Kendrick Lamar Humbles COTA

The most important rapper of our time demonstrates why

The indisputable Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment are becoming an immovable force in ways that Cash Money, No Limit, and perhaps even the recently reformed Loud imprint with its Wu-Tang glories couldn’t sustain. In an age where everything is listened to at once, TDE has maintained a vice grip on critical consistency since at least 2012.

Kendrick Lamar, Circuit of the Americas, 5.18.18 (Photo by Kahron Spearman)

Lamar commenced the year by winning five Grammys, including Best Rap Album for his fourth studio release, Damn. Last month, the Compton rapper/songwriter became the first musician outside of classical and jazz to win a Pulitzer Prize. One could build a robust celebratory show around this achievement alone, but wait, there’s more.

With banners of the TDE stable’s achievements on display, Friday night’s packed-out performance at Circuit of the Americas – 10th stop on “The Championship Tour” – reaffirmed of the label’s continuing commercial and critical vitality. Faux trading cards of TDE artists beamed on the lower of two stacked, stage-length LED screens. Between sets, standard jock jams, including “Eye of the Tiger,” “Thunderstruck,” and, of course, “We Are the Champions,” blared.

R&B vocalists Sir and Lance Skiiwalker kicked off the concert, followed by a few tracks by both “Pineal Gland” esotericist Ab-Soul and the sturdy G-rap flows of Jay Rock. Revving up a forthcoming release, Schoolboy Q, styled in a golfer theme, banged out jams for his 40 minutes – “That Part,” “Studio,” and “Man of the Year.” Similar to Rock’s “Vice City,” his “Collard Greens” ramped up anticipation for Lamar. Ever confident, Q’s natural energy is infectious, as is his willingness as a team player to (at least temporarily) take a dip on the TDE pecking order.

Outfitted in fight-night garb and ready for action, SZA’s electric 40 minutes began with her in a boxing ring. The Missouri-born singer’s prominence has come into full bloom over the last year, stemming from the triumphant release of her debut full-length, the brazen and intimate CTRL, which garnered Grammy nominations, year-end best-of lists, and a platinum plaque.

Demonstrating that she’s earned all such accolades and more, the 27-year-old entertainer born Solána Rowe delivered a striking set mostly from her coming-of-age debut. Relatable and uplifting, she lit up as fiercely as her montages, especially the one for “Drew Barrymore,” “The Weekend,” and “Normal Girl.” Though her biographical songs loped mid-tempo and laid back, the amphitheater’s acoustics and a rapt crowd lent palpable energy to her lushness.

In the midst of onstage (and onscreen) fire and brimstone – peaked by ridiculous Fox News shill Geraldo Rivera’s grating condemnation of Lamar – the headliner then dominated right out of the gate on an earth-moving rendition of “DNA.”

A Formula 1 race car sat onstage, kitted out in all-things TDE, as the superstar stuffed 17 tracks – including interludes – into his brilliant, hour-long set. He honored his “day-ones” with “Swimming Pools” and “Backstreet Freestyle” from 2012 breakthrough LP good kid, m.A.A.d city. To the crowd’s satisfaction, Jay Rock came out for an extremely fulfilling performance of the iconic “Money Trees.”

Adding significantly to Lamar’s virtuosic kinetics, his backing band provided monstrous fills where appropriate, especially with the rousing “Alright” from 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

Lamar shut down COTA with “Humble,” as the crowd rapped nearly the entire song a capella. That proved a sight and sound to behold – thousands of fans rapping “sit down, be humble” at full volume. Everyone from backstage peered from the sides in awe of the deep connection and respect for arguably the most important musician of our time.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Kendrick Lamar
ACL Review: Kendrick Lamar II
ACL Review: Kendrick Lamar II
Repeat performance varies little in set-list or sheer force

Alejandra Ramirez, Oct. 9, 2016

ACL Review: Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar
Superstar MC grapples with superstardom in real time

Bryan Rolli, Oct. 2, 2016

More by Kahron Spearman
How Did Legendary DJ and Londoner Paul Oakenfold Land in Bastrop?
How Did Legendary DJ and Londoner Paul Oakenfold Land in Bastrop?
The Londoner finds his way to a Texas ranch

July 30, 2021

New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to

June 18, 2021


Kendrick Lamar, Top Dawg Entertainment, Lance Skiiwalker, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, SZA

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle