Even before Kendrick Lamar took the stage at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, the Compton rapper’s performance was called “controversial” and “powerful.” And K-Dot proved why.
Clad in prison garb, walking in shackles, and backed by prison imagery, he launched into an emotionally-charged performance of “The Blacker the Berry” off his Grammy-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly. When the lights shut off, Kendrick and the other “inmates” shined with a glow-in-the-dark effect.
Next, with an enormous bonfire raging behind him, Kendrick transitioned into “Alright.” His acrobatic dancers performed as he rocked through a single that’s been called a civil rights anthem for this generation.
— Busta Rhymes (@BustaRhymes) February 16, 2016
I had to charge my phone so I am late but @kendricklamar !!!!!!!!!!!! WOW.
— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) February 16, 2016
Finally, with just one spotlight shining down on him, Kendrick debuted a brand new song about death and “modern-day slavery.” Spitting with a rapid-fire flow, K-Dot closed his set as a map of Africa appeared behind him with a single word written on it: “Compton.”
Prior to the event, Grammys host LL Cool J said the Top Dawg rapper’s showing would be “controversial.” “That’s what art is about. It’s not about whether you agree or disagree, it’s about it stimulating conversation and provoking people to have conversations about society,” he told The Wrap.
Recording Academy CEO and chairman Neil Portnow didn’t exactly agree with LL’s description, but he also said it would spark conversation.
“I don’t know that I’d say controversial; I’d say powerful,” Portnow told Billboard. “There are some artists that have a point of view in terms of bringing things to the public for conversation and creating awareness and a dialogue, and we happen to think that’s healthy.”
Kendrick was already having a big night before the performance. The rapper, who led the awards with 11 nods, has already secured five wins for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap Performance, and Best Music Video.
See a running list of tonight’s other winners here.