowd is “I think we’ve got a whole lot of love out here tonight: Glastonbury, do you agree?” – and it isn’t just superficial crowd hyping-up. Instead, it’s a perfect segue into is Zacari-assisted ‘LOVE.’, from his fourth album, ‘DAMN’. It’s all syrupy sweet in the crowd around NME; lovers kiss and friend croons – it’s a real love affair.
After this track, we finally see Lamar break, taking a moment of silence to soak in the love. The crowd stupidly chants “Oh Kendrick Lamar!” in the style of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’, and the tear Kendrick so desperately tried to hide falls; we still hang on his every breath. And then he lets us hear his mindset, telling us why ‘Saviour’ is his favourite track from ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’.
“No matter what you’re going through,” he says, “imperfections are beautiful. I wear this crown: they judged Christ. They judge you, they judge Christ… I wear this as a representation, so you’ll never forget one of the greatest prophets to ever walk the Earth. They Judge You, they judge Christ. We’ll try our best to walk in his image.”
Then he closes his poignant Glastonbury show with ‘Saviour’. Kendrick Lamar’s evolution has occurred before our eyes, as the once-coy and timid boy, who needed to make it off section eight housing, now understands the power of his tongue. He leaves us with one message: “They judge you, they judge Christ / Godspeed for women’s rights”, chanting the word before throwing his mic to the crowd, succumbing to his emotions. As he hastily leaves the stage, it’s worth remembering that the Kendrick’s personal evolution – which represents so many – was televised for the world to see.
Kendrick Lamar played:
‘United in Grief’
‘The Art of Peer Pressure’
‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’
‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’
‘Count Me Out’
‘The Blacker the Berry’