Any time rapper Kendrick Lamar stomped his sneakers into the stage of the 9:30 Club Friday night, his DJ was at the ready — BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! — triggering explosive sound effects that resembled a dozen mortar shells going kablooey.
Cool trick, for sure. But what fans heard between those sonic boom-booms was something far more thrilling: the sound of a rapper exceeding his own hype.
Last month, the 24-year-old Compton native self-released “Section.80,” one of the most absorbing rap albums out this year. Over a slurry of futuristic keyboards and neoclassical boom-bap beats, Lamar raps for his peer group, an online generation coping with crime, drugs and Internet-fueled ennui. Equal parts clear-eyed realist and bleary-eyed dreamer, he says “Section.80” was inspired by Tupac Shakur — who visited him in a dream.
You could hear it on Friday during “[Expletive] Your Ethnicity,” a song that touches on God, war, poverty, alien abductions and the eternal salvation of hip-hop, the “music that saved my life.”
And if Lamar’s riveting delivery wasn’t enough, hearing a young, multiracial audience shout the song’s refrain made you wonder if “post-racial America” wasn’t actually a myth: “Now I don’t give a [bleep] if you / Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, God [bleep] it / That don’t mean [bleep] to me / [Bleep] your ethnicity!”
The club was crammed with fans who had memorized every word of “Section.80,” but Lamar also has fans in high places. California hip-hop legend Dr. Dre has reportedly snagged him for a cameo on his long-anticipated “Detox” album, something the young rapper tried to play down during “The Spiteful Chant.” “Everybody heard that I [work] with Dre, and they wanna tell me I made it,” Lamar fumed. “I ain’t made [expletive].”
Still, throughout his 70 minutes onstage, Lamar posited himself as a child of West Coast gangsta rap — once quite literally as he reenacted a scene from his childhood where his father played him Tupac records while his mom argued in favor of Nate Dogg. It was quirky, and a huge momentum killer.
But the crowd refused to let the energy wane, turning Lamar’s dreamier songs into throaty shout-alongs. Between the profane choruses of “A.D.H.D.,” Lamar mused on his generation’s collectively short attention span: “We never do listen / Unless it come with an 808 / A melody and some [girls] / Playstation and some drank / Technology bumping soul.”
Before all that California dreaming, the evening felt hyper-local. The concert was curated by the locally rooted hip-hop blog DC to BC and included a fiery set from Maryland rapper Phil Ade. The audience stood frozen. Equally frustrating: When Phil Da Phuture performed his hiccuping regional hit “Stupid Dope Moves,” flanked by local rappers XO, Gordo Brega and others. The crowd had no moves, stupid, dope or otherwise.