“PULITZER Kenny,” declared the graffiti-scrawl image which flashed up behind Kendrick Lamar not long after he had taken to the stage at this last of August’s Summer Sessions gigs in Bellahouston Park, and there was the rapper’s cross-border appeal summed up in one photogenic image.
Bellahouston Park, Glasgow ****
Standing alone on the stage (he did have a full live band in attendance, but they were shuffled off to the sides, providing minimal visual distraction), Lamar’s music bridges the divide between the street-hewn, DIY naivete of 1980s hip-hop culture, and the degree of acceptance the style has gained among the middle class and middle-aged in 2018.
Earlier this year, Lamar’s most recent album Damn became the first record from neither the classical nor jazz field to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, as inconceivable a situation for rap’s pioneering generation as the idea that America may one day have a black president; Lamar is, after all, straight outta the Californian city of Compton, much like NWA before him. This show, then, had the potential to be less a mini-festival concert in the park and more a special appearance by a visiting political dignitary.
It’s no secret that Glasgow has a fiercely dedicated rap audience, but they are relatively few in number compared to those who may turn out for a more traditional rock concert. As a result, this show felt unusually quiet and poorly attended for one of these events, but the still-sizeable crowd was rapt and somewhat awe-struck.
Lamar’s personality filled the production, from the audio-visual spectacle flaring around him to the ingenious video-game style filmed inserts, in which ‘Kung-Fu Kenny’ battled his way through a succession of bad guys.
Musically, Lamar machine-gunned his way through a succession of vivid raps, painting a picture of streets where the people feel under siege – “we hate popo, wanna kill us in the street” runs one line, referencing which young black men’s fear of the police – and peace must be found through good means or ill. Swimming Pools (Drank) elaborated upon a life in free fall, King Kunta was a fearless, juddering expression of personal power, while XXX. painted a grimy picture of America.
That’s the brilliance of Lamar’s work – he isn’t a great musician who gets political, the two are thoroughly entwined in his work.