Newly minted Pulitzer Prize-winner Kendrick Lamar’s victory lap, which kicked off this year’s concert season at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater Wednesday night, did not disappoint.
It took a while for things to get going, between the foggy, misty night and news that Grammy-nominated SZA would not appear. The singer tweeted, then later deleted, that she “permanently injured” her voice after her set at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, requesting space as she struggles with the vocal issues that forced her from the tour.
However, there is a reason why Lamar, 30, is rap’s reigning king and that this is Top Dawg Entertainment’s “Championship Tour,” complete with mascots, hype men dressed as referees and banners touting the accomplishments of Lamar and the Top Dawg crew. And as soon as he took the stage, he showed why with a set that spanned his impressive career, opening with songs from “Damn.,” the first hip-hop album ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for what judges called “capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”
Lamar arrived at Jones Beach following the luncheon at Columbia University Wednesday, where he officially received the award and didn’t waste any time celebrating as he performed in front of a background with “Pulitzer Kenny” scrawled on it.
But Lamar is always moving forward, already releasing the chart-topping soundtrack to “Black Panther” earlier this year.
He tweaked some of his older tracks, with the great “King Kunta,” turning into an all-out funk jam thanks to his four-piece band that worked chants of “We want the funk!” into it.
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In songs like “LOYALTY.,” where his collaborator Rihanna wasn’t available, the crowd was more than happy to sing the hook in her place.
The early acts, including R&B singers SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker, got a sports announcer to introduce them and virtual basketball cards projected on the screens. After all, the tour is meant to use Lamar’s success to help introduce the label’s other acts.
ScHoolboy Q didn’t need that help, though. His set was stacked with familiar hits, closing with “Man of the Year,” which made the most of the powerful five-piece band that backed him.
And of course, Ab-Soul would be remembered, not just because he was carrying a crossbow and a quiver of arrows, but because his fiery set included memorable rhymes like “Huey Knew THEN.” Jay Rock got the crowd going, especially with his new single “Win” from his forthcoming album “Redemption” out on June 15.