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Yeezus meets Jesus: Kayne West at Wells Fargo Center

Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew
Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew

Hip-hop superstar Kanye West held high concept court at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night. The tour had been postponed, and several dates were cancelled after a truck accident damaged equipment, but it resumed in Philadelphia to seemingly no problems.

The concert was equal parts performance art and a religiously themed experimental noise rap show. For approximately 2 and 1/2 hours, West was incendiary and powerful, rolling out a solid 28-song set list that mixed all the songs from his recent album, Yeezus, with the hits, four mask changes, and a special appearance by Jesus. The rap firebrand, backed by a three piece “band” (who contributed programming, backing vocals, keyboard and guitar playing), came out on stage after twelve women (his “disciples”) covered in white prayer robes walked in syncopation onto the stage as the noisy intro to “On Sight” began.

Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew
Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew

The stage show was elaborate. A 60 foot high mountain, which towards the end of the show would erupt with fireworks and blasts of fire, looked over a walkway where West performed for most of the evening (save when he climbed the mountain). Hovering over Mount Kanye was a circular screen where closeups of Kanye and the dancers would be projected with pre-recorded scenes of the sky including rushing clouds, a sunset, and snow. It was a breathtaking visual compliment to the new material.

There was a loose narrative to the evening’s program. It was divided into five sections, Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching and Finding. With each new chapter, a female robotic voice would blast through the soundsystem, introducing each section while her description was projected in words on the circular screen above the stage. The dancers appeared throughout the evening. They alternated their robes with see-through flesh-toned head-to-toe body suits, walked slowly and at times creepily, reminiscent of the women in the classic Hammer Horror Dracula movies. Most of the time, the choreography felt stiff and forced, did little to give lift to the emotional intensity of West’s performance and got in the way of the song transitions (which could have given the show a quicker pace).

Throughout the show, West donned four masks, singing underneath them. Perhaps he was quietly making a point about identity and perception, however he reflected on his own self-perception and the media’s perception of him. At one point he delivered a rant, but also a soliloquy, about slavery. As the religious iconography continued, there came a corny yet climactic point in the show when White Jesus appeared, walked up to Black Jesus, held his head and – in a bit of overacting – Kanye rose from his knees and took the last mask off his head. The crowd loved the moment, and erupted in near deafening excitement.

Kanye West wears four masks during Yeezus tour in Seattle. Photo: Splash News/Instagram
Kanye West wears four masks during Yeezus tour in Seattle. Photo: Splash News/Instagram
Photo by Max Warren
Photo by Max Warren

While the staging and story arc were innovative and creative, West ultimately doesn’t need these elements of theater to provide the drama or the story line. On his own, sans Mount Kanye and his follower souls, under the spotlight, West provides enough of his own theater. His performance of both the new material, especially on “New Slaves,” “Blood On The Leaves,” “Black Skinhead,” and the closing “Bound 2,” proved why he’s one of the greatest rappers of our time. Some of the older material, like “Mercy,” and “Clique” were throwaways for the fans. Most of the “hits” came towards the end of the show and these underscored West’s importance as a rapper and songwriter.

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar opened the show with an explosive set of songs from his recent album Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City, backed by an exceptional live band. Two summers ago, few music fans knew about Lamar, and since then his stature in the hip-hop world has grown to dizzying, well-deserved heights. On Saturday, he came to impress, and treated the them half-filled audience to classics from his recent album like “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” and the poignant, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.” Continue reading →

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Kendrick Lamar added to Kanye West show at Wells Fargo Center on November 16th

Kendrick Lamar | Photo by John Vettese
Kendrick Lamar at Made In American 2013 | Photo by John Vettese

This is going to be one amazing hip-hop show: Kendrick Lamar has been added as the opener to the Kanye West show on November 16th at the Wells Fargo Center. Go here for tickets. Last night, Lamar was on the BET hip-hop awards with ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Isaiah Rashad. Check out the video below (explicit language alert!)

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Watch Kendrick Lamar at Made In America

Photo by Kendrick Lamar
Photo by Kendrick Lamar
Rapper Kendrick Lamar performed an excellent and enthusiastic half-hour set on Sunday afternoon at Made In America. After a 15 minute set from his Top Dawg Entertainment pals Jay Rock, Black Hippy and Schoolboy Q, Lamar, came out wearing a white t-shirt and a black L.A. Dodgers cap. Backed by an absolutely top notch band, he opened with “Backseat Freestyle,” performed an exuberant version of “F— Problems,” “Money Trees,” “m.a.a.d.city,” and ended with a rousing rendition of “B- Don’t Kill My Vibe.” In the hot and humid mid-day, the crowd gave Lamar a welcome, fanatical reception and were treated one of the many highlights of the weekend. Watch Lamar’s set below. Go here for a complete Made In America recap.

