Review: Kendrick Lamar celebrates career victories at DTE
The rapper and his TDE labelmates toasted their accomplishments before 14,000-plus fans at DTE on Wednesday night
Kendrick Lamar brought his Championship Tour to a near-capacity DTE Energy Music Theatre on Wednesday night, a victory lap crowning the rapper's spectacular year.
Let's recap: First there was "Damn," his fourth studio album, which was released in April 2017 and solidified his standing at the top of the rap game. The album should have won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, an honor that went to Bruno Mars' "24K Magic," but that's OK because "Damn" wound up winning a Pulitzer Award, the first rap album to ever do so. (Not a bad consolation prize, all things considered.) Then in February, Lamar curated the chart-topping soundtrack to "Black Panther" and sprinkled it with appearances from his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates, who also joined him on the Championship Tour.
So there was plenty to celebrate on Wednesday, and the tour finds Lamar and his crew in a playful mood, acting out the sports theme implied in the outing's title. Championship-style banners for Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Sir were hung around the stage, toasting their various accomplishments (including Lamar's Pulitzer), and each artist took the stage dressed as a different style of athlete: Ab-Soul was an archer, Jay Rock a basketball player and Q a golfer, who, hilariously, was accompanied by video of golfers from Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus to Chi-Chi Rodriguez celebrating big victories. (SZA, who was second-billed on the tour, was forced to drop off the bill after suffering damage to her vocal chords last month.)
Lamar hit the stage dressed as a Formula One driver, Nike swooshes all over his gear as he tore into "DNA," a showstopper from "Damn." As he stood atop a 10-foot-tall video screen, pyrotechnics were set ablaze and the words "Pulitzer Kenny" were spelled out above his head. Yes, this was a celebration, and Pulitzer Kenny and his pals were there to commemorate the moment.
Lamar's moment, if you will, stretches back to the 2012 release of "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City," his major label debut and his career masterpiece to-date. That release established him as hip-hop's poet laureate, a deeply conscious and literate rapper who also made hits that straddled the streets, the clubs and the radio. The album's follow-up, 2015's "To Pimp a Butterfly," was an art-funk odyssey that was perhaps too academic for its own good, but "Damn" righted the path and re-established Lamar as hip-hop's smartest hitmaker. When the book soon closes on our current decade, Lamar and Drake will be neck and neck as hip-hop's most important voices, the two powerhouses who reigned over the decade and ruled the charts, the airwaves and the conversation, which is just one reason the two megastars should hit the road together on the same bill. (Call it the KenDrake tour and pack it in stadiums. Done!)
Lamar's 18-song, hour-long set on Wednesday was all hits, impressive in its own right, and had the largely college-age 14,000-plus fans in attendance rapping along to every word. (Notably, the crowd filled in the entirety of "Humble" after Lamar let the beat drop out; he revisited the song immediately after and closed out his set with it.)
Video screens behind Lamar showed images of California palm trees, wildfires, waterfalls and mountains, and during "Loyalty," they flashed footage of race cars spinning in circles after a win. Lamar, his tracks augmented by a four-piece band, was tight and controlled, bouncing in place but keeping his movements deliberate. He was focused, as evidenced by the intensity in his eyes, signifying his authority over his space and the stage.
No rapper stays on top forever, there's always someone looking to snatch that spot. It's best to enjoy the moment and assert your dominance while you can, which Kendrick Lamar clearly is doing with the Championship Tour. No one else is going to throw a celebration in your honor, so you might as well do it yourself.