“The sky is falling, the wind is calling. Stand for something or die in the morning.”
The opening lines of Compton-based emcee Kendrick Lamar’s underground anthem and show commencer “HiiiPower” ignited the fanatic crowd of almost 600 at the Gramercy Theater. Lamar is just one of a plethora of up-and-coming artists that showcased their talents at the College Music Journal Marathon, a four-day event that features groundbreaking artists performing across various downtown New York City venues. Distinguishing himself from the hundreds of derivative indie bands and obscure electronic producers booked for the Music Marathon, Lamar stood out as the sole hip-hop artist hailing from the West Coast.
“I feel like you guys are my family, my kinfolk,” uttered Lamar, as he embraced the New York crowd as if he was showing gratitude towards a crowd in Los Angeles.
Lamar’s digitally released album Section.80 generated an abundance of hype throughout the music blogosphere as well as critical acclaim from publications this past summer. However, the Gramercy Theater crowd seemed to have familiarized themselves with Lamar’s work long before CMJ as they jovially uttered along every lyric in unison throughout the duration of the show. His flow is graceful and melodic but confrontational, and his frenzied tumble of syllables evokes an urge to revisit his lyrics again seeking clever double entendres.
When Lamar performed an album cut titled “Spiteful Chant,” a revolting hymn that addresses critics and haters alike, the Gramercy Theater crowd started to riot as if they were at an N.W.A. concert. As the bass blared all around the venue, a thousand middle fingers were hoisted as the crowd’s gestures synchronized with the beat. In this instance, it’s obvious that K. Dot’s lyrics resonate with his fans; they feel as if they have haters in their own lives.
“If you don’t give a (explicative), put your hands up,” Lamar said as he performed. “Forget all the (explicative) in your life and know that those (explicative) ain’t got (explicative) on you.”
Unlike his Compton peers such as Dr. Dre and Game, Lamar isn’t as influenced by the city’s surroundings that are infested by violence and corruption. Instead, Lamar serves as his hometown’s conscious emcee whose lyrics introspectively pinpoint the flaws of his generation and reflect on overcoming personal struggles in his rough childhood. Before each song, Lamar gave an intimate preamble as if he were reading an excerpt from his personal memoir. It was apparent that each song held some sort of significance to Lamar. In particular, he revisited a long-lasting memory as an adolescent when his father gave him a spiel about escaping poverty and pursuing a better life. Never have monologues and rap lyrics been tied in so cohesively during a hip-hop show.
Everyone in attendance entered Kendrick Lamar’s life for a good hour and a half. He allowed the audience to immerse themselves into his twenty-four years of existence, from his upbringing in Compton to his rise as one of hip-hop’s most promising, talented figures.