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The day Kendrick Lamar ceases to outdo himself is the day he stops performing—and thankfully, today was not that day.
Lamar opened the 60th annual Grammy Awards with a jaw-dropping experimental medley consisting mostly of tracks from his universally acclaimed DAMN. Soldiers marched in lockstep onstage as the rapper performed “XXX” and “Lust.” The music briefly cut out and Lamar stood illuminated by a single spotlight, a message blaring on the screen behind him: “This is a satire by Kendrick Lamar.”
The rapper then knelt in the center of the stage, flanked by U2’s Bono and the Edge. Bono delivered the hypnotic refrain to “XXX” before the camera cut to Dave Chappelle sporting a mischievous grin. At first, it seemed like a camera malfunction, but then the comedian delivered the incisive statement: “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a Black man be honest in America is being an honest Black man in America.”
Cue Lamar, who continued to barrel through his portion of Jay Rock’s explosive “King’s Dead,” his dancers bounding across the stage behind him. Lamar thrust his finger in the air as gunshots rang out, and one by one, every dancer collapsed until he was left standing alone.
It was a breathtaking opening statement from an artist who continually raises the bar and redefines what awards show performances can be. He didn’t stay off the stage for long, as he quickly returned with Rihanna to accept the best rap/sung performance award for “Loyalty.” Lamar even ceded the microphone to Rihanna during his acceptance speech, proving he’s a class act whose critical and commercial dominance shows no signs of slowing.
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.