Kendrick Lamar's DAMN Tour gave Charlotteans three very different hip-hop concert experiences at the same damn time Tuesday night at the Spectrum Arena. Hip-hop heads of multiple hues and ages took to Uptown to fill the seats and feel the music of Lamar, along with D.R.A.M. and YG.
From 7:30 to 11 p.m., a variety show of lyrical content, rap styles, and show production took over the arena's stage, serving as a reflection of the diversity in the crowd. The night transitioned from the party-rap, sing-song stylings of D.R.A.M., to the gangsta party lyrics and visuals of YG, to the socially conscious, thought-provoking stanzas of Lamar, paired with an elaborate performance-art stage production.With each performance an inverse musical correlation became more and more obvious. As onstage instrumentation decreased, other variables increased with great intensity. The visuals, props and crowd engagement escalated as the performances crescendoed to headliner Kendrick Lamar.
Charged with helping to get the party going while raise excitement levels, D.R.A.M. brought playfulness and color to the stage. As his show started, many concert -goers were still sitting down and lots of seats remained empty, but by the end of the set this scene would drastically change.
Toward the end of his set, during the song “Broccoli,” D.R.A.M. made his way into the crowd at the floor level as his keyboardist, drummer and DJ held down the stage. The artist skipped and bounced his way through the first section aisle and then looped back on stage.
D.R.A.M. brought the energy, but now the crowd was primed and ready to party ‘n bullshit with Y.G.
Before YG ever stepped on stage, the gangsta life party ‘n bullshit vibe was set with the sound of a voice. A streetwise narrator with that 70’s vibes pimp talk in his bravado set the scene for the gangsta shit we were about to experience.
The multi-color of neon lights was no longer the visual cue. It was now a more minimal All Red Everything approach. Backdrop: red. Outfit: red graphic-tee framed in black. Props: red. And, if all the red still left someone in the audience questioning what set he repped, the gang hand sign visuals backdrop clarified why he was repping Bompton and not Compton.
YG’s on stage set transformed from the minimalist red and black backdrops to a full set red and black strip club stage set — two stripper poles, a red plush couch filled with YG’s cronies, & “Girls, Girls, Girls” signage for the backdrop. Two strippers proceed to shake ass & titts for the men on stage and the sea of mobile phones aimed at the stage.
During Y.G.’s set, the crowd stood the entire time. The seats were filled. They were at peak desire and ready for the DAMN Kendrick Lamar experience.
The Kendrick Lamar experience began when the DAMN Tour curtain dropped in front of the stage as it was transformed from YG’s Bompton set to the DAMN set.
The curtain fell and two screen backdrops now faced the crowd. The lights turned down and the story of Kung Fu Kenny began to roll on the screen. The Kung Fu Tale of Black Turtle finding “the (inner) glow” in the darkest place was a common thread throughout Lamar’s on stage production The Kendrick Lamar Kung Fu tale vignettes had the look of Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” and a storyline similar to Barry Gordy’s “The Last Dragon.”
When Lamar rose to the stage through the stage floor and emerged from the smoke in his all yellow outfit with hints of black accents the vibe of Bruce Leroy was actualized as he exploded with intensity and pyrotechnics into the track “DNA.” No instrumentalist, no DJ, just Lamar and powerful imagery plastered on two screens.
Throughout Lamar’s show the new moveable secondary screen acted as a secondary plan bringing deeper visual emphasis to the lyrics pushed out of Lamar’s body. With each song, as Lamar got lost in his flow, his noticeable rhythmic jerk brought even more emphasis to his lyrics. It was another visual cue that signaled to the cerebral superego brain that what Lamar was saying will move you.
Lamar move the Charlotte DAMN crowd with artistic visuals performed onstage by trained martial artists and solo dancers. He moved them with juxtaposed visuals of artistic imagery placed beside inner city imagery. He moved them with light shows on stages and creating a light show in the crowd with mobile phone lights. But, it was the passionate delivery of verses by Lamar that seemed to pull the crowd in the most.
With every lyric Lamar spit, a sea of mouths moved in unison with him. The final song of the offical set was the chart topping “HUMBLE.” Lamar started the first few bars of the track and the beat cut out. He continued rapping and the crowd continued with him. He eventually faded out and allowed the crowd to take over the show. No beat, just an a cappella recitation from a Spectrum Arena choir conducted by Lamar. The track restarted and Lamar then performed HUMBLE in its entirety for the crowd.
With the end of the track and the darkening of the stage, the crowd chanted Kung Fu Kenny’s name to bring him back out for a final encore. He obliged and bid the crowd adieu and encourage them to find a designated driver.
KIA THE WRITER ANALYSIS
The DAMN Tour was damn good. What made it so good was the juxtaposition and sequencing of the rap subgenres displayed on the stage that night. It was not all light hearted party rap, it was not all gangsta rap, it was not all socially conscious and introspective. It was just the right dose of each rap subgenre at precisely the right time. The ability to go from CHA-CHAing in your aisle, to seeing a strip show, to exploring the richness and power of self-actualization by connected with and celebrating your connection to black culture, it just left me saying one word — DAMN.