The world's hottest hip hop artist lives up to his billing on the Glasgow leg of his UK tour
To call Kendrick Lamar the defining hip hop artist of our generation would be a loaded statement but one that many would no doubt feel entirely comfortable asserting. In a time when rappers are increasingly using their influence to engage with issues from rising racial tensions to the prevalence of police brutality, Lamar has always been on the frontline, soundtracking movements with his sheer creative force and charged socio-political analysis.
The last time Lamar was on stage in Glasgow, it was 2013 and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City had just been unleashed onto the world, signalling the acceleration of his ascent to hip hop royalty. Fast forward five years, and the Compton rapper has finally made his long-awaited return – this time selling out the Hydro arena (this time with support from occasional collaborator James Blake), with two more game-changing records behind him as well as a plethora of accolades and honours to his name. Whether he's releasing one of the greatest rap albums of this past century (DAMN.) or curating the soundtrack to one of the most culturally significant films of recent years (Black Panther), Lamar has proven that he is an artist so far ahead of the game that it's difficult to envisage his next steps, though he consistently continues to deliver.
The DAMN. Tour is framed around his latest alter ego, Kung Fu Kenny, with short films shown on screen in between songs, depicting Lamar in various old-school fight sequences, in a tongue-in-cheek but visually striking vintage format. He begins with the fire of 'DNA', making his way through some of DAMN.'s finest numbers including the rough and raging 'XXX' and the ebb and flow of the Rihanna track 'Loyalty'. One of the greatest moments of the night comes when the familiar piano bop of 'Humble' begins, erupting into an audience-led a capella edition of the song, with the whole arena roaring along to 'bitch, sit down / Lil' bitch, be humble'.
As the set traverses through some of Lamar's back catalogue and biggest hits, including 'Swimming Pools (Drank)', 'Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe' and the anthemic 'Alright', it's clear that there is a new level to the technical talent and lyrical prowess that has been prevalent since his early releases. If 2015's To Pimp a Butterfly was his magnum opus as far as innovation and thematic defiance goes, DAMN. is a continuation of this highly politicised expression but with added self-awareness and a type of reflection that is rare in hip hop.
That Lamar requires no gimmicks or major props during his set, aside from the occasional martial artist and stage effect, is a testament to his commanding presence and his ability to pull all focus onto his rhythmic vigour and subtly dynamic movements. Two days after the release of the Lamar curated Black Panther soundtrack, the Hydro played host not just to an artist, but to a master storyteller, an avant-garde performer, and a true visionary.
Kendrick Lamar's UK tour continues at the O2 Arena, London, Mon 12 & Tue 13 Feb; and the SSE Arena, Wembley, Tue 20 Feb.