by Leonard Duffy
Kendrick Lamar loves Dublin – but Dublin loves Kendrick Lamar even more.
On the morning of the Los Angeles rapper’s sold out 3Arena show, a mural appeared on an Aungier Street gable end, the work of the same graffiti team that previously lionised grime champion Stormzy at Smithfield.
“I heard y’all painted a picture of me on a wall,” Lamar said, grinning self-consciously. “No one’s ever done that before.”
Lamar is a unique figure in hip hop. His repertoire is sophisticated and deeply thoughtful, dealing with alcoholism (Swimming Pools (Drank)) and institutionalised racism in the United States (XXX). But it also has mass-market appeal, with the first date of the European-leg of his Damn album tour selling out in a heartbeat.
The performance leans more towards the avant-garde than the populist. Lamar’s band was located side of stage, leaving the rapper to fill the vast space on his own. The result was a turn that was lean and direct, showcasing Lamar’s facility as a rapper and also the breadth of his vision as an artist.
m.A.A.d city kendrick Lamar Dublin. Can die happy after listening to this tune live pic.twitter.com/yhWwapJOKc
— Dan 🇮🇪 (@DH1892) February 8, 2018
There were occasional big production flourishes, but they never interrupted the flow. Flames shot from the floor at the conclusion of opener DNA. The same track saw Lamar shadow box with a dancer dressed as a samurai – a potentially risky embellishment which somehow felt of a piece with the often serious-minded music.
There were hits – the hard-swinging King Kunta, Rihanna-collaboration Loyalty. Yet, it was the digressions that landed the most forceful blows. Untitled 7, from 2016’s Untitled Unmastered, was the hip hip equivalent of free-jazz, Lamar’s rhyming woven into strange shapes and contours. And the wistful Pride was delivered with the rapper suspended in midair over a dancer – risky theatre that somehow underscored the poignancy.
— SUBSET (@SubsetDublin) February 7, 2018
The whole thing was lapped up by an audience in a swoon from the outset. At least four choruses of “ole, ole, ole” rang out and Lamar, fresh from stunning at the Grammys, appeared genuinely taken aback by the reception. He may have come all the way from Compton but, for a few dazzling hours, was a hometown king among his people.