The Washington Post

In concert: Kendrick Lamar at 9:30 Club

Up-and-coming rapper Kendrick Lamar proved his hype was well-founded Friday at 9:30 Club. (All photos by Lucas Alvarado-Farrar/Far Fetched Future)

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!”

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.”

Chris Richards has been the Post's pop music critic since 2009. He's recently written about the bliss of summer songs, the woe of festival fatigue and a guide on how to KonMari your record collection.


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