Electric Picnic review: Kendrick Lamar – A muscular, hyperliterate superstar

The greatest rapper, a speaker of truths in the age of Trump, stands a class apart

Kendrick Lamar: naturally shy, he doesn’t bask in attention so much as soak it up and internalise it – a black hole around which the huge, clattering grooves bend and warp. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Kendrick Lamar: naturally shy, he doesn’t bask in attention so much as soak it up and internalise it – a black hole around which the huge, clattering grooves bend and warp. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

KENDRICK LAMAR

Main Stage
Kendrick Lamar is widely acknowledged as the greatest rapper alive, but he has also transcended genre and stands as a singular artist in his own right. It is in this guise – a virtuoso with a unique ability to speak to our troubled times – that the 31-year-old son of Compton, in Los Angeles, takes to the main stage at Electric Picnic.

His headline performance comes the day Eminem, like Lamar a protege of Dr Dre, has sought to reclaim his hip-hop crown with a surprise album drop. But, with a simultaneously muscular and hyperliterate set, Lamar demonstrates why, as speaker of truth in the age of Trump, he stands a class above.

“Is the rain gonna stop our party tonight?” he inquires rhetorically as the skies open. A storm is also brewing on stage. Along with everything else, Lamar is one of the outstanding minimalists of the era. Against crashing waves of brooding beats he opens with the bare-knuckle double assault of DNA and Element, street-level dirges that take aim at the high and mighty.

Naturally shy, Lamar is a different sort of superstar. He doesn’t bask in attention so much as soak it up and internalise it – a black hole around which the huge, clattering grooves bend and warp.

But there are flourishes of spectacle, too. Spumes of flame dart skywards on Collard Greens, and he bops like a pop star on King Kunta, his throwdown to anyone daring his supremacy as a rhymer.

A deep dive into the vulnerable artist behind the Kung Fu Kenny persona is provided by Swimming Pools (Drank). Chronicling his community’s struggles with alcoholism, it is searing and heartfelt – a deconstruction of lame gangsta stereotypes.

Memorable in a different way is All the Stars, a standout from the Black Panther soundtrack, which Lamar curated and which he here closes with.

Electric Picnic is a different sort of challenge for Lamar, a big festival rather than an arena heaving with fans. Yet he conquers and looks humble doing so. It is smart, it is cathartic, it is hip hop, it is everything.

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