Kendrick Lamar: Breaking Records and Redefining Rap History

Kendrick Lamar doesn’t need any more accolades on the illustrious rap sheet of his career, and yet they keep coming. He’s already the rapper with the most Grammy nominations (11) in a single year for his classic major label debut, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. He’s also the only MC ever awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music, for 2017’s DAMN. But this month’s Juneteenth just added to his list of laurels when the livestream of The Pop Out—Ken & Friends, his sold-out June 19 show at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, broke Amazon Music streaming records with the most minutes watched of any of its productions ever.

“Kendrick Lamar’s The Pop Out concert wasn’t just historic for West Coast Hip-Hop, it was an iconic cultural moment for hip-hop fans around the world,” says Sierra Lever, Amazon Music’s head of Hip-Hop and R&B. “As a Hip-Hop fan, you grow up hearing about the legendary ‘you had to be there’ moments—think 2Pac freestyling with Biggie at Madison Square Garden in ’93 or the Fugees reuniting at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party—and at Amazon Music, we’re constantly thinking of ways where technology can connect fans with moments in time to support music and culture.”

Since Juneteenth, fanatical Kendrick fans on social media have compared last week’s “cultural moment” to Michael Jackson debuting the moonwalk on Motown 25 over 40 years ago. As in, everyone will forever remember their personal backstories behind witnessing Kendrick perform his hit Drake diss track “Not Like Us” five times in a row and uniting historically warring factions of Crips and Bloods onstage for a group photo reminiscent of the cover of his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly.

Others compared that peaceful L.A. gang unification to the historic truce that followed the Los Angeles uprising of 1992. Many also noticed Kendrick paying visual homage to his hero Tupac Shakur, dressed in a red hoodie, red cap, baggy jeans and a $600,000 cross chain (courtesy of jeweler Ben Baller), similar to the 1994 Source Awards fit of 2Pac. All valid observations—Kendrick very much did a thing.

The evening started with a handful of warmup performances by underground Cali hip-hop talent. A brief DJ Hed & Friends set showcased the up-and-coming likes of Jason Martin, Bino Rideaux, Remble, OHGEESY, Cuzzos and others. Reportedly, the racial makeup of the arriving audience didn’t reflect what might be expected from a Juneteenth celebration, given the heavy price markup of sold-out tickets by resellers. DJ Mustard & Friends rose the venue’s temperature even higher, as the producer behind “Not Like Us” hosted Steve Lacy, Dom Kennedy, Roddy Ricch, YG and Tyler, the Creator.

Expected as a victory lap to winning what’s already being (a little hyperbolically) considered the greatest rap battle of all time, Kendrick’s portion of the show started with “Euphoria”—salvo number one in his recent back and forth with Drake. More of a greatest-hits flavor followed for the rest of the night, with K.Dot taking 18,000 fans through bangers like “DNA.,” “Alright,” “King Kunta,” “m.A.A.d city,” “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “HUMBLE.”

Though an appearance by J.Cole—who famously checked out of the Drake-Kendrick beef early on—might have been a more radical guest pop-up, Jay Rock showed up to spit his verses on “Money Trees,” leading to the rest of Kendrick’s Black Hippy collective storming the stage one by one. Jay Rock regaled the crowd with his Grammy-winning “Win.” After a “Collard Greens” duet with Kendrick, ScHoolboy Q performed his own “THat Part” solo. Rapper Ab-Soul, with no true hits of his own, bantered enthusiastically as Kendrick killed his own verses on his second Drake dis, last month’s “6:16 in L.A.”

As Kendrick paused to mention paying homage to the pioneers of West Coast hip-hop, Dr. Dre appeared for a slightly fraught moment in the show.  Though it may have been lost on the largely millennial fans cheering through “Still D.R.E.” and “California Love,” Dre’s history of physically assaulting rap-video host Dee Barnes in 1991 mars any full-scale celebration of Dre and likely always will.

Finally, reminiscent of Kanye West and Jay-Z performing “N*ggas in Paris” multiple times consecutively on their 2012 Watch the Throne tour, Kendrick debuted “Not Like Us” live to a crowd mouthing every word—then ran it back over and over five times. (This past weekend, he shot a video for the track in Compton.) But transcending all animosity towards Drake and their historic rap beef, scores of close associates and prior performers congregated onstage during the third playback, representing a show of L.A. unification that Kendrick twice said made him emotional. And that was the moment of the night, crowning Kendrick (once again) the king of hip-hop. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and we’re certain to hear all about that weight on his next album. Meanwhile, “Not Like Us” has visuals coming—as the late Nipsey Hussle said, the marathon continues.

Updated: June 24, 2024 — 3:02 pm