Stevie G: Lamar lit up stage at Glastonbury 

Kendrick Lamar's set was another career-defining moment, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: Lamar lit up stage at Glastonbury 

Kendrick Lamar performs at the Glastonbury Festival in Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, Sunday, June 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Scott Garfitt)

Sunday night’s set at Glastonbury was another career defining moment for Kendrick Lamar. The Compton rapper is now four full albums deep and on one of the greatest album runs in music history, but it’s fair to say that not everyone was up to speed.

A Glastonbury crowd that would be on the older end of the music spectrum, was still glowing after a worthy (but much safer) headliner Paul McCartney, delivered the goods professionally the previous night. Billie Eilish, another well chosen headliner, was also excellent on a weekend where the main stages were populated mainly by veteran established acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Crowded House, and Diana Ross.

Newcomers such as Olivia Rodrigo, who played Cork last night, were also present, while our own Denise Chaila continued her ascent into the big league with a really well received gig (and appearance on BBC). Denise has already done pretty much everything there is to do in Ireland, and her appearance in Glastonbury follows on from a headline gig in the Olympia last year, and some stadium shows with Ed Sheeran. Our best kept secret is making waves abroad and won’t be a secret much longer.

There were many other highlights but the big talking point is surely the extraordinary set by the incredible Kendrick Lamar. Glastonbury’s crowd has reflected how a once subversive youth culture has been assimilated into the mainstream, and it’s very socially acceptable to be dancing in a field for a few days if you can afford to buy the tickets. The boomer era dreams of the ’60s may have all worked out, but for a few days at least music fans of all generations flock to the festival that takes place in a beautiful Somerset setting. Winning over your average UK festival goer was by no means the easiest task ever, but Kendrick was up to the task.

It was only 14 years ago that Jay Z’s headline show drew the ire of Noel Gallagher, who didn’t think hip-hop deserved a shot. Jay Z turned it on him by appearing on stage with a guitar singing ‘Wonderwall’. Kanye West certainly had the material and the catalogue, but he opted for a more minimal show in 2015, never quite managing to elevate his show into legendary status.

Previous headliners such as Cypress Hill and Beastie Boys already had huge rock audiences following them anyway, as did Public Enemy, who have played big shows at Glastonbury a few times. Snoop Dogg is another big hip-hop artist with huge crossover history, so there was no doubt he would succeed there.

You could make a decent case that most of those groups weren’t at the peak of their careers when they performed Glastonbury, though the Beasties and Kanye were definitely near enough to it. Stormzy also headlined just as his career was reaching fulfilment. The benchmark for Kendrick’s set hip-hop wise was probably an artist who isn’t really hip-hop at all, but who comes from that culture. Beyonce ripped it up with a legendary Glastonbury set, though she made it pretty much redundant with her iconic Coachella performance a few years later. She is as good as anyone live and her show is incredible.

Kendrick doesn’t have the dancing ability and his musical success is not as pop orientated, so how was he gonna match the above? He simply displayed his best microphone artistry with minimal gimmicks but against a powerful backdrop of simple visuals and stunning choreography, and he smashed it.

Most of us long term fans will have seen him in person a few times live, but I’ve personally never seen him anything this good. OK, the sound wasn’t great on TV and it doesn’t get near to being there, but this was an iconic journey through an incredible musical catalogue that has been supplemented wonderfully with his latest classic album, Mr Morale & the Big Steppers.

It was a landmark evening for hip-hop culture and there were few complaints. Kendrick’s latests opus is his most introspective work yet, and it was great watching him negotiate such material with confidence. The finale was a powerful act of solidarity for ‘women’s rights’ from an artist who admits he’s full of contradictions, and one who drew much criticism for having the problematic Kodak Black on his record. Kendrick doesn’t really want to be on the pedestal, and he knows he doesn’t have all the answers, but he also knows that in 2022 he’s the best rapper in the game, and Sunday proved it even more.

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