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Kendrick Lamar Joined by Dr. Dre at ‘Pop Out’: Concert Review

The fans congregating outside of the Kia Forum in Inglewood, CA on Wednesday afternoon before Kendrick Lamar’s Juneteenth concert — dubbed “The Pop Out” and headlined by “Ken & Friends” — seemed more like they were  waiting for the 1985 NBA Finals game between the Lakers and Celtics than a hip-hop concert.

While Lamar was obviously getting the overwhelming support from his home city, like Magic Johnson did during the “Showtime” Lakers’ run, Drake was getting Larry Bird-levels of disdain, and he wasn’t even in the building.

Spectators were ready to rumble: Some fans were sporting apparel that was downright brutal towards K. Dot’s rap nemesis. There were tees being sold on the street by bootleggers that depicted Lamar as a slave leading an uprising and whipping Drake, who was depicted as a “colonizer.” A few fans rocked bootlegged tees where Kendrick held a baby in his arms like on the cover of his “Mr. Moral & the Big Steppers” album — but instead of an infant, the fan’s tee had Drake’s face imposed on the youngster’s body, inferring that the Canadian superstar had gotten “sonned” in their contentious musical beef earlier this year.

The rivalry between Lamar and Drake took a turn weeks ago, with Lamar’s “Not Like Us” serving as a definitive, distancing salvo in an exchange that had been entertaining and arguably more or less even in the first few rounds. However, “Not Like Us” dropped and instantly became the biggest record in hip-hop, pronouncing a clear-cut win for Lamar.

Yet he’d rarely appeared publicly throughout the battle — until Wednesday night, when the audience at the Forum and on Amazon Prime gathered to hear and see these new songs and more come to life.

The show was divided into three sections, the first a set of West Coast artists under DJ Hed, the second under “Not Like Us” producer Mustard, and the third headlined by Lamar. Hed’s set featured new Top Dawg Entertainment artist Ray Vaughn, all-female rappers Cuzzos, along with Blue Bucks Clan and Westside Boogie.

Mustard played a string of his own hits from over the years, including Tyga’s “Rack City,” and 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different,” before Dom Kennedy, Ty Dolla $ign, Steve Lacy, Tyler, the Creator, Roddy Ricch, and YG joined him on stage to separately perform some of their biggest hits, with Tyler leading the crowd in a singalong on “Earfquake.” His set also included a section dedicated to late L.A. rapper Nipsey Hussle.

With Lakers past (Russell Westbrook), present (LeBron James) and possibly future (L.A. natives James

Harden and Demar Derozen) in the house, along with a slew of music luminaries including the Weeknd, Rick Ross, Hit Boi, Lamar didn’t make anyone wait to hear his now-classic battle raps. After fans chanted the “O-V-hoe” call-and-response on “Not Like Us,” Lamar launched his set with a missile straight out the gate, starting off with “Euphoria,” unveiling a new verse that stated: “Give me Tupac’s ring back and I might give you a little respect” (head here for more on that). As he rose onto the stage on a riser and began rapping calmly on one knee, it was pure electricity.

“L.A., we unified with this thing of ours tonight?,” he asked the crowd after he’d finished.

After a roar in response, he replied “Say less,” although he had much more to say over the next two hours.

The energy stayed elevated with staples from his catalog, like “Element,” “DNA” and “Humble.” Day-one fans were electrified to see special guests Schoolboy Q, AB-Soul, and Jay Rock join Lamar onstage for a “Black Hippy” reunion medley of “Money Trees,” “Win,” “King’s Dead,” “6:16 In LA,” “Collard Greens,” “That Part” and “King Kunta.” Dr. Dre even popped in to perform “Still D.R.E.” and “California Love.”

But the event everyone was anticipating was “Not Like Us.” The song has connected like no other dis record before: As Lamar said on Wednesday night, the song is about much more than a back-and-forth between rival MCs, it’s more than a euphoric beat to dance to and a magnetic chorus. It’s about bringing real change to the hip-hop community and the neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

“It’s bigger than me” he said, noting that he was getting emotional.

Not only did Lamar bring a slew of West Coast artists onstage with him as he performed “Not Like Us” six different times, he also had people from different gangs and neighborhoods — inferring that some were from a rival side — rocking with him in solidarity.

“We been fucked since Nipsey died,” he shouted. “We been fucked up since Kobe died. This makes me proud as a muthafucka. This shit is special, man.”

Whether Wednesday’s show was the final salvo in Lamar’s battle with Drake remains to be seen — but more importantly, it could also be the opening of a major resurgence in the West Coast hip-hop that Lamar was raised on, and which he now leads. As DJ Hed said at the top of the evening, “The West has something to say.”

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