Avatar photo

By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

Review: Kendrick Lamar came to Mzansi to rap (and he did) pity the audience was pap

Kendrick was the headline artist at the Hey Neighbour Fest. He performed on day two of the three day festival.

In an interview from a few years ago I sorely struggled to find on the Internet, South African rapper Nasty C compared Mzansi audiences to those in the US.

The gist of his comments was that South African crowds never rapped along to his rap verses verbatim, only memorising the chorus; while US audiences seemed to pay more attention to the actual verses between the catchy hook.

Nasty C’s assertions gripped my thoughts as I walked out of Hey Neighbour Fest on Saturday night after Kendrick Lamar’s performance.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Hey Neighbour (@heyneighbourfest)

I had mixed feelings about the length of the performance, irritated by his continuous intervals during his set and I trivially would’ve liked to see him do the set he does for his The Big Steppers Tour, including wearing the Wales Bonner blazer he dons on the tour.

The tour is in support of his fifth studio album, Mr Morale & the Big Steppers which was released last year.

But as for the raps and the overall performance, phew, I walked out of there satisfied, particularly with the former.

Kendrick the Messiah

The rap artist from Compton, US, was set to get on stage at 10:45pm but already by 10pm hordes of people walked towards the main stage where he performed, just so they find a good spot to get a perfect view of the rapper.

You honestly would’ve sworn that we had all come to this farm on the outskirts of Pretoria, on a pilgrimage to hear what the messiah had to say.

Between 10:45 pm and 11 pm we waited with the anticipation. The feeling of eagerness within the crowd on Saturday night was like an accumulation of a community’s impatience waiting for power to return after hours of load shedding.

Screams from everywhere in the crowd had a lot of us thinking Kendrick was stepping on stage when the intro of The Heart Part 5 started playing. But no, it was just a tease.

But as soon as the song N95 came on, Kendrick’s elusiveness disappeared and there he was rocking snow-white Nike Cortez sneakers, a black bomber jacket with black pants and a black snapback cap to match. The anticipated messiah had arrived.

ALSO READ: Fans celebrate Hip Hop’s 50th Anniversary at Back to The City

The performance

The multiple-Grammy award winning rapper performed after Nothing But Thieves’ amazing time on stage, but when his turn to perform came, it looked and felt like a totally different stage that DJ Shimza and Zakes Bantwini performed on just a while ago.

With an aesthetically pleasing painting of Los Angeles artist Henry Taylor as his background, Kendrick went through his discography and the audience ate up the hits.

Watching from afar on the Hey Neighbour lawn facing the Main Stage, I had a view of the audience and their reaction. After one of his interludes, Kendrick performed his verse from Pusha T’s Nostalgia.

As an ardent Hip Hop head appreciating this moment, I cringed at how it wasn’t valued by fellow South Africans. The crowd was dead.

The irony is that in the song, Kendrick raps “…And nine times out of 10, nig**s don’t pay attention…”

I gave my South Africans some slack and thought that maybe they don’t know the song because it’s not Kendrick’s own.

But then the 36 year-old performed Worldwide Steppers from his latest album. And again, the crowd wasn’t receptive.

On the song which sits third on the album, Kendrick vulnerably raps about his infidelity in his marriage, suffering from writers’ block and speaks about his children – things he’s never done in his previous work. The song has no chorus but Kendrick raps in a way that comes off like a confession.

After another interlude, he returned to stage with The Weekend’s Sidewalk playing in the background. The illumination on stage looked gorgeous under orange lights as he came on to rap his verse from the song.

This was probably the most intimate it felt in the performance. The dancers who joined Kendrick on some of the songs were fitting while the visuals on the big screens were a show on themselves in how they usurped your attention from the actual stage.  

I can only be speculative about Kendrick’s choice of songs on the night, but I imagine he and his team thoroughly looked at which songs are most streamed in the country to determine which tracks he should perform.

South Africa has a strong community of ardent Hip Hop listeners, but it seems the numbers at Hey Neighbour were dominated by people who aren’t Kendrick’s biggest fans because they rapped and sang along to a handful of his songs.

Nonetheless, the greatest rapper of his generation came to South Africa to perform in a year that the artform celebrates its 50th anniversary and I was there to see it all.

NOW READ: DJ Ready D opens up about his music being banned in SA at Hip Hop anniversary

Read more on these topics

Grammys hip hop Kendrick Lamar (K-Dot)

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits