The 1990s is often cited as hip-hop's golden age, and it's hard to argue that. Given the high amount of genre-progressing albums from that time we still treasure today, the proof is solid. But on Friday night inside of an impressively-packed American Airlines Center in Dallas, California native Kendrick Lamar offered a compelling case that he's currently sitting on the throne of a newer, more arena-sized era in rap.
The roll Lamar's on isn't a new one by any means, but since his captivating, buzz-generating performance during the 2016 Grammy Awards, the 30-year old has surfed a wave that's transcended mere hip-hop fame. His performance at this year's Coachella Festival, where he debuted material from his latest album DAMN., was lauded for its understated brilliance and saved the weekend, according to many reports, after Radiohead's set two nights prior to Lamar's had been derailed by technical problems.
For those of us who weren't at Coachella, Lamar showed that what some called "festival-saving heroics," he simply calls "a concert." Stalking the flat, bare stage by himself, save for a couple of times a dancing ninja joined him, Lamar drew from material old and new as the hyper crowd shouted along to every bar. There was a roving lighting rig along the stage's sides, along with scattered flame bursts, imaginative lighting and an impressive video display for each track, but none of it was really needed, because the confidently charismatic Lamar is a bright enough star to light up an arena by himself.
With a deft ability to switch gears with an expert's ease, the 90-minute show covered a great deal of sonic and stylistic terrain. The forceful, urgent set-opening numbers "DNA." and "ELEMENT." both from DAMN. featured a menacing energy while "King Kunta" and "Alright," two of the standout tracks from his Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly, lived up to their reputations as funk-infused, socially-conscious anthems.
With a well-hidden live band backing him, the songs carried a hearty, raw texture. One of his older songs, "Backseat Freestyle," gave off a plugged in rock 'n' roll vibe while, as he seemed to suspend himself above a dancer in mid-air, "PRIDE." was a soulful R&B tune that couldn't be more different from most of the bombastic songs topping the rap charts now. Emerging from a rising platform encased by strands of lights in the middle of his set, K-Dot offered a psychedelic, woozy "LUST." for another left-turn that not only gave the concert an accessible complexity, but has helped make DAMN. a double platinum-selling record.
The top of the hip-hop mountain is certainly a crowded one these days with artists both fresh and grizzled releasing stellar records and staging theatrical live shows. The most recent albums from festival headliners Chance the Rapper, Future and Drake all made rightful headlines for their superior quality and remarkable commercial numbers. Kanye West, as polarizing and mercurial of an icon as there is, has yet to release anything less than an exemplary album, while the iconic mogul Jay-Z just returned to impressive form with his latest cell phone commercial disguised as an album.
Add insurgent notables such as southern talents Migos, Young Thug and Lamar's opening act, Houston's own rule-breaking Travis Scott, who electrified the arena with his banging anthems from atop a flying animatronic bird, to the mix and it's safe to say we're in the midst of a gloriously triumphant time for hip-hop. If the '90s was rap's golden age, it's safe to say Kendrick Lamar is ensconcing himself as the ruler for hip-hop's platinum era.