“New Orleans, it’s been five years since I’ve seen y’all in this bitch,” Kendrick Lamar told the crowd Friday night. Lamar is not new to the city of New Orleans. The first time I saw him live was back in December 2013 when he opened for Kanye West’s Yeezus Tour at the exact same venue – then named the New Orleans Arena. Since then, he’s headlined Essence Music Festival in the Superdome twice and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in City Park in 2017. He returned Friday night for the first time in five years to bring his Big Steppers Tour to the Big Easy!
The night kicked off with Tanna Leone, a rapper who is signed to Kendrick Lamar’s company PgLang. “Big Steppers Tour 2022 in your hood…and I can tell it’s gonna be something special,” the Los Angeles native told the crowd. Although relatively new to the scene, Leone managed to captivate the crowd and master the stage. The second opener of the night was Baby Keem, another signee of PgLang. Keem, who is Lamar’s cousin, recently performed in New Orleans at the 2022 Buku Music + Arts Project back in March. Before Keem hit the stage, the crowd broke out in a chant calling his name. Both openers brought high energy accompanied by artistic visuals to match their sound including silhouettes, clouds of smoke, the lucky number 7, and full moons.
The Big Stepper Himself
Lamar’s tour is named after his recent studio album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. The highly anticipated release features Summer Walker, Ghostface Killah, Kodak Black, and more. The show started with eleven dancers walking onto the stage – the men wearing all black suits while the women wore all white suits. Like the album, he opened with “United in Grief” followed by “N95” and “Worldwide Steppers.” Lamar took to the stage sporting an all-black Louis Vuitton suit and a glittery glove – a homage to both the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson and the late fashion designer, Virgil Abloh.
Naturally, the setlist consisted of a lot of new music from the Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers album. But Lamar made sure to give a nod to his vast (and timeless) discography for his OG fans in the crowd. Fan favorites from some of his earlier albums, including “HUMBLE,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Backseat Freestyle,” “m.A.A.d city” and “Alright” were performed. He also brought both his openers back out – Baby Keem performed “Baby Ties” alongside Lamar and Tanna Leone joined the Compton native on stage for the album’s title track, “Mr. Morale.”
Picture this: Kendrick Lamar appears on stage, accompanied by a clay-like mini ventriloquist version of himself, while he plays the piano. He then sinks into the floor only to reappear in the center of the stage with ‘mini Kendrick’ as they both rap the lyrics to “United in Grief.”
The stage, three platforms connected by catwalks, was surrounded by fans standing on the general admission floor. As Lamar commanded the stage for 90+ minutes, elements of production elevated the experience for concertgoers. The production during “N95” matched the explosive energy of the crowd – bright pyrotechnics and flashing lights appeared behind Lamar as the crowd had the floor shaking as they jumped. After his performance of “Money Trees,” the crowd began to chant Lamar’s name as they gave him a standing ovation for over a minute.
After performing “LOVE,” a clear plastic tent descended from the ceiling as four of his dancers, sporting all-white hazard suits accompanied him on stage. Lamar was then administered a nasal swab COVID-19 test before leading the crowd into a high-energy performance of his 2015 hit, “Alright.” As the dancers stood in place, Lamar and the crowd jumped and rapped along to the lyrics in almost a tantalizing nature to say we are going to be alright no matter what is thrown our way. And after the last two years, that song hit different live with thousands and thousands of people singing it together in one space.
Surprising and Abrupt Ending
At most shows, artists end off the set with a radio single or very popular song that most of the crowd knows. Lamar went a different route. He ended the night with the title track, “Mr. Morale” before closing off with a performance of “Savior.” After his eleven-person dance team left the stage, Lamar took his spot back at the piano. As the curtain slowly came down, the 35-year-old rapper also began to descend down but not before saying, “New Orleans, I will be back. I love you all” and giving the crowd a big, gratitude-filled smile.
The 14-time GRAMMY-Award winner, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Academy Award nominee has come a long way from the first time I saw him live almost a decade ago. After his five-year hiatus, Lamar proved he still knows how to captivate a crowd and move people with his unique flow. Consider this your sign to go see the Big Steppers Tour – you have until September to catch a show during the North American leg!
Missed the Big Steppers Tour or just want to relive the night? Check out my Instagram Highlight from the show!