More of that please! Sunday night, The Spin attended War Memorial's first hip-hop show in recent memory, featuring current chart-topping L.A. wunderkind Kendrick Lamar. We have to say we are on board 110 percent. It was an evening of stellar vibes and stellar performances, and our beloved rap music was presented as the fine art form that we've always claimed. Bringing hip-hop to a new room can be a delicate, inherently complicated affair, fraught with potential disasters and all sorts of weird socio-cultural baggage that can become a flash point at a moment's notice — but you never would have known that in War Memorial Sunday evening. Well, it never really got heated or anything, but outside the venue you might have noticed talk was along the lines of, “Seriously, this is where the show is? Damn, this fancy.”
As we walked up the steps of Legislative Plaza, the light of the city reflected off the marble, and swarms of Nashville's underground hip-hop community made their way through WMA's pillars and into the show. It was like those of us who had stuck with the art during the more marginalized days had graduated from the club scene to something bigger, grander, more important — yes, it was just one show on a Sunday night, but it felt like the culmination of years of beats, sweat and tears. And that's before we even walked in the door — which, mind you, was a painless, hassle-free process. Dealing with security at a hip-hop show isn't always a copacetic situation — things can get antagonistic on both sides — but Sunday was a great example of how well things work when everybody starts from a position of respect. Same goes for the rest of the staff, bartenders, ushers, box office. It was a seriously pro affair, and The Spin really appreciates that.
And the music! Our only complaint is that Chancellor Warhol could have used a longer set. If The Spin hadn't been uncharacteristically punctual, we would have missed all 15 minutes of it. And DJ Crisis could have played more 'Lito, but The Spin always wants to hear more Starlito, so we don't know if that really counts as a complaint. It did take a while for the sound guys to dial in the room — it was not designed with hip-hop-friendly acoustics in mind — and Chance didn't benefit from the learning curve. But he did put on a strong if truncated set, and it was nice to see him up on the big stage. Also, it was nice to hear DJ Crisis drop some local tracks on the big system, and nice to see local kids recognize said local tracks. And again, all of this was happening amid the nu-classical splendor of War Memorial Auditorium. It was pretty surreal.
And Kendrick Lamar is awesome, and everybody who wasn't there last night but buys a ticket to see his pretty-much-inevitable headlining show at Bridgestone at some point in the future is a total chode. The chances of that dude playing venues the size of War Memorial for much longer are slim — he's one of the most natural and enthralling performers in contemporary music. We've seen something in the ballpark of 200 shows this year, and there is nobody in any genre right now who can work a room like Kendrick Lamar. The production was minimal — just plain old lights, no lasers or LED walls or any of the things that artists with a little bit of buzz and some radio support are virtually required to bring out with them these days. Lamar was just wearing black pants and a maroon hoodie — there was no real flash or glamour or artifice, just a guy with a mic, moving a crowd. And hot damn did that crowd move.
It seemed a bit bizarre that the crowd didn't care about new tracks like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “The Recipe” so much. We're talking about “the hits,” the songs that helped Lamar land in the Billboard Top 10, the songs that would be the only reasons most audiences show up. But this crowd was having none of that. They wanted Overly Dedicated and Section 80, and when they got what they wanted, there was no reason Lamar even needed a mic. And whatever weird audio situation makes that room so tough to mix also made the crowd sound way, way bigger than it was — which is encouraging for performer and audience member alike. There were a lot of beautiful moments of crowd interaction — lots of hand-shaking and leaning low into the crowd — and moments of really subtle choreography (He sat down! On a chair!) that made it feel like we were watching a truly classic artist from another place and time. If the hype is correct and Kendrick Lamar is in fact the future of hip-hop, then the art form is in expert hands.