How often do American rappers ever come to Ireland? They barely even go to the UK or continental Europe. Sure, Lil Wayne and Eminem are both coming over this year but generally coming here is an afterthought, not even an obligation, so the fact that Kendrick Lamar is at Vicar St tonight is incredibly exciting.
Drumcondra’s Rejjie Snow is certainly feeling it. The former Lecs Luther bursts through half an hour worth of material, clearly reveling in playing to such a large hometown crowd and in support of the most breathlessly buzzed-about rapper of the past few years. He’s similar to Tyler, the Creator in his shock-tactic concepts and tone of voice (despite the northside accent), but his visible excitement and enthusiasm are enough to overcome such distractions and some awkward attempts at call-and-response from his instrumentalist – “When I say Kendrick, you say Lamar. Kendrick! ….”; seriously?
The crowd are starting to warm up. The lads are all turned out in their best New Era 9FIFTY snapbacks for the occasion, while the KPMG Girl wannabes take a million iterations of the same photo and complain about “they motherfuckin’ dominoes”. Snows attempts at getting some arms bouncing are greeted with an irony of forethought, but the anticipation is rising and restlessness spreads as the stage remains empty for a good half an hour after his exit.
The “Everybody, everybody” intro to ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ causes everyone to stand to attention. Even if Lamar’s physical form briefly remains elusive, his voice is enough to cause an eruption of noise. He finally enters stage right and Vicar St loses its damn mind, before the track is scrapped in favour of ‘Westside, Right on Time’ – a surprising twist that signals a desire to test how fanatic and committed tonight’s crowd is.
This could have been an opportunity for Kendrick to promote his breakthrough album, the truly fantastic good kid, m.A.A.d city released in October, and get ready for the next stop on this tour, but thankfully, he sees tonight as more than an afterthought or an obligation. He declares it “good to finally be in this motherfucker” and that “this is history” to inevitable rapture; he proves these grand statements to be more than flattering banalities over the next hour and a half with his startling energy and revealing anecdotal interludes.
The detour continues as ‘Hol’ Up’ and ‘P&P 1.5’ are both deployed in preparation for his furious attack on his one verse of ‘Fuckin’ Problems’. He is relentless, constantly rushing to all corners of the stage and taking every opportunity to engage with the front rows. One gets the sense that had A$AP Rocky, Drake and 2 Chainz been here to fill out the rest of song, they would have been shoved into the background by Kendrick’s sheer ferocity. Well, maybe not 2 Chainz.
‘Money Trees’ provides the first real taste of good kid tonight, but proceedings jump to a whole new level when the opening bars of ‘Backseat Freestyle’ ring out. Every word of the penis-aggrandising chorus is shouted right back at Kendrick, regardless of gender and as if Catholic repression never existed in this country. It’s quite a sight and sound to behold. Things settle slightly during ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘Poetic Justice’, but this is a relative calm before the oncoming storm.
The crowd feed off Kendrick’s ungodly endurance and revere his commitment to sharing their experience. Sweat pours off every brow and water is a precious commodity, but Kendrick makes a point of keeping his thick hoodie on as a mark of solidarity. The relationship between performer and crowd become symbiotic, as if each is forcing each the other to maintain the standard and exceed it when possible. This is only confirmed and articulated in the preamble to ‘Fuck Your Ethnicity’, and it’s clear that the thousand or so packed in here tonight have quashed any initial scepticism Kendrick may have had. He even picks out a surely beleaguered audience member before ‘m.A.A.d city’ and asks, “are you positive you wanna stay in that position? You sure?” He or she stays to endure the oncoming physicality. Limbs constantly flail and the crowd collectively shifting across the floor as people push to the front. It’s violent and loud but a truly unforgettable moment in a gig full of them.
‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’, the most clean-cut anthem in Lamar’s arsenal, brings the pre-encore to a close, and the ‘Ole, Ole’ chants begin. This isn’t a gig as gratification for the artist or audience; at least, it doesn’t feel like it. Tonight, Kendrick introduced himself to a European audience and let everyone know what went into getting him to this point from the no man’s land between the red and blue factions of Compton with his impressive craft and engaging personality. The gangs and police of his hometown may have been dismissive, but everyone here respects the good kid from the m.A.A.d city.