The great Jebediah Springfield once said that “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” It’s been frequently discussed in the years since exactly what the man meant by these perfectly-cromulent words, but consider it in the context of tonight’s opening act. Sadly, it’s not Kamasi Washington – the jazz-fusion saxophonist was able to fit a support slot in for the Melbourne show, but an inexplicable clash with his own headlining show meant that Sydney missed out.
It should be stressed, of course, it was only Washington’s presence that was missed out upon. The role of warm-up act, rather, was smartly delegated to one of our best and brightest. Those with their ears to the ground will have noted Sampa the Great’s quick ascension in the realm of Australian hip-hop, due in no small part to the confidence that she exudes as a performer.
She may not be a large or a physically-imposing figure, and her set-up is all of one mic and one DJ, but her noble spirit makes every movement on stage feel like a giant stomping. The Zambian-born MC is also joined during her set by Melbourne upstart Remi, with the two painting a very vividly-detailed picture of what local hip-hop is right now: Fearless, culturally-diverse and on the verge of going global.
There’s a seemingly-endless supply of footage that shows The Beatles performing in the early 60s, where the screaming is so loud that the music can barely be heard. As the lights go down and the man who goes by the name of Kendrick Lamar emerges, one almost feels as if they’ve been transported back to that time. Pure goosebumps.
Here stands the single most important person in black music right now, eclipsing the achievements of any and all comers in the realm of hip-hop and beyond. Here he stands, in Australia, playing to an arena that couldn’t fit many more in if it tried.
Being in the presence of Kendrick Lamar in 2016 is what one imagines it felt like to be in the same room as Public Enemy in the 80s, or N.W.A. or Tupac in the 90s. The entire time the man is on stage, it’s all too apparent that the masses are witness to something truly iconic, seismic and truly world-class.
The set fearlessly runs the gauntlet through near all of Lamar’s best-known moments, each boisterously chanted and rapped back in his face. Let’s not forget that there’s a lot going on lyrically in every song performed, too – this is an audience that knows its stuff. “I’m here to test y’all,” teases Lamar at one juncture; as if the thousands in attendance were ever going to do anything but pass with flying colours.
His stage bares no flashy visuals, nor any kind of light show or pyrotechnics; all of which are certainly common of the type of artists that normally perform in this space. Instead, Lamar and his airtight four-piece band choose to let the music speak for itself – an action that speaks as loudly as Lamar’s poetic and increasingly-relevant words.
Backseat Freestyle rattles the walls with its sub-bass and deafens with its barked penis-enlargement prayers recited en masse. These Walls and Complexion provide moments of reflection, driven by Lamar’s honesty and introspection. The party rages into the funk-wanting, bone-picking, goat-mouthed, mammy-fucking glory of King Kunta and the Isley Brothers-lead act of defiant self-love, i. It doesn’t matter if it’s the life of the party or the death of the self – there is nothing that Lamar cannot wrangle into a master-work. It’s entirely a testament to the man.
The moment that the grandchildren will ask after for years to come arrives as Lamar lowers the spotlight, calls for the audience to shine flashlights from their phones and leads a spirited chant in tribute to Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, late of A Tribe Called Quest (see the moment in video here) . It moves some of the more dedicated hip-hop fans in the room to tears, such is its simple power.
Taylor is then sent off into this good night and rises among the stars to the sound of Alright, an anthem that has already cemented its place in hip-hop history. Much like this show, then.
Photos by Maria Boyadgis