Top Dawg Entertainment’s flagship artist Kendrick Lamar brought his Kunta’s Groove Sessions tour to the historic Tabernacle venue in downtown Atlanta. Accompanied by a lively quartet, the “King Kunta” emcee performed all the tracks from his recent critically acclaimed work To Pimp a Butterfly along with fan favorites from his previous major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Prior to Kendrick performing, his label-mate and longtime friend Jay Rock opened the show and performed songs from his recent album 90059. The crowd wasn’t composed solely of Lamar fans. Many of them, authentic hip-hop fans of various races and ages, have been following the TDE movement for a few years now. One fan rolling out interviewed during intermission described TDE as the ultimate hip-hop label. “They’ve got something for everybody. Kendrick’s the intellectual, Ab-Soul is the abstract guy, Jay Rock tells the gritty street stories and Schoolboy Q is more of the fun guy. They each can do many things, but their strengths play well off of each other,” he said. He forgot to mention Chattanooga, Tennessee, rapper Isaiah Rashad; and New Jersey singer-songwriter SZA who each bring their unique personas to the label.
Shortly before 10:30 p.m., the lights lowered and one by one, members of Kendrick’s band walked on stage and play a neo soul version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love.” Then Lamar walked through the curtain and the crowd roared. He teased the crowd a bit as if he was going to start to sing but sat down and waited for the band to finish. Then he got up, took in the cheers from the crowd, and opened with the second song from the Butterfly album:
“THIS D–K AIN’T FREE!”
Then for the next hour and a half, Lamar and his quartet go through dizzying renditions where all the songs seemed to flow one into the other leaving you anticipating the next song, which is apropos for the Compton, California, rapper. Since his debut studio album Section.80, Kendrick has always crafted albums holistically. GKMC is a coming-of-age story autobiography centered around life changing experiences in his hometown. TPAB dives into how the new fame and notoriety affected him spiritually and intellectually. Meanwhile, as 30 minutes turned into 45, 60 and so on, Kendrick Lamar kept the momentum going, bobbing and weaving to various stylistic flows, freestyles, and extended plays.
Lamar finished performing the first single “i” then exited the stage leaving the enthralled audience hanging. People started looking around wondering why he had not performed the song that galvanized the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. Slowly people began chanting “We gonna be alright!” over and over until Lamar and the band re-entered the stage and jammed out a near 10-minute version of “Alright.” Fans were going insane, jumping up and down, causing the floor to shake, holding on to each other and yelling at the top of their lungs.
The night ended as lively and funked-out as it started. People left the Tabernacle with new energy. Not what you would typically see after any concert, but a utopian energy that flowed from person to person was noticeable. As for Kendrick Lamar, he left Atlanta to spread his music and his message to other lucky souls who are able to see the butterfly flourish.