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9 live collaborations we hope will happen at Made in America

collabs

Ahh, music festivals. There are so many reasons to <3 live festivals, from the constant performances all around you, to stumbling upon your new favorite groups, to the energy and vibes of everybody else, excited to be outside, watching their favorite bands.

Yet music festivals aren’t just great places to catch sets—they’re also unique breeding grounds that allow myriad artists, who might not necessarily perform together otherwise, to come together, spurring new or unique collaborations. From Bob Dylan joining Joan Baez at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival—to Bon Iver joining Kanye more recently at Coachella—we love being surprised by artists not afraid to try something new. In honor of the Made in America festival hitting town this weekend—here are 9 dream collaborations we’ve love to see live—and a rough guess at the probability of each. Continue reading →

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Reacting to a controversial verse by Made In America Festival artist Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick-LamarConsidered one of the most talented arrivals to the rap scene, Kendrick Lamar was applauded for his 2012 debut, good kid, M.A.A.D city. The record was honest and undecorated, served with a sublime poetic lyricism that’s been hard to find in contemporary hip hop. It was personal, and it was unusually beautiful.

But last week, Lamar has been recognized for an entirely different reason: criticism of fellow hip hop artists. The California wordsmith appeared on a Big Sean track titled “Control,” which premiered on Monday and included the talents of in-the-shadows rapper, Jay Electronica.

And it was here that Lamar chose to call out no less than eleven rappers, including Philadelphia’s Meek Mill and Pittsburgh’s Mac Miller – and rather ironically, the very artists with whom Lamar had collaborated on the track, Big Sean and Jay Electronica. Continue reading →

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Listen: J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar’s “Forbidden Fruit”

KendJAlthough J.Cole’s sophomore album is set for mid-June release, a recent leak will give fans a pretty promising sneak peek of Born Sinner. Listen to “Forbidden Fruit,” a track which features Kendrick Lamar, the critically-acclaimed rapper from Compton who made a splash in 2012 with good kid, m.A.A.d city. Although his contribution is slight, it’s the perfect addition to the slower groove — which echoes none other than A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Electric Relaxation” from Midnight Marauders.

Lamar will be performing at Budweiser’s Made in America Festival, the second annual mega-concert produced by Jay-Z. The concert will be held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on August 31st and September 1st.

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Watch Kendrick Lamar perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live (playing Firefly Festival in June)

Photo by Heather Kaplan
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Five months since the release of his incredible Good Kid: M.A.A.D City, rapper Kendrick Lamar continues to hold sway in its popularity. Lamar recently performed “Poetic Justice,” and “Girl Don’t Kill My Vibe” on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Watch the videos below. Lamar is playing the Firefly Music Festival on a lineup that includes Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Vampire Weekend, Foster The People, Grizzly Bear, MGMT and many others.

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Just Announced: XPN Welcomes Firefly Festival to Dover International Speedway, featuring Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Lumineers, MGMT, Kendrick Lamar and more

Photo by Clara Balzary
XPN welcomes the return of Firefly Festival to The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway on June 21st-23rd.  The line-up is huge this year, with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and Foster the People headlining the multi-day festival and over sixty of the biggest established and rising acts in the country filling out the bill.  Firefly’s diverse bill includes Vampire Weekend, rapper Kendrick Lamar, Public Enemy, Philly’s Dr. Dog, The Walkmen and the Spinto Band, Ellie Goulding, The Avett Brothers, Passion Pit, Calvin Harris, Grizzly Bear, Toro Y Moi, ZZ Ward, Matt and Kim, Dispatch, and new favorites HAIM, Wild Belle and Foxygen. Check out videos of some of the bands we’re most excited to see this summer and go here to view the full line-up.  Tickets go on sale this Thursday, February 21st at noon; more information will be available here.

The Lumineers

Kendrick Lamar

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Kendrick Lamar at the TLA, Ian Hunter at World Cafe Live, Panic Years at MilkBoy, Attic Dancers at The Fire, Camp Jam in the Pines

Kendrick Lamar is an emerging rapper from Los Angeles who’s been praised for balancing hard-hitting contemporary hiphop sounds with a message behind the music. His album good kid, m.A.A.d city is being released on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records in October, and he plays The TLA on South Street tonight. The all-ages show begins at 7 p.m. and admission is $36; tickets and information are available here. Below, check out a video for Kendrick Lamar’s song “Swimming Pools.”

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