Kendrick Lamar stood at the microphone and spoke, the band vamping behind him.
The 28-year-old Compton native speaks as he raps, which is to say the ideas tumble out of his mouth at such a clip it seems as though he barely finishes one thought before another is on its heels.
It’s a dazzling torrent of language, the sound of a man grappling with, in this particular instance, the weight, expectations and realities of sudden fame, processing it all in real time and then, sharing it with little regard for filtering out more vulnerable thoughts.
“Can you imagine the type of [expletive] that does to your psyche?” Lamar asked. “Trying to convince yourself that ‘I am who the world says I am’ — it’s a bummer. It’s a bummer. It’s even more of a bummer when they tell you you’re great.”
Lamar, making his first DFW appearance in two years, went on at some length, his impassioned, unvarnished soliloquy stretching over a few minutes.
The Grammy-winning rapper punctuated his discourse with a statement that could just as easily describe his music and the way he conducts his acclaimed career, as his state of mind in the moment: “This [expletive] is personal, man! This [expletive] is personal.”
It was a riveting moment, and arguably the highlight of this stop of his “1st Annual Kunta’s Groove Sessions,” as his current tour is titled.
Watching Lamar unburden his soul, and effectively put a rollicking, visceral performance on hold to clear out his head, was to be reminded why he connects so deeply to his fans, a few thousand of whom piled into the South Side Ballroom Thursday to rap every last verse right back at him over the course of his roughly 90-minute set.
(The venue was, apparently, a last-minute switch, as it was announced late Thursday afternoon that instead of playing the 1,500-capacity South Side Music Hall, which had sold out in minutes, Lamar would instead play the 3,800-capacity South Side Ballroom.)
Lamar is touring behind his heady new record, To Pimp a Butterfly, the very title of which functions as a vivid non sequitur, an incongruous blend of ugliness and beauty, which also feels like it might just be a metaphor for life itself.
In any case, Lamar, stalking the minimally dressed stage from one side to the other, pulled almost exclusively from the recently released LP, backed by a four-piece band taking its moniker (the Wesley Theory) from one of Butterfly’s tracks of the same name.
Goosing Lamar’s electrifying presence with the charge of real musicians making actual music (as opposed to relying on a DJ and backing tracks, something most rap acts employ), the already evocative songs — These Walls, Hood Politics, King Kunta, The Blacker The Berry — became even moreso.
Again and again, Lamar, clad all in black and armed with an appealing, husky rasp somehow managing to sound both young and old, and his collaborators ratcheted up the crowd’s enthusiasm and intensity.
By the time Lamar and the Wesley Theory laced into B—, Don’t Kill My Vibe, Money Trees and m.A.A.d city (all three back-to-back selections from Lamar’s 2012 major label break-out, Good Kid M.A.A.D City), the room felt as if it was about to burst, the momentum swaying from the stage to the crowd and back again, an enormous, almost tangible transfer of energy.
To look around in those moments — to see a diverse crowd, completely lost in the music being made, bathing in this singular experience they were sharing with the raw-nerved, but ragingly talented Kendrick Lamar — was to see, hear and feel a physical manifestation of a song Lamar had performed earlier: “Complexion don’t mean a thing/It all feels the same.”
Put another way: it was, indeed, undeniably personal, but it was also universal.