Kendrick Lamar’s The Big Steppers tour is a work of performance art

Kendrick Lamar’s The Big Steppers tour is a work of performance art

In the decades since hip-hop emerged, artists have taken transformative strides when it comes to telling stories. While the genre has invariably been tied to innovation and multiple media, the scale of achievement has evolved more slowly. For years, less is more was the formula when it came to the live show: rappers, DJs and hype man were the triumvirate. Today, Kendrick Lamar is demonstrating just how far hip-hop has come – performance art at its peak – with his ongoing The Big Steppers Tour.

Before Kendrick Lamar and PgLang took the stage on Thursday night (4 August) in Washington DC, PgLang team members Tanna Leone and Baby Keem used dramatically different visuals. Leone, the newest signee to PgLang’s self-cultured record label, opened the show with songs from his April 2022 album Sleepy Soldier, treating fans to a medley of ambient lighting, alternating monochrome visual effects and a refreshing vocal approach.

Baby Keem led his set with “trademark usa,” the intro to 2021’s “The Melodic Blue,” and contrasted the visual direction by donning a white shirt, long black tie, and black pants. The outfit matched the syncopated flashing white lights in front of an often dark stage as Baby Keem rattled off hit after hit, including “Range Brothers”, “ORANGE SODA”, “Hooligan” and “HONEST”.

Kendrick Lamar began his performance with a stage designed like a psychotherapist’s office. This setting reflected the complex emotional themes explored in his “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ album and he dove headlong into the narrative – holding a ventriloquist dummy to perform the album’s standout opener, ‘United In Grief’, to deliver the evocative portrait of ‘Mr. Morals.” The therapist can be heard throughout the set.

Light and shadow took center stage in Mr. Morale’s story as the images presented ranged from the bickering couple from the highly heated track “We Cry Together” who solved their problems through “Purple Hearts” and mourned losses without a defeat to accept in “Count Me Off.” The overall concept was a perfect fit – “shadow work,” or internal work and change, is a common practice in various therapeutic spaces and demonstrates the depth with which Kendrick uses art to create a new level of connectedness .

Dancers added another element to the performance’s stylistic palette, guiding the audience through the music with movement and movement. One word was strikingly prevalent in every step, step, and slide performed by these leaders of form: intention. The dancers flowed through songs like “N95” and “Silent Hill,” merging as one in a stunning audiovisual moment of shadow and sound for the song “LUST.” from Kendrick’s 2017 album DAMN. Lamar’s performance of “Crown,” the piano-heavy centerpiece of “Mr. Moral & The Big Steppers” the rapper played the keys himself.

In the realm of being a megastar, it’s important to play the room shakers, of which Kendrick Lamar has an abundance. But as mentioned, the unexpected nature of this set always allows for a twist. Longtime fans, performing from a floating quarantine room, were thrilled to hear some of their favorites like “DNA.”, “Money Trees”, “LOYALTY.”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “Family Ties” with cousin Baby Keem.

To round out this incredible display of sights and sounds, Lamar performed the standout track from “Mr. Moral & The Big Steppers,” “Saviour,” which proves once again that his high artistry is paving an unhindered path to hip-hop’s Mt. Rushmore. His “Big Steppers Tour” is another statement of intent, taking the performance art of the genre, and music in general, to new heights.

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