Kendrick Lamar has always used his albums as a source to spark conversations. With his debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, the Compton-raised emcee sparked conversations about his tormented youth and neighborhood strife. In his sophomore project,To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick sparked conversations about Black representation as a whole. DAMN. represented conversations about the direction of America. And his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, has sparked conversations about mental health and trauma within Black communities.
Kendrick recently made his way to Atlanta’s State Farm Arena to present “The Big Steppers” tour which proved to be a visual representation of his latest project.
The show’s set featured an elongated white stage which extended into the audience, resembling a fashion runway. With a piano riff playing, several men wearing black suits and women wearing white suits marched on stage before a giant white cloth was raised revealing Kendrick Lamar. The rapper, wearing a Black suit and a glitter-filled glove à la Micheal Jackson, sat behind a piano with a puppet that resembled him attached to his body as he rapped the opening lines of “United In Grief.”
He would eventually stand, transitioning into the more upbeat “N95” as fireworks were set off with fog filling the stage.
Throughout the show, Kendrick’s set design would change to coincide with the meaning of different songs. A large silhouette would often provide a visual representation of his lyrics. For instance, the shadowy images of planes, buildings, trees, bugs, and birds could be seen as he rapped “Worldwide Steppers.” On “Money Trees,” a visual of palm trees in heavy winds were present. And when he performed a snippet of “We Cry Together” and “Purple Hearts” in its entirety, the silhouette displayed a couple arguing and eventually hugging, illustrating the emotional roller coaster that comes with love.
On “Count Me Out,” the silhouette displayed arrows in Kendrick’s back as he rapped about overcoming struggle, “Even my strong points couldn’t survive, If I didn’t learn to love myself, forgive myself a hundred times.”
The show also featured the narration provided by a woman who talks to Kendrick throughout the show, similar to a therapist. At one point, the narrator said, “You’ve let your ego get the best of you,” before Kendrick began performing his 2017 hit, “Humble.”
The dancers are also an essential part of the show, either men in suits dancing vigorously on songs such as “DNA” or women in flowing red dresses moving gracefully on song’s such as “Don’t Kill My Vibe.”
The show’s set also used multiple boxes to make larger points about society. While covered by a clear box, Kendrick was surrounded by several people in hazmat suits as one stuck a cotton swab in his nose to resemble a Covid test. Following the Covid test, Kendrick would rap his hit, “Alright,” suggesting that we will all be okay following two years of a global pandemic.
With “The Big Steppers” tour, Kendrick doesn’t give audiences an average rap show. He ensures that lyrics, dancers, and set designs represent a larger aspect of an overall story. Through the use of symbolism and powerful music, Kendrick has found a way to turn a rap concert into theater.