Lamar gets subtle with message

Kendrick Lamar performing at the inaugural Panorama festival.
Kendrick Lamar performing at the inaugural Panorama festival.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Kendrick Lamar wrote the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, in charged times, the rap star found he could be mellow while staying salient.

Last Saturday, he headlined the inaugural Panorama festival, a New York expansion by promoters of Coachella in California.

The hip-hop star has won acclaim for dramatic live performances. Yet in a tense summer - marked by a slew of police shootings of African Americans, vigilante killings of cops, mass attacks worldwide and a nasty- toned United States election - Lamar emphasised the fundamentally peaceful message of Alright, his song embraced by the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

"We're going to celebrate life. We're going to celebrate our life, we're going to celebrate the lives of the victims that passed these last three weeks all around the world," Lamar, 29, said to applause.

He worked his voice down to a whisper before opening Alright. He has confounded expectations for a hip-hop artist, with much of his Grammy-winning album, To Pimp A Butterfly, more jazz than rap, and he played Panorama with a live band.

If he chose not to hammer the crowd with messages, he offered more subtle commentary with an overhead slideshow of cultural figures from Muhammad Ali and Prince to Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

As he sang B***h, Don't Kill My Vibe, the screen ironically switched to a viral video of Bill O'Reilly, now a popular commentator on right-leaning Fox News, in an earlier role in which he becomes enraged over a teleprompter problem.

The Southern California rapper later went to i, his ode to self-worth, as the screen switched to United States President Barack Obama - a professed fan of Lamar's - dancing with TV host Ellen DeGeneres during his first presidential run.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Lamar gets subtle with message'. Print Edition | Subscribe