Kendrick Lamar at Reliant Arena, 6/11/2013
"I'll always have love for Houston."
Those were among the last words Kendrick Lamar told a raucous crowd inside Reliant Arena on Tuesday night, the final rung on Top Dawg Entertainment's good kid, m.A.A.d city tour ladder. He smiled, beamed actually, when telling the story about how no more than two years ago he came to Houston for the first time to headline a small show at Warehouse Live.
Section.80 didn't exist then, his deal with Aftermath Entertainment didn't either. All he had then was (O)verly (D)edicated and 200 rabid fans who probably saw the vision he saw -- that he would come back one day hailed point-blank as the most can't-miss rapper outside of Drake, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Lamar has done some pretty historic things in Houston too. Last December he, along with Southwest promoter kingpins Scoremore Shows, pulled off a Saturday-night doubleheader at both Warehouse Live and House of Blues. His breakthrough album Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City was only two months old at the time and Lamar (about similar height and build as I am) bounced off the stage like a ball of fury. Like everything he had done previously was leading up to just this moment, in Tuesday's massive hour-long set Lamar played inspirational speaker, motivator and showman.
He declared us, the faithful, to be the hottest crowd on the tour thanks to a potpourri of kids in throwback jerseys, older heads who knew better about rap shows not starting on time, and in-betweeners moshing out to "m.A.A.d city." Much like the Spurs from behind the arc in Game 3 of the Finals, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth couldn't miss even if he tried.
He's long gotten Dr. Dre's vocal patterns down for "The Recipe," the sauntering aura of "Poetic Justice" still carries a bit of freshness even though it's dominated radio for months now, and hearing his original breakthrough single "HiiiPoWeR" for the first time since SXSW 2012 made it seem much more like prophecy than anything else. Every song segued neatly into one another, evident that he gives a shit about the presentation of a performance; there was no medley of tracks cut together. In full, Lamar ripped through a collection of tracks from OD to Section.80 to GKMC, and never seemed tired one bit.
As a collective, Lamar's Top Dawg Entertainment may be the absolute strongest in rap as it currently exists. While his set fully hit its pressure points, the buildup to it was quite memorable as well.