Kendrick Lamar has had a pretty good year. Section.80 was arguably 2011’s best rap album, he had the most memorable verse on Drake’s excellent Take Care, then Dr. Dre took a break from selling headphones to give him a record deal.
While yet to make the breakthrough to mainstream success, he has been anointed the future of the West Coast. The title may be accurate, but it also feels slightly restrictive. Many West Coast rappers merely attempt to replicate the success of former greats such as Ice Cube or Dre himself, to the point where most references to gangs, 40s or low-riders bring an almighty yawn. Lamar is very much aware of where he is from, but he refuses to let it define him or his sound.
Of course, there’s a vast difference between making quality music and being able to connect with a live audience, a struggle that many acts face in the era of the bedroom musician. Lamar appeared on the stage of Camden’s Electric Ballroom to the opening strains of “F*ck Your Ethnicity” and eviscerated any doubts about his skills as a performer. His intricate rhymes were delivered with flawless precision and his infectious energy didn’t let up once throughout the night.
He ran through a mixture of songs from all three of his projects to date. One of the most impressive aspects of Lamar’s music is its variety – he has songs that can make a whole room go crazy like “Look Out for Detox” and more considered, reflective songs like “Cut You Off”, always displaying his lyrical dexterity. Most of the audience knew every word and rapped along, occasionally drowning out the rapper and the thunderous bass from the venue’s sound system.
Seemingly stunned by the response he was getting from the crowd, Lamar handed over control of the show and asked what songs they wanted to hear. The die-hard audience went for some of his earliest work, songs that the Compton rapper said hadn’t been performed for a long time, but he still managed to deliver them without missing a step.
His major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, is scheduled for release this October and he performed its first single, the Dr. Dre featured “The Recipe”, before departing the stage. It served as a reminder that while he has made some brilliant music already, we may have only seen glimpses of what he is capable of. He returned to perform one of this year’s standout rap songs, “Cartoon & Cereal”, as an encore for the adoring fans present.
The show lasted slightly longer than an hour, which felt short considering some had waited over two and a half hours for his arrival on stage. He definitely has enough material to extend the running time – a personal gripe was that he didn’t perform two of Section.80’s highlights, “Rigamortis” and “HiiiPower” – which only made the brevity more disappointing.
Towards the end of his set the 25-year-old talked about his ambitions. “My plan is to win your hearts before I win a Grammy,” he declared. He’s already won the hearts, that Grammy may not too be far away.