Compton rap artist Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” completely contrasts the simplistic Top 40 sounds that dominate modern-day radio stations. Lamar’s second major label release represents 2015’s resurgence of jazz influence and live instrumentation in rap. The funky, popping bass provided by Thundercat puts the groove in “King Kunta,” while Terrace Martin’s screeching saxophone wails in between songs.
Lamar’s third stop on his Kunta’s Groove Sessions tour at the LC Pavilion in wet downtown Columbus on Saturday evening was shaping up to be a showcase of the critically-acclaimed “TPAB.” But without the live presence of the aforementioned musicians, most of Lamar’s 15-song set consisted of hits off of the three-year old “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.”
That does not go without saying that the drenched concertgoers at the packed LC Pavilion thoroughly enjoyed the high-energy performance. K-Dot, one of Lamar’s aliases, began the show with the smooth “Money Trees,” but he quickly sped things up by following up the introduction with the vociferous “Backseat Freestyle.” From this point forward, Lamar had the crowd under his control.
After running through popular “GKMC” cuts such as “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and the remix to “B—-, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” Lamar pulled out a familiar tactic. The Compton MC frequently looked into the crowd for the most studious fan and challenged him or her to spit the lyrics (more like describe the horrors) to the track “m.A.A.d city.” Saturday night’s contestant shredded through K-Dot’s song, inciting a frenzy at the LC.
At this point in the show, Lamar had now been on the stage for nearly an hour without performing one song off of the one of the only rap albums in 2015 challenging Drake on the Billboard chart. Even though “GKMC” features the most energetic tracks in Lamar’s catalog, the crowd’s substantial reaction to a beat drop came when “King Kunta” began to blare throughout the LC. Unfortunately, without the aid of live instrumentation, the bass took away and muffled the many moving parts powering the groovy standout rap.
While “GKMC” is more of a first-hand account of the dangers Lamar experienced in his hometown of Compton, “TPAB” is an outer introspective look at his city after achieving fame. That may be why Lamar does not perform many tracks off his latest release while on tour; “TPAB” is somewhat difficult to digest upon first listen.
A handful of “TPAB” songs touch on his view of racial issues and gang violence in America, which are usually foreign topics for an artist to discuss in a concert setting. That is why it came as no surprise when Lamar announced before his performance of “Hood Politics” that he had only performed the song live a few times. This was the only seemingly oddly-placed track in Lamar’s set, but the crowd was into it because Lamar was.
Before signing off and promising Ohio that he will continue to return to perform if his fans continue to bring their intensity, Lamar closed out the show with the Isley Brothers’-influenced, self-love anthem “i” and an encore of the self-assuring “Alright.” The rain had picked back up after drizzling throughout K-Dot’s set. The vibes that Lamar gave off all night had now spread throughout the LC, so being soaked seemed to matter to very few. One final song was demanded from the crowd.
Pharrell’s hook on “Alright” poses the question, “Do you hear me, do you feel me?” to the audience. The final message that Lamar wanted to portray was one of unity. Concerts bring people with similar interests together, and “Alright” communicates to listeners with common views and beliefs that as long as we have each other, things are going to be alright.
The tracks on “TPAB” may not be the catchiest or most straightforward, but Lamar made sure that the valuable advice given on his latest release was not lost by saving it for last. Hopefully one day Lamar tours with a band to share the entire experience of “To Pimp a Butterfly,” but for now, fans will have to enjoy only small doses.