By Phil Thornton 28 June 2022
Rap has never really adapted to the big stage until recently. The art form is too personal, too intricate and down to Individual skills that projecting this into a live performance for thousands is difficult to achieve. Maybe Public Enemy, NWA and Wu Tang could pull off big shoes because they had the numbers.
Hip hop wasn’t designed to be a stadium stunt and so as rappers got richer, the circus act elements got ever more convoluted.
Glastonbury is primarily a white middle class indie rock playground for posh British kids with no accent to claim as one of their cocooned experience packages.
That it sells out so quickly only underlines the target audience it appeals to: those with a lot of disposable income and time on their hands. They may love Kendrick as much as Macca and Billy, they may know all the words and pull ‘street’ poses as they frug along but they will never truly understand the reality of Kendrick’s position.
And neither do I.
I watched King Kenny at home (my caravan in fact) and was mesmerised by his performance. Rap as ballets not bullets. It was a bold move and obviously had been very well rehearsed and prepared. It takes a lot for a rapper however skilful he or she is to hold the stage but Kendrick did it, not by showboating or jumping all over the place but with a quiet, still dignity.
His team of dancers weren’t a distraction but an enhancement, themselves using their bodies as poetry and a narrative for his ingeniously structured takes of trying to do the right thing but failing and expressing his rage at the forces aligned against the black American community. Those who curtail their advancement and co-opt their success.
The Jesus stuff, I can do without. I don’t think Kendrick is messianic like Kanye. He’s not claiming to be The Son Of God but he is a very naughty boy.
One of his rhymes concluded that there must be a God because who else would design a jellyfish?
This displays an absence of reason and understanding of evolutionary science that most God botherers spout to defend their ‘Creator’
The crown of thorns bleeding down his face and shirt routine was visually stunning but also marked him out as another rapper feeding into the notion that God Will Provide! No, he won’t lad!
This apart, Kendrick took rap as an art form to a new level. Better because it was paired back and not bombastic.
As a rapper he’s halfway between Kanye and Common, better than either of them and certainly superior to other superstars like Jay Z or Drake. He’s up there with Nas and Doom and Rakim for sheer versatility even if he is a bit crossover for some tastes.
Billy Eilish speaks to the millennials in their own language of slogans and cliches. ‘Sir’ Paul McCartney is first and foremost one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. For all his royalist arse licking and establishment pandering, he remains a genuine icon ( literally an icon, made of gold and wood) whereas Kendrick spoke to all of us and delivered his message whilst being all too aware that his adoring Glaston Berry audience had no clue to the context of his lyrics.
That’s the rap game in a nut shell. Get successful and sell out to the man or keep it real and be a poor local hero.