Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Big Steppers’ Tour is a Performance Art project

Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Big Steppers’ Tour is a Performance Art project

In the decades since hip-hop’s conception, artists have made transformative strides in communicating stories. While the genre has always been tied to innovation and multiple media, the scale of performance has evolved more slowly. For years, less is more was the formula when it came to the live show: a rapper, DJ and hype-man were the ultimate trifecta. Today, Kendrick Lamar shows just how far hip-hop has come with his ongoing “The Big Steppers Tour” — performance at its peak.

Before Kendrick Lamar and PgLang hit the stage in Washington DC on Thursday night (August 4), Tanna Leone and Baby Keem, both members of the PgLang crew, set it up using dramatically different visuals. Leone, the newest signee to his self-cultivated record label PgLang, opened the show with songs from his April 2022 album “Sleepy Soldier,” treating fans to a combination of atmospheric lighting, alternating monochromatic visual effects and a refreshing vocal approach.

Baby Keem led his set with his ‘US trademark’ intro to 2021’s ‘The Melodic Blue’, contrasting the visual direction wearing a white shirt, long black tie and black trousers. The outfit matched the flashing white lights on an often dark stage as Baby Keem ran through hit after hit, including “range brothers,” “ORANGE SODA,” “hooligan” and “HONEST.”

Kendrick Lamar opened his show with a stage designed to look like a therapist’s office. This setting reflects the complex emotional issues addressed in “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” album and dove headfirst into the narrative — wielding a ventriloquist dummy to perform stellar album opener “United In Grief” to portray the evocative portrait painted by “Mr. Moral.” The therapist is heard throughout the set.

Light and shadow were at the heart of Mr. Morale’s story, as the images depicted ranged from the embattled couple present in the intensely warm track “We Cry Together” working out their issues through “Purple Hearts” and mourning over the losses but never accepted defeat in “Count Me”. Outside.” The overall idea meshes perfectly — “Shadow work,” or inner work and change, is a common practice in various healing spaces, demonstrating the depths to which Kendrick uses art to create a new level of connectivity.

Adding another element to the show’s palette of styles, the dancers led the audience through the music with movement and movement. One word was strikingly prevalent in every step, stride and glide executed by these form leaders: intention. The dancers flowed through songs like “N95” and “Silent Hill” while merging as one in a stunning audio-visual moment of shadow and sound for the song “LUST”. from Kendrick’s 2017 album, “DAMN.” Lamar’s rendition of “Crown,” the piano-heavy centerpiece of “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,” the rapper himself introduced on the keyboard.

In the realm of being a megastar, room-shakers are a must, of which Kendrick Lamar has plenty. But, as noted, the unexpected nature of this set always allows for a twist. Performing from a floating quarantine room, longtime fans were thrilled to hear some of their favorites including ‘DNA.’, ‘Money Trees’, ‘LOYALTY.’, ‘Backseat Freestyle’ and ‘family ties’ with cousin Baby Keem .

To top off this incredible performance with sights and sounds, Lamar performed the standout track from ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, “Savior,” proving once again that his elevated artistry is carving an unobstructed path to hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore. His “Big Steppers Tour” is yet another statement of intent, taking performance in the genre and music as a whole to new heights.

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