Listen to Austin 360 Radio

ACL Fest review: Kendrick Lamar

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Chad Swiatecki

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 6, 2013

Let’s break Kendrick Lamar’s triumphant Saturday night set at Austin City Limits Festival down using “C”s.

Confident – There have been younger acts that have wowed ACL audiences over the years, but at 26 years old Lamar was as in his element from the very moment he stepped on the Honda Stage. More important; the gifted MC never strayed into arrogance at any point. He just had the presence of someone who is totally comfortable (there’s another C) delivering his gritty and honest raps in front of a massive crowd that wanted nothing more than to bounce along to the massive hooks and beats of “(Expletive), Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and the many other arresting moments on his debut album.

Confessional – Lamar’s home turf and association with Dr. Dre and the sometimes ugly tales he spins make it easy to cast him as a gangster rapper if you’re the type who likes to paint with a really broad brush. But rarely is Lamar a socially caustic agent in his raps. Instead he’s holding a mirror up to his elements and judging characters real and imagined as well as himself as a narrator. On record those songs are tender and kind of stark, which would never work on a festival crowd that wanted to lose its collective mind in a really strong weed haze. Speaking of which…

Combustible – A live band, or at least some live players, should be a prerequisite for festival-level rap acts by this point (unless they’ve got a ninja-level DJ or two behind them). Lamar made the right move having a backing combo behind him and on top of established beats and samples to punctuate the songs when needed and make them festival size throughout. This let Lamar put his focus on working the crowd into a frenzy and lay back during unexpected flourishes like the smooth funk wind-down on “Swimming Pools (Drank)” near set end that let both Lamar and the crowd in front of him sort of take a breath and acknowledge the special moment they were in together.