Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock Reliant Arena June 11, 2013
"I'll always have love for Houston."
Those were among the last words Kendrick Lamar told a raucous crowd inside Reliant Arena on Tuesday night, the final rung on Top Dawg Entertainment's good kid, m.A.A.d city tour ladder. He smiled, beamed actually, when telling the story about how no more than two years ago he came to Houston for the first time to headline a small show at Warehouse Live.
Section.80 didn't exist then, his deal with Aftermath Entertainment didn't either. All he had then was (O)verly (D)edicated and 200 rabid fans who probably saw the vision he saw -- that he would come back one day hailed point-blank as the most can't-miss rapper outside of Drake, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Lamar has done some pretty historic things in Houston too. Last December he, along with Southwest promoter kingpins Scoremore Shows, pulled off a Saturday-night doubleheader at both Warehouse Live and House of Blues. His breakthrough album Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City was only two months old at the time and Lamar (about similar height and build as I am) bounced off the stage like a ball of fury. Like everything he had done previously was leading up to just this moment, in Tuesday's massive hour-long set Lamar played inspirational speaker, motivator and showman.
He declared us, the faithful, to be the hottest crowd on the tour thanks to a potpourri of kids in throwback jerseys, older heads who knew better about rap shows not starting on time, and in-betweeners moshing out to "m.A.A.d city." Much like the Spurs from behind the arc in Game 3 of the Finals, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth couldn't miss even if he tried.
He's long gotten Dr. Dre's vocal patterns down for "The Recipe," the sauntering aura of "Poetic Justice" still carries a bit of freshness even though it's dominated radio for months now, and hearing his original breakthrough single "HiiiPoWeR" for the first time since SXSW 2012 made it seem much more like prophecy than anything else. Every song segued neatly into one another, evident that he gives a shit about the presentation of a performance; there was no medley of tracks cut together. In full, Lamar ripped through a collection of tracks from OD to Section.80 to GKMC, and never seemed tired one bit.
As a collective, Lamar's Top Dawg Entertainment may be the absolute strongest in rap as it currently exists. While his set fully hit its pressure points, the buildup to it was quite memorable as well.
There haven't been enough platitudes written about what Jay Rock does as a straightforward street rapper who actually broke through before anybody else within the TDE camp, his talents shrouded by Ab-Soul's quirkiness and ScHoolboy Q's charismatic tug on not only the id but almost every other facet of human identity. When Jay Rock bats leadoff, he still pulls you in as if he were headlining, so much so that a kid got carried out of Reliant, already passed out at exactly 8 p.m. That's what happens when your feature verses are starting to eat up the scenery.
Ab-Soul, the long haired, loc-clad sociopolitical haze monster came out following Rock, inebriated thanks to some pretty decent weed and his normally whispery voice cranked up a bit to be heard. "Terrorist Threats", easily the best single besides "Illuminate" from his Control System album, brooded and hung around while he was onstage for a rather short set. However, he did possibly have the line of the night for anybody onstage, "Let's not forget about the bitches. Show some loves for the bitches!" And a wild throng of females roared; take that, non-sexist America.
As the night progressed, it was clear that everything was built towards Lamar's god-king-like performance but half of those cheers were directed at Q, the bucket hat-grizzly bearded dude from Figg Street in Los Angeles who had carved out his own name thanks to slapping production on cuts like "There H Go," "BetIGotSumWeed" and others. His latest single "Yay Yay" almost tore a small hole inside the arena, and during "Blessed," his drum-barrage song with Lamar, he urged Tuesday's mixed-up ecosystem of a crowd to just say the entire chorus, which of course contains the N-word and brought plenty of awkward stares left and right.
Q is for the people, and so is TDE.
Personal Bias: Since 2011, I've seen Kendrick Lamar and company at least 12 times. Each one gets better and more massive than the last.
The Crowd: Packed, from Larry David lookalikes to small children no older than 14. By my count, there were seven different people in jerseys, the worst of all being a LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Why won't she move?!" You know that annoying tall chick who stands in front of you when you're in the back of a crowded rap show? She was there. And she was loathed. By every short guy in attendance.
Random Notebook Dump: It's not often I get to go to rap shows with my friends. You know, the ones who aren't as zeroed-in about the music industry as you are. It was rather refreshing.
Also, walking back to a friend's apartment complex, a rather large woman in garters who had obviously played Super Mario Bros. in her life attempted to climb over a gate to get inside the grounds. From shopping cart to a nearby generator, she then found herself standing on the gate, asking us as we walked by did we know the gate code. We never did figure out how she got over that gate.
KENDRICK LAMAR SET LIST
Art of Peer Pressure Backseat Freestyle P&P Fuckin' Problem R.I.P. (Remix) Money Trees A.D.H.D Hol' Up Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe The Recipe HiiiPoWeR Cut You Off m.A.A.d City Swimming Pools
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