In charged times, Ken­drick La­mar sub­ver­sive in sub­tlety

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

KEN­DRICK La­mar wrote the un­of­fi­cial an­them of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, yet, in charged times, the rap star found he could be mel­low while stay­ing salient. La­mar, whose live sched­ule has been sur­pris­ingly sparse since he tri­umphed at the Grammy Awards in Fe­bru­ary, on July 23 head­lined the in­au­gu­ral Panorama NYC Fes­ti­val, a New York expansion by pro­mot­ers of Coachella in Cal­i­for­nia.

The hip-hop star has won ac­claim for dra­matic live per­for­mances. At the Gram­mys, he en­tered as a pris­oner chained to fel­low African Amer­i­can men and, ear­lier at the Black En­ter­tain­ment Tele­vi­sion Awards, rapped atop a van­dalised po­lice car.

Yet in a tense sum­mer – marked by a slew of po­lice shoot­ings of African Amer­i­cans, vig­i­lante killings of cops, mass at­tacks world­wide and a nasty­toned US elec­tion – La­mar em­pha­sised the fun­da­men­tally peace­ful mes­sage of “Al­right”, his song em­braced by the Black Lives Mat­ter protest move­ment.

“We’re go­ing to cel­e­brate life. We’re go­ing to cel­e­brate our life, we’re go­ing to cel­e­brate the life of the vic­tims that passed these last three weeks all around the world,” La­mar said to ap­plause. In a busi­ness where ask­ing the crowd to make noise is one of the big­gest cliches, the 29-year-old rap­per in­stead worked his voice down to a whis­per be­fore open­ing “Al­right”, a sin­gle over­head spot­light fol­low­ing him.

La­mar has con­founded ex­pec­ta­tions for a hip-hop artist, with much of his Grammy-win­ning al­bum To Pimp a But­ter­fly more jazz than rap, and he played Panorama with a live band. If La­mar chose not to ham­mer the crowd with mes­sages, he of­fered more sub­tle com­men­tary with an over­head slideshow of cul­tural fig­ures from Muham­mad Ali to Prince to Ron­ald and Nancy Rea­gan.

As La­mar sang his chill “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, the screen iron­i­cally switched to a vi­ral video of Bill O’Reilly, now a pop­u­lar com­men­ta­tor on right-lean­ing Fox News, in an ear­lier role in which he be­comes en­raged over a teleprompter prob­lem. The South­ern Cal­i­for­nia rap­per later went to “i”, his ode to self-worth, as the screen switched to a good-hu­moured Barack Obama – a pro­fessed fan of La­mar – danc­ing with tele­vi­sion host Ellen DeGeneres dur­ing his first pres­i­den­tial run.

The Panorama NYC Fes­ti­val on New York’s Ran­dalls Is­land is the lat­est in a fast-grow­ing cal­en­dar of fes­ti­vals, which have in­creas­ingly be­come a rite of pas­sage for young North Amer­i­cans and a lu­cra­tive rev­enue stream for the mu­sic in­dus­try.

With the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in full swing, vol­un­teers reg­is­tered fans to vote – yet, like La­mar, most artists stayed away from overt po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy. One ex­cep­tion was indie rock­ers Ar­cade Fire, the head­lin­ers on July 22, whose singer Win Butler de­nounced Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump as a racist and vowed the United States would never elect him.

“We have to … stick to­gether,” Butler told the crowd as he shouted, “Black Lives Mat­ter!”

Fem­i­nist punk pi­o­neer Kath­leen Hanna also shared so­cial com­men­tary as she per­formed on July 23 with her high-deci­bel project The Julie Ruin, charg­ing that she was too of­ten in­vited to ap­pear­ances as a “to­ken” who is paid less than men.

Darkly in­tro­spec­tive indie rock­ers The Na­tional on July 23 played two re­cently writ­ten songs for an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd as the sun set and the Man­hat­tan sky­line lit up be­hind the stage. One of the tracks, “The Day I Die”, re­turned to fa­mil­iar bleak lyri­cal ter­ri­tory for The Na­tional but took on a heav­ier feel as the gui­tarists, twin broth­ers Aaron and Bryce Dess­ner, charged in on a sound that verged on shoegaze. In­tro­duc­ing the more somber “Find a Way”, singer Matt Berninger dead­panned that the song was “even more melo­dra­matic” than “The Day I Die”.

“Can it go fur­ther? Yes it can,” said Berninger, singing as ever with his eyes to the ground un­til he sud­denly pressed into the crowd for sweaty bear-hugs. The Na­tional, which is record­ing its first al­bum in three years, brought out a three-piece brass con­tin­gent that added power to slower-churn­ing songs such as “I Need My Girl” and “Pink Rab­bits”.

Suf­jan Stevens put on a vis­ually stir­ring show, which be­gan rather than ended with him smash­ing his banjo.

Don­ning out­fits that ranged from a su­per­sized metal­lic coat to a cloak of bal­loons, the genre-de­fy­ing artist glided from acous­tic folk to hip-hop beats with a loose theme of en­ter­ing a vol­cano.

Photo: AFP

Ken­drick La­mar per­forms at the Panorama NYC Fes­ti­val on July 23.

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