There's nothing in Kendrick Lamar's catalog that suggests he's a capacity crowd artist. He doesn't chase radio glory. He doesn't make what you call, um, hits. He's just starting to log big name cosigns. Yet, on Saturday, Warehouse Live was packed from end to end with hip-hop fans eager to catch a glimpse of the Comptown lyricist. The show sold out. Those who arrived late were turned away.
Lamar's 2011 album, Section .80, tackled the woes of what he dubbed "the crack baby generation." After years of industry politics and shattered dreams, Section .80 finally arrived via indie powerhouse Top Dawg Entertainment. It marked his official introduction -- a 16-song opus stuffed with soul samples, spoken word bits, ruminations on youth, and the occasional endorsement of natural beauty.
At Warehouse, Kendrick kept his attention on Section .80, occasionally pausing to visit his widely praised mixtape, Overly Dedicated. Clad in a gray hoodie with tiger print sleeves and sagging blue jeans, he launched right into his show-stealing Take Care interlude, "Buried Alive," where he examines himself examining the spoils of fame: "So dig a shovel full of money, full of power, full of pussy, full of fame, and bury yourself alive. Then I died."
Lamar truly came alive Saturday night, each high point toppled by subsequent high points. His favorite stance is to stand (or occasionally move from side to side) majestically, hand on nutsack, hunched over with a menacing L.A. face, except during "Rigamortus" which had him leaping around and play-shooting TDE co-conspirators Jay Rock and ScHoolboy Q. His sheer charisma and passion is thoroughly infectious.
His set had all the ingredients of a classic hip-hop show.
Energy. K.Dot may be a pint-sized rapper but his energy is monstrous, contagious even. He wrapped his tongue around words with just the right amount of emphasis and rhymed all night with the swagger of a man who knows he was born to do this. And when the show threatened to degenerate into a mid-tempo drone, he invited the manically animated Jay Rock to inject even more excitement with "Hood Gone Love It."
Camaraderie. K.Dot and his Black Hippy brethren ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul kept the crowd entertained with their antics -- primarily dancing, sharing inside jokes, and goofing around. Q and Jay were nice enough to play dead on the stage during "Rigamortus."
Crowd participation. The crowd was seemingly drunk on coffee, frenetic from jump to finish. This culturally diverse group of K.Dot disciples threw three fingers in the air well before their idol arrived, raised two hands on command, rapped along to every track in a way that would light up Method Man's face; they oozed enough energy to power an electric plant.
And since this is Houston, southern hospitality was also on the menu. Among the H-town greats that filed out to welcome K.Dot to the city: Scarface, Bun B, and Slim Thug. Also in the building: Propain, Doughbeezy, Killa Kyleon, OG Ron C, the Niceguys, and a bevy of Houston hip-hoppers.
Sixty-seven minutes later, Lamar requested that the lights stay on before leading the crowd to a raucous rendition of the cult anthem, "HiiiPower." And just when we thought he was done, he proceeded to end the show with a chest-thumping freestyle that reaffirmed his verbal dexterity.
Lamar is a kid who looks around his world and sees hazy realities but manages to keep his thoughts focused, his rhymes nimble, and his tales ultrapoetic. Sometimes that's enough to fill a room.
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Overheard: "He's a regular person." (during Slim Thug's stage cameo)
The Crowd: was higher than Kilimanjaro
"Buried Alive" "F-ck You Ethnicity" "Hol' Up" "Tammy's Song (Her Evils)" "P&P 1.5" "A.D.H.D." "Hood Gone Love It" (with Jay Rock) "The Spiteful Chant" "Rigamortus" "Ronald Reagan Era" "Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)" "Blow My High (Members Only)" "Michael Jordan: "HiiiPower" Freestyle (Title: unknown)