Kendrick Lamar. Ogden Theatre. 10.08.12

The scene on Colfax last night reminded me of another rapper from California, one who wrote a song called “Just Like Compton”. As the ambulance sirens blared, the police lights created a kaleidoscope of color from the Ogden to the 7-11. The bass reverberated from the venue as the cops carried belligerent kids out of the show. It seemed Denver really was just like Compton. But those of us lucky enough (or wealthy enough to purchase $80 tickets from scalpers) to be inside, were witness to “the future” of that notorious California city…and he was met with a much warmer welcome than DJ Quik ever was. Kendrick Lamar had arrived. Even if Section 80 wasn’t enough to convince you, and you’d slept on his latest singles and legendary collaborations, you would have had to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have been convinced last night. From the moment the five-and-a-half foot tall rapper took the stage like a giant (to the roar of the beyond capacity crowd), to the final verse of “Cartoon & Cereal”, Kendrick Lamar had the crowd eating out of his hands. It is a rare (and special) thing to see an emcee with a stage presence so big it leaves absolutely no room for a hypeman, but for over an hour it was just Lamar and Ali (his DJ)…and for over an hour he had the crowd’s undivided attention.

Well, almost undivided. At one point in the night he had to call out some girl for playing on her phone while he was performing. Rima was her name, and she got fucked with about the diamonds on her iPhone and being unfaithful for her man, but her story lacked depth, so we said goodbye to Rima and hello to Tammy. The show opened with “HiiiPoWeR”, “Fuck Your Ethnicity” and” Hol’ Up” (and Rima was messing with her phone while everyone was singing along with “A.D.H.D), so “Tammy’s Song” was just another reminder as to why Section 80 was last year’s best hip-hop release. Track-after-track, Lamar single-handedly took us through his past, present, and future. Those who have “been fuckin’ wit me since the beginning” were tested with “P&P 1.5” and the Wayne-influenced “Michael Jordan”, while those looking forward to his first major label release were rewarded with “The Recipe”. And everybody in the house went batshit crazy for “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. Besides “A.D.H.D”, that new track was the only time in the night when the audience actually drown out of the star of the show. After that, the encore was an unnecessary victory lap from a young rapper that could literally change the game. “You are witnessing history in the making,” Lamar said at the beginning of the show, referencing the fact that it was his first time performing in Denver, but by the end of the night that statement rang true in more than one way. The young emcee sold-out the Ogden Theatre on his first run through town. And his first proper album is still weeks away! Maybe that won’t go down in the history books, but after last night’s performance, maybe it should.

On a personal note, I usually have a hard time with hip-hop shows. Growing up in the Golden Age, I hate it when I go see a legend and he just spits a few lazy verses and then hands the show over his entourage. I also hate when five emcees are all trying to rap over each other…or when the bass drowns out the lyrics….and the “put your hands in the air” and “I’m the greatest rapper” crap. The list of complaints could go on and on, but I think you get my point. What was so amazing about last night’s show was that Lamar’s sound was crisp. It was perfect. The bass threatened the very structure of the theater, but every rhyme came through crystal clear. Also, the hype was organic. Kendrick didn’t have to tell the crowd to put their hands in the air…the music made their hands go up. And he was personable. His ego is huge, of course, but he also told stories, shared bits about his past, and outlined (dare I say) a blueprint for where he was going. Overall, it was an amazing experience. Others could take a page from Lamar’s book when it comes to being an entertainer instead of just a rapper.

Fuck Your Ethnicity
Hol’ Up
P&P 1.5
She Needs Me
Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)
The Spiteful Chant
Michael Jordan
Chapter Six
The Recipe
Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)
Blow My High (Members Only)
Swimming Pools (Drank)

Cartoon & Cereal