Kendrick Lamar has a problem. It’s not a bad problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless: His talent has outkicked the coverage of his music. In other words, Kendrick is playing to crowds that he has in the palm of his hand, but his songs aren’t quite there yet. At last night’s early show at Roseland Ballroom (he played two sets back-to-back, due to overwhelming demand, as they say), he had 3,000-ish people singing along to every word, and while the dancing was a bit subdued, it went a long way in showing that Kendrick is learning to weave his particular brand of rap with his burgeoning star power.
 
As an artist, Kendrick doesn’t have too many songs that you could call bangers; even his verse on “Fuckin’ Problems” is relatively subdued (although hearing 2 Chainz’s voice blasting out to a sold-out show will probably never get old), so much so that the biggest thrill during the song was seeing if he would bring out any of the other three performers (he did not). The loudest reception for a song actually went to “Money Trees,” which is hilarious when you think about the fact that the song flips a Beach House track as its sample. There’s no denying, though, how good it sounds to have everyone rapping along, and bonus points when Jay Rock stepped on stage to deliver his show-stealing verse.
 
In fact, the secret MVPs of the night were the other three Black Hippy dudes, who separately came out at various times throughout the set and all together at the encore (more on that in a bit). Ab-Soul came out and did his verses on the Danny Brown-assisted “Terrorist Threats,” with Kendrick stepping back as hype man more than ringleader. Schoolboy Q had the night’s funniest moment, when he spit some truth after playing his hit “Hands On The Wheel”: “Fuck that song. I’m tired of playing that motherfucker. Can’t wait for all of you to hear my new album.” We can’t wait either, Q. He also assisted Kendrick with his ad-lib on album standout “m.A.A.d city,” which sadly cut off before the G-funk-tinged second half.
 
The night, however, belonged to K-Dot. One thing that used to bother me about seeing Kendrick live was that he used the crowd too much during songs; part of it seemed to be well-intentioned audience participation, but it also seemed that Kendrick was nervous about wearing out his voice during a set. That’s changed as he’s grown more comfortable as a performer, and now when he busts out some of the trickier flows in his catalog (for example, the third verse of “Backseat Freestyle” or his “I Am” interlude that led to the encore), you feel his passion come through.
 
He stays using the crowd for laughs, though, which is always welcome; a semi-trademark of Kendrick is to pick out a girl from the crowd and tease her a bit, which is always welcomed by said girl. On this night, his plan semi-backfired in a charming way when he picked out a girl who happened to be there with her girlfriend; you could tell that Kendrick was loving it even if he couldn’t do his whole teasing bit to the fullest. A few more sections of the crowd got some love, and perhaps most importantly, it never felt like Kendrick was pandering. The biggest nod he gave to his fanbase, however, was rocking through pretty much every jam on good kid, m.A.A.d city; the just-got-a-music-video “Poetic Justice” stood out, as did the bonus track “The Recipe,” which featured Kendrick gleefully dropping Dr. Dre’s verse.
 
Kendrick genuinely seems to love performing for big rooms, because as he said in his post-”Swimming Pools” bit, he’s still not adjusted to the fame and love that he gets every day. His “We made the mainstream come to us” might be the best way to put it, and further proof that he hasn’t changed too much came with the encore. Possibly the weirdest and best song in his repertoire, “Cartoon And Cereal” finished off the night for the early show. Given Gunplay’s recent release from house arrest, there were wandering eyes for a bit to see if the MMG raper would come out, but instead, Kendrick was joined by his best friends, and as Black Hippy took center stage and belted out the song’s chorus, or as they stepped a bit to the side to let K.Dot navigate its weirdly voiced verses, you could tell that these dudes know they’ve made it. The question now is, who’s going to stop them? If last night’s set is any indication, the answer is no one.
 
Setlist:
Westside, Right On Time
Hol’ Up
P&P
Fuckin’ Problems
Terrorist Threats (Feat. Ab-Soul)
A.D.H.D.
Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)
Look Out For Detox
Money Trees (Feat. Jay Rock)
Backseat Freestyle
Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe
Poetic Justice
Hands On The Wheel (Feat. ScHoolboy Q)
m.A.A.d city
Chapter Six
The Recipe
Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)
Blow My High (Members Only)
Swimming Pools (Drank)
I Am
-Encore-
Cartoon And Cereal (Feat. Black Hippy)