On a September 2016 episode of The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah said of Colin Kaepernick: “Here’s a black man in America who says, ‘I don’t know how to get a message across. If I march in the streets, people say I’m a thug. If I go out and I protest, people say it’s a riot. If I bend down on one knee, then it’s not’—what is the right way … for a black person to get attention in America?”
The same point comes up in Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” the lead single on his fourth studio album DAMN. and Lamar’s first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single as lead artist. The beat, lyrics and especially the music video suggest resistance to the expectation that the black community should sit down and be humble. That feeling was pervasive throughout the Grammy-winning rapper’s August 5 show at T-Mobile Arena, which also featured opening sets from D.R.A.M. and Travis Scott.
D.R.A.M. filed through the standing room with “Broccoli” and Scott performed “Butterfly Effect” from the top of a phoenix set piece that soared over the crowd, before Lamar opened with “DNA.” From there, the performance stayed faithful to DAMN, with people swaying with phone lights during “Pride” and “God.” The set was punctuated with older favorites throughout, including “Money Trees,” “Alright,” “Backseat Freestyle” and “M.A.A.D. City,” and martial arts performances added extra energy between and during some songs (a nod to Lamar’s Kung Fu Kenny moniker that recurs throughout DAMN.).
But back to “Humble.” After one verse, Kendrick saw the audience was more than capable of rapping it themselves, so he turned it over for the crowd to rap the entire song. He stood with hands clasped in front and head bowed, reminiscent of his album cover. When the song was over, he looked up, smiled and shook his head as though in disbelief.
This connection between artist and audience demonstrated that music can, in a way, bring us together to overcome the hurt and killing that Lamar has referenced in a number of his songs, including “Fear”: “I’ll prolly die from one of these bats and blue badges / Body slammed on black and white paint, my bones snappin’”. After the crowd started chanting his name, Lamar explained, “Y’all give me the spirit and courage to get those thoughts out … the same way y’all gave me the energy to get on the stage—I want to give that shit back.”