Kendrick Lamar’s headlining show at Washington Avenue Armory on Thursday night was a hot one — literally.
Even though the venue was at most only half full, the saunalike temperatures inside the arena were almost unbearable at 8 p.m. By the time opener Kid Ink took the stage shortly before 9 it had only gotten worse. But this didn’t stop the majority of the audience from energetically dancing through all five acts on the bill.
Rising hip-hop star Lamar packed the rest of the bill with all the other members of his group Black Hippy — ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, all label-mates on Top Dawg Entertainment. But despite this, very little cross-pollination occurred during the sets, with only Jay Rock making an appearance onstage with Lamar. While more collaboration onstage may have livened up the proceedings, Lamar at least did just fine on his own, spitting rhymes for over an hour and egging the crowd on after every song.
Taking the stage at roughly 10:45 to ubiquitous chants from the DJ to “get your three’s up” — the same intro that every act on the bill got — Compton, Calif.-based Lamar wasted no time, slamming right into “Westside, Right on Time.” The muddy sound was an issue at first, with Lamar’s microphone audibly clipping throughout, but things got better beginning with the next song, “Hol’ Up.”
Lamar, one of only a few rappers to use his actual name (his full name is Kendrick Lamar Duckworth), has stood out on the modern hip-hop scene thanks to his delivery and intense wordplay, both of which were on display on such standouts as “Money Trees” and “Poetic Justice.” But he kept a balance between more thoughtful lyrics and drug-and-alcohol fueled party anthems like “P&P” and “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” ensuring a strong variety both lyrically and beat-wise.
Other highlights included his braggadocio-heavy verses from A$AP Rocky’s “[Expletive] Problems,” and his audience-baiting “m.A.A.d. city,” which he stopped early on when the crowd wasn’t loud enough to his liking. But perhaps the most powerful moment of his set was “I Am,” an a cappella rap that closed out the main set on a surprisingly touching note.
Four before Lamar
Every other act on the bill got roughly a half-hour, and turnover between acts was incredibly quick despite the evening’s late start, which helped to keep the energy level high.
ScHoolboy Q, on second-to-last, stuck mostly to party-hearty themes on “BETiGOTSUMWEED” and “Sexting,” but turned more instrospective on “Blessed.” He lacked the variety of styles that Lamar brought to the table, but his bass-heavy tracks and smooth flow kept the audience in high spirits.
Politically charged Ab-Soul, who took the stage at about 9:30, fared best out of the openers, matching Lamar on such intense offerings as “Track Two” and “Terrorist Threats.” His raw delivery and borderline paranoid lyrics provided a nice break in the proceedings. (He also soon realized that taking the stage in a hoodie, with the hood up no less, was a bad idea.)
The evening began inauspiciously with Kid Ink, up at 9, who didn’t make much of an impression beyond the fact that he can competently rap. Jay Rock, up next, upped the ante considerably. Although he didn’t quite manage to reach the same heights as his Black Hippy counterparts, he still turned in an energetic set that quickly got the crowd pumped for what was to come.