Vicar Street, Dublin ****
Last year saw two hip-hop records top most critics’ lists. Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is a groundbreaking album that eschewed every hip-hop cliche, from its language and its sounds to Ocean’s revelations about his personal life.
For many, though, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city was the sharpest show in town. Lamar trades in the usual hip-hop tropes, but beneath the familiar lyrics of wine, women and song (to put it politely), there is a sophistication to the anger, and a craft to the intent. It’s little wonder then that the likes of Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg have labelled the latest kid from Compton as the new king of the west coast.
On record, Lamar’s tracks can sometimes feel a little languid, but live he explodes out of the box from the get-go, ripping up the stage and whipping up the crowd, all focused fury and channelled energy. Whenever he allows a small break in his rapping, the crowd bounce the words right back at him, filling in the gaps and roaring each line until Lamar repays the favour with the merest of smiles.
Songs from his debut studio album Section.80 get a wild reception – Hol’ Up and A.D.H.D. in particular – but it’s when he breaks out tracks from good kid that the room feels volcanic.
Lamar’s character-driven tales resonate because as well as being a superlative emcee, he has a talent for connecting with his fans. He makes the usual declarations about his fans being everything, and live this comes across as genuine. He flirts with a girl on the venue’s balcony, and stops the show to chat to someone not entirely overawed by the live Lamar onslaught. When a crowd surfer gets taken down by security, he breaks off to make sure the fan gets back into the mob, and slings bottles of water to the fever-pitch front row.
From the mouths of most, these would sound trite: “We’re always chasing the money, but we’re always keeping our skills up. This here is craftsmanship”; “The only reason I’m here is to inspire you to be whatever you want to be”; and “This is my first time in this place, this is a bit of history and I’ll always come back.” But when he finally tears the roof off the venue, with a closing salvo that includes Backstreet Freestyle and Swimming Pools, it seems there’s no one in the place who doesn’t believe in Kendrick Lamar.