Compton’s rap titan Kendrick Lamar moves with subtle, robotic movements, slowly shifting between careful, curved poses. As he restlessly shoots “Worldwide Steppers,” his silhouette is reflected off the huge projectors at Paris’ Accor Arena, broadcasting to 20,000 fascinated fans what looks like a live stage recording. In fact, this pitch is pre-recorded, and Lamar’s actions on stage are intricately staged and rehearsed to imitate it. His Paris exhibition is full of signs of his intense commitment to creating works of art, but perhaps this is the most powerful of all.
After many concerts in North America and Europe, the international tour “Big Steppers” arrives in Paris, which is an important milestone: the 10th anniversary of Lamar’s breakthrough album “good kid, m.A.A.d city”. Documenting the complex everyday realities of growing up in Compton, a city defined by violence through popular culture, his second record marked the beginning of Lamar’s phenomenal rise. Ten years later, he became one of the most innovative rappers in the world, and this position was consolidated only in May with the release of his deeply confessional fifth studio album “Mr. Morality and Big Steppers”; Earlier this summer, he presented a version of this live show during his Glastonbury performance. To mark the confluence of these landmark events, today’s show is broadcast live on Amazon Music; The footage is carefully planned in advance, every frame is set accurately, the sense of occasion is clearly not missed by Lamar and his team.
Mixing sullen introspection “Mr. Morality” with pure assertiveness, “a good child …” is not an easy task, but it is done masterfully. The show begins cinematically, when the dark, powerful strings of the “Savior Interlude” soundtrack accompany the mechanical movements of eleven dancers from the edge of the podium to the stage. Lamar appears out of the darkness, sitting at the piano, accompanied by his own ventriloquist doll. The pair furiously burns through the first tracks “Mr. Morale”, “United in Grief” and the bass, energetic “N95”. He’s cheekily playing “Backseat Freestyle,” the first of many “good kid…” tracks artfully scattered around the set.
The resonance of the album with fans has not escaped the Lamar team, which complements each classic with stunningly dramatic visual effects. On stage, the deep radiance of the slowly rising sun helps to present the magnificent cathartic anthem “Bitch, don’t kill My vibration”. During “m.A.A.d city”, the Los Angeles rapper is surrounded by a whirlwind of rotating dancers with torches. Inventive choreography and visual effects take the show to a new height without distracting from the musical direction, as sound and image smoothly intertwine, creating a truly stunning spectacle.
Lamar performs for almost two hours, almost without stopping and rarely speaking; it takes half an hour before he introduces himself, and then simply as the charismatic frontman of the Big Steppers: “I’m Mr. Moral.” The fact is that this is such a deeply affecting representation that spoken words are not needed. His hits are seasoned with the distinct influence of “Big Steppers”, for example, dissonant piano beats in “Rich — Interlude”, used to introduce a powerful beat and synthesizers in the style of G-funk in “HUMBLE”. fragments of tracks throughout the performance, starting with the opening verses and choruses, before abruptly cutting things off and introducing new motifs. Thus, he squeezed in almost 30 songs, including three with warm-up, close collaborator and family member Baby Kim, without compromising the cohesion of the show and without giving the impression that he was just trying to score as many hits as possible; this is a carefully selected snapshot of his incredibly diverse back catalog.
One of the disadvantages of climbing Steppers is the secondary role played by To Pimp A Butterly in the Accor Arena show. All we get from the dazzling 2015 album with a touch of jazz fusion, which cemented Lamar’s status as one of the most innovative rappers in the world, is the majestic song “King Kunta” and the soulful, pleasant “Alright”. The latter is one of the most memorable performances of the evening: channeling his inner David Blaine, Lamar finds himself trapped in a transparent plastic box descending from the sky. Reflecting Lamar’s experience of COVID infection, this moment is contextualized by one of several recordings of Helen Mirren’s wise words (yes, indeed) when she states: “Mister. Moral, you are infected. Elaborate scenes like this highlight the fact that Lamar’s deep dedication to his craft goes far beyond his complex, deeply structured studio work.
At the last moment of the show, we get a rare glimpse of the playful personality behind this colossus of artistry and innovation when Lamar disappears through a trapdoor onto the stage, turns left and smiles cheekily. There is a human touch here that can sometimes be lost among creative genius. ‘Mr. Morale” insisted on showing the rapper’s flaws and destroying the god complex surrounding him, although ironically the album tour is a creative vision that would strike the minds of most ordinary mortals. This is a stunning, moving display from the real great modern rap.
Kendrick Lamar played:
‘United in Grief’
‘We Cry Together’
‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’
‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’
‘Count Me Out’
‘Vent’ (ft. Baby Keem)
‘Range Brothers’ (ft. Baby Keem)
‘Family Ties’ (ft. Baby Keem)
‘Mr. Morale’ (ft. Tanna Leone)