If you've ever seen a Kendrick Lamar awards show performance, you know they're often really great and really theatrical. Whether it was his memorable 2014 GRAMMYs performance with Imagine Dragons or his incredible 2016 GRAMMYs performance, they're known for being over the top and visually stunning.
You can imagine the surprise when Kendrick took the Essence Fest stage Sunday night with just a mic, his band, and a back-drop screen that simply read the title of his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. Where were the costumes? Where was the pyrotechnics? The question isn't "where" but "why," and the answer is, "because he doesn't need it...any of it."
Echoing the famous Nas single title, all he needs is one mic.
Kendrick kicked off his Essence Fest with To Pimp a Butterfly track "For Free?" which may be called an interlude, but Kendrick himself has called his favorite song off the album. After a few more TPaB album cuts, "Backseat Freestyle" was the first good kid, m.A.A.d city track of the night.
It wasn't until six songs into his set that Lamar got to hit single,"Swimming Pools (Drank)." From the floor, it sounded like the entire Mercedes-Benz Superdome knew every word by heart. This may be Kendrick's biggest chart hit yet, but this was just the beginning of moments like this during his Essence set.
While the audience expectedly got really into trademark Kendrick track "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" later in the show, maybe the best example of Kendrick's captivating hold on the crowd was when he performed his debut's (semi) title track "m.A.A.d city." Nearly every person around me was up on their feet, yelling the lyrics right back at Kendrick.
The rapper's electrifying Essence set ended with a one-two punch of GRAMMY-winning K.Dot singles. The way fans were grooving and proclaiming "I LOVE MYSELF!" you'd never know "i" was, at one time, a debated single choice for the Compton emcee. For the final song, Lamar closed the show with the widely loved "Alright" and an entire arena of fans yelling, "we gon' be alright!"