The moment that sticks in mind hours after Kendrick Lamar wrapped his show at Staples Center on Sunday came at the end of the main set. As the music to “Humble” kicked in and Lamar rapped the first few lines, the 30-year-old from Compton lowered his microphone and let the fans in the packed arena finish the verse and take the song through its “Sit down / Be humble” chorus.
It’s a song off his fourth album, “Damn,” that on the surface is a message to all of his would-be competitors: Lamar is the king of the hip-hop game now, so don’t go pretending it’s you. But as he stood on stage during the song, soaking up all the adulation he’s deservedly earned over the course of four albums now, it’s hard not to also read it as a reminder to himself: You are the best, but remember your own humility too.
And he is, by almost any measure, the biggest hip-hop star of the moment. He headlined Coachella in April with a show he’s largely replicated on his current tour. “Damn,” which arrived right before the festival in the desert, debuted at No. 1 on the album charts, as had its predecessor, the Grammy-winning “To Pimp A Butterfly” two years earlier.
And “Humble,” its first single, debuted at No. 2 on the charts, the highest hip-hop entry since Eminem’s Rihanna-featuring “Love The Way You Lie” seven years earlier, before bumping up a notch to give Lamar his first-ever No. 1 single as a solo artist.
So yeah, the kid from Compton’s having a pretty awesome year, and the show he delivered on Sunday – like his Coachella turn before – delivered the goods over the 75 minutes he was on stage, performing solo but for the occasionally appearance of a ninja dancer or two, a tie-in to the three-part “Kung Fu Kenny” ’70s martial-arts film parody, or maybe tribute, that was interspersed throughout his set and starred Lamar as its title character.
“DNA” and “Element,” a pair of tracks from “Damn,” opened the show, the first a proud shout-out to his African-American heritage and culture (“I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.”), the second a statement of the determination and drive that brought him out of Compton onto the world stage (“I’m willin’ to die for this (stuff),” he raps throughout song.)
“King Kunta,” one of his best songs with its funky, driving melody, followed, leading the crowd into a bit of his past with this track off “Butterfly,” before rapping through the verses he contributed…