Kendrick Lamar is an artist everyone should see perform live — here’s why

Compton-born hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is one of the greatest musicians performing today.

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Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express

Never heard of him? You’re in for an incredible journey.

His four major albums contain some of the best songs created in the past decade. His last album, 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” went platinum, and earned Kendrick a gaggle of Grammy awards. The single “How Much a Dollar Cost” was even President Obama’s favorite song of 2015.

But none of that really does Kendrick justice. Accolades and adulation are one thing – seeing him perform live is another entirely. I’ve had the incredible luck to see him live twice in 2016: once this past summer, at a large festival, and once again this past weekend, in an intimate Brooklyn venue.

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Kendrick Lamar performing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY. on December 16, 2016.
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What makes Kendrick’s live show so incredible? Allow me to explain.


Kendrick’s music is grounded in West Coast hip-hop, in the tradition of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, but mixes in heavy doses of soul, funk, and jazz.

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Rather than a DJ, Kendrick was backed by a full band at his Music Hall of Williamsburg performance.
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The song “These Walls,” another single from “To Pimp a Butterfly,” is a great example of Kendrick Lamar’s distinct mix of hip-hop with spoken word, soul, funk, and more:


His performances often mix live bands with rapping and projected imagery:

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During his performance at the Faena Art Dome on December 1, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida, Kendrick projected images of Prince floating over the stage.
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Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express

Throughout the performance this past weekend, images of various public figures and cartoons (and other stuff) were projected behind the band and on the stage:

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Anyone watching the show from the balcony was treated to far more striking imagery:

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Kendrick is active with the crowd — directly.

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Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express

Repeatedly throughout the performance this past weekend, Kendrick was directly interacting with fans who were singing along.

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He’d look someone right in the eye and speak to them directly, a rarity with major artists like Kendrick Lamar.
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He passed out water bottles mid-way through the show:

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Far more interestingly, he straight up asked the crowd if anyone wanted to get up on stage and rhyme:

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And several people did just that:

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While Kendrick’s band (The Wesley Theory) provided a beat, Kendrick and this guy from the crowd freestyled for a few minutes:

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But that wasn’t all — Kendrick once again asked the crowd if anyone was willing to come up. And when Kendrick looked to the right side of the audience, one young man’s friends loudly made a case:

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That young man is named Kemba, and he’s a Bronx, NY-based artist. When he got on stage, he asked Kendrick to kill the beat so he could do an acapella:


Despite the impressive performance, Kemba wasn’t a plant.

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He told Pigeons and Planes after the show: “I found out about the show an hour before it happened. I would’ve never guessed I’d end up on stage. I didn’t even want to at first! But that was like a dream. I haven’t been to sleep since.”


Kendrick’s performances sometimes involve elaborate performance art:

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Like at the 2016 Grammy Awards ceremony, where Kendrick performed a mash-up of his songs “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” alongside a chain gang.
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Getty

His recent performance at Art Basel in Miami was done in collaboration with a visual artist, Shantell Martin:

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American Express

The two created artwork together, which was then projected overhead during part of his live set — there’s a video of that process here:


Best of all, Kendrick fans tend to be <em>dedicated</em> fans.

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This trio of friends was wearing Top Dawg Entertainment apparel, the label that Kendrick’s on. There was no merch table at this show, so they came in wearing that.
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Ben Gilbert/Business Insider

And dedicated fans means energy! Despite being an inconceivably small show, the crowd was going wild for the full two-ish hours of performance:

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Ben Gilbert/Business Insider

Though Kendrick Lamar easily sells out stadiums, the concert this past weekend was in a small Brooklyn venue. That’s because it was sponsored by American Express!

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Ben Gilbert/Business Insider

You had to be an American Express cardholder to get in, and even then you had to get tickets quickly – they sold out within the first 30 minutes of going on sale, even though the sale was only available to cardholders. The show was announced one day before it happened, on December 15, and tickets were wildly inexpensive for such a major artist in such a small venue: $67 apiece, before taxes.


But when I saw Kendrick perform this past summer at the Panorama Festival, playing in front of thousands of people, the show was just as incredible.

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Kendrick Lamar performs at the 2016 Panorama NYC Festival – Day 2 at Randall’s Island on July 23, 2016 in New York City.
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

He performed in front of a massive screen, similarly projecting images and video that correlated to his music. In the case of his performance at Panorama, there was far less direct interaction with the crowd due sheerly to the size of the venue – but Kendrick’s notorious for doing smaller shows every now and again. His “Kunta’s Groove Sessions” tour in 2015, for instance, was small venue-focused and brief.


That said: As a result of American Express being involved, the concert from December 16 is available — at least in part — on Kendrick’s Facebook page! Enjoy!