“I need a crowd of people, but I can’t deal with them day by day”, sang Neil Young in one of his best pieces, On the beach. Musicians often experience this constant conflict between the desire to be loved and famous and the need to be alone, to take the time to feed their creativity without external interference. Kendrick Lamar is no exception. In the period leading up to the release of his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, the Californian rapper was noted for his absence. He did not even speak during the demonstrations of the anti-racist movement Black Lives Matter, which broke out in the spring of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman, at a time when many of his colleagues had sent messages of solidarity to the protesters. He himself, who wrote hymns dear to the African American community like Alrightremained in his corner.
But now that moment has passed, and Lamar is back to doing concerts. And he did it for the first time on June 23 at the Milan summer festival at the San Siro racecourse – if you exclude the short set a few days ago in Cannes, where he played a handful of songs at an event sponsored by Spotify, and a date in November 2021 in the United States – in the city where he performed nine years ago, in what so far had been his only appearance in our country. He showed up in great shape, accompanied by an elegant dance troupe and a band that could be heard but could not be seen, hidden behind the stage as had already happened in the tour of Damn of 2017. And he probably did some kind of dress rehearsal ahead of his June 26th performance at the Glastonbury festival.
It is about 9.30 pm when the lights go out and the introduction of the song starts United in grief. A (recorded) choir recites the verse “I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime”, I hope you can find some peace of mind in this life, remembering how mental health is the main theme of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The dancers, black pants and white shirt, take the stage. Then comes Lamar, in a white suit and with dreadlock loose. And she begins to show off her flow as always impeccable, indulging in the choreography at times, but always keeping her gaze fixed on the spectators.
It is clear almost immediately: the audience is one of the best news of the evening. The 24 thousand who arrived at the racecourse (it was not a foregone conclusion, despite Lamar’s international fame, because foreign rap traditionally in Italy struggles), of a fairly low average age, live the concert with great participation, rapping in unison a good part of the songs, applaud the rapper between one song and another and dedicate stadium choirs to him. It is proof that, under certain conditions, in Italy there is still a market for international hip hop stars, despite everything. Too bad for some problems in the organization, starting from the management of queues at the entrance, and for a system not quite up to the level of a show of this size: the volumes were too low, as especially the people who pointed out. they found farther from the stage. But the party atmosphere manages to compensate for these shortcomings, thankfully.
After the first song, perhaps to further warm up the environment, Lamar pulls out a string of pieces from his second album, Good kid, M.A.A.D city: and so they arrive, among others, Money trees, Backseat freestyle e Bitch, don’t kill my vibewhich have already become classics of American hip hop.
From now on, barring a couple of forays into the repertoire of Mr. Morale & The big Steppers (what a pity not to have listened Worldwide steppersbut Lamar still made some very interesting choices, starting with the excellent one Count me out), we see a greatest hits of the rapper’s repertoire: songs arrive that mix autobiographical themes and the racial question, such as King municipality e Alrightexcerpts from the masterpiece To pimp a butterflyand the energetic Dnabut also more pop episodes extracted from Damnthe album with which Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018. The complete lineup can be read here.
Some pieces Lamar plays alone on stage, while in others the dancers return, with choreographies that are often not quite in focus with respect to the music. But the concert remains of a high level, also thanks to the shock given by Humble, Lamar’s most famous piece, with its pounding piano riff that enhances the rapper’s vocal technique. Once the song is finished, the spectators continue to repeat the chorus “Bitch, be humble”, prompting the artist to stop the base of the next Lovewhile addressing the stage technicians: “Wait, there’s a great audience out here, let’s enjoy it.”
Before the end, there is time for a speech by Lamar, who thanks people for coming, saying “I thought about you a lot from Los Angeles”, and calls for equality. His words are not memorable, but all in all they sound sincere. After singing Saviorhe takes the last ovation and promises: “We will be back”.
Lamar is a big star of international music, we certainly didn’t discover him last night. The one in Milan was a concert with pop colors, able to please the spectators, from which at times you could ask perhaps a little more sword and a little less foil, but find flaws in what this musician does on stage. 35 years old is difficult. As we go home raising the dust of the racecourse with our feet, one would think that such an evening was not a foregone conclusion. The Compton rapper, who came out of the loneliness of the last few years in a big way, finally connected with the Italian audience, who responded in an attentive and warm way. Suddenly, perhaps, a door has opened for the future, his and ours.