All hail, King Kendrick. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but the Pulitzer Prize-winner held us like a true master of his craft.
Where others have had to impose their headline sets on crowds, even with the success that forceful approach can yield, this was the best rapper of his generation in total command of his audience.
This in fact, felt like more than just a headline set. This was art. Each and every detail was considered. From the uniform troop of dancers, all matching Kendrick in a crisp white shirt, to the diamond crown that adorned the rapper’s head – an image derived from his recent heavyweight album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.
On Friday, Billie Eilish delivered a pop-filled punch as the youngest ever Glastonbury headliner. Yesterday, Paul McCartney matched her at the opposing end of the scale, becoming the oldest ever solo headliner – and brought out Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen to help him deliver it.
We had an inkling for what Eilish’s set would consist of, given her recent Happier Than Ever tour. As the elder statesman, Sir Paul had an obvious familiarity, too.
Kendrick’s set remained much more of a mystery. And all the more anticipated for that very reason. What’s more, just how he would weave in his recent album – which stands apart from his previous releases for its notable introspection – was a question that remained.
Opening with ‘United in Grief’, combined with the crown imagery, we knew new material would play a key role. What we weren’t entirely expecting was a sudden reversal in time from Mr. Morale to his earlier works, and a setlist that was an almost chronological undertaking of his catalogue.
It reminded us just how deep his tracks go, how much they probe into human nature. Mr. Morale might be the most introspective, but life has an abundance of all manner of expression, and Kendrick has an album for almost every manner of them.
‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ and ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ were notable hits with the crowd (who persisted, in a somewhat bizarre British fad, to yell Kendrick Lamar’s name to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’ by Jack White, who’d incidentally played a secret set earlier today at The Park Stage).
It took Kendrick a while to speak directly to the crowd. “I like where the energy is at right now, Glastonbury”, were his first direct words, before breaking out into ‘i’, which was met in equal force from the masses with the most positive of all chorus lines: “I love myself”.
Other To Pimp A Butterfly tracks rained down on us: ‘Alright’, another hit with the crowd for its particularly prominent, hopeful chorus, was followed by ‘Institutionalized’ and ‘Blacker the Berry’.
This set showed an artist with a vision spread across all his albums, reminding us of each of their own aesthetics in turn; their own image, their own legacies within the history of hip-hop. As if, God-like, he had devised his entire catalogue from the start.
As for his delivery, every word punctuated the darkening sky of Worthy Farm with intention. We know the recent preparatory work that went into Mr. Morale involved a spiritual self-investigation. Kendrick’s lines were as consciously said as ever I’ve witnessed, as though he were meditating mid-flow.
The dancers would continue to reappear, twirling throughout ‘LUST’, embodying the image of the couple that’s central to Mr. Morale. And just when you thought it was almost too heavy in its spirituality, bordering on intense, Kendrick knew just when to regain us, telling us simply to “make some motherfucking noise” for ‘HUMBLE’.
“Imperfection is beautiful,” he said near the end (an end we didn’t want to occur and didn’t believe when it did). In such a way, this was as perfect as you could get, smothering us with his humanity, his wisdom and God-given musical majesty. “They judge you, they judged Christ,” he added. We judge you, Kendrick – to be the greatest rapper of your generation.
Plenty of artists have decried the recent US Supreme Court decision here at Glastonbury, including Billie Eilish on Friday. Kendrick’s demands tonight, though, as he pleaded “godspeed for women’s rights” over the top of ‘Saviour’, whilst soaked in fake blood, were as profound a rallying call as I’ve ever seen in my life.
All hail, King Kendrick.