Rap sets at Bonnaroo can often be hit or miss, but Compton-born rapper Kendrick Lamar struck a home run with his Friday night headlining performance, the second Bonnaroo appearance of his career and this reviewer’s favorite set so far of Bonnaroo 2015. Lamar delivered a set heavy with tracks from his Grammy-nominated 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand for the entire 60 minute show. “This isn’t just a concert,” said Lamar a few minutes into the performance, “this is a f*cking party.”
Backed by a live four piece band, which included a keyboardist, guitar player, bassist and drummer, Lamar opened with “Money Trees” before taking the crowd through old hits like “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Poetic Justice,” “Backseat Freestyle,” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” and A$AP Rocky track “F*ckin’ Problems.”
Lamar took a moment to sit on the stage and appreciate the crowd, paricularly the fans who were present at his performance in 2012. “It’s been a while, Bonnaroo. We have some catching up to do.” Numerous songs were dedicated to the fans and homies who had been with Lamar “since day one,” as well as those who returned to the farm to be present at the rapper’s encore Bonnaroo appearance.
One of the highlights of Lamar’s set – an energetic performance of “m.A.A.d city” that found the rapper running back and forth across the stage – was extremely well received by the nearly 80,000 fans that assembled at the What Stage. “F*ck level 8, f**ck level ten, we’re taking this up to a 20,” said Lamar before launching back into a few more verses of “m.A.A.d city.”
The rapper brought out Sonnymoon singer Anna Wise to accompany him on “These Walls,” a slower song that gave the crowd a chance to mellow out between higher energy songs like “i,” for which he won a Grammy award for Best Rap Performance, and closer “Alright,” both singles from his most recent album To Pimp A Butterfly, which peaked at no. 1 in the US and earned high critical acclaim.
Lamar promised the crowd he’d be back before exiting the stage, and that return came fast – Lamar and friend Chance the Rapper took the stage with Earth, Wind and Fire shortly after Lamar’s set for an impromptu guest appearance at the Which Stage.