KENDRICK LAMAR & BABY KEEM CONCLUDE THE BIG STEPPERS TOUR AS 2022’S BEST RAP DUO
To many, Kendrick Lamar is the best to ever grace the genre, but he’s well and truly outgrown the title of ‘rapper’. He’s an activist, philanthropist, Pulitzer Prize winner, father, husband, and gifted visionary.
At 35-years-old, Kendrick has 14 Grammy awards under his belt and is the proud owner of one of the most impressive discographies in hip-hop to date. His talent has erupted in a beautiful combustion that’s flourished throughout his career, spanning over nearly two decades. While having a large amount of hit records and undeniable commercial success, the goal is never numbers or records for Kendrick.
Instead, it’s the message. Articulate, real life stories, and the mission to push hip-hop and the African-American community forward. He’s a cultural beacon, and has been since day one. Always a student, K.Dot takes on the reigns of mentor and tour guide for his younger cousin Baby Keem through various collaborations, his newfound label and The Big Steppers Tour.
After DAMN‘s 2017 release, apparent dates for a new Kendrick album never stopped circulating. Despite executively producing the Black Panther soundtrack in early 2018, and a handful of features along the way, we didn’t hear much from him for years. But with greatness, you gotta be patient.
“I been ducking the pandemic, I been ducking the social gimmicks, I been ducking the overnight activists, yeah. I’m not a trending topic I’m a profit, I answer to Metatron and Gabriel.”Kendrick Lamar on ‘Family Ties’ (2021)
Fast-forward to August 20, 2021, Kendrick shares an ominous link as his first tweet in nearly 18 months. Leading to a journal entry on his website, he confirms his last album under Top Dawg Entertainment and writes: “Love, loss, and grief have disturbed my comfort zone, but the glimmers of God speak through my music and family.”
A week later, Baby Keem dropped ‘family ties’ from his debut studio album The Melodic Blue. Immediate shockwaves rippled through the rap game, as Kendrick made his imminent return and first musical release under his production company PGLang.
As a new era of Kendrick Lamar was upon us, a new sidekick emerges. Keem’s prior come-up is interesting. His DIE FOR MY BITCH mixtape in 2019 was widely appreciated, notably by Drake who called it the joint best project of the year. Despite this, there was an allure, and an intriguing anonymity behind Baby Keem. He’d been behind the scenes for various Kendrick affiliates such as Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q and even Beyonce – proving himself as a talented, forward-thinking songwriter and producer.
Keem’s 2021 was then filled with extreme success through tracks ‘no sense’ and ‘durag activity’ featuring Travis Scott, leading to the coveted call up for Ye‘s DONDA. He stole the show on ‘Praise God’ alongside West and Scott, confirming the already immense hype surrounding his name. The Melodic Blue, released on September 10, included an additional Kendrick feature on ‘range brothers’ and a cameo on ‘vent’. The Melodic Blue further showcased and established, to a wider audience, Keem’s strong ear for production, his bold experimentation, and the potential for his rapping ability. He can make a melody out of anything – and at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time to sharpen his already cut-throat rapping skills. Keem’s creativity sets him apart, and he’s proven that he could have a serious impact over the next decade.
“I remember roaches, mama lost focus, I was at home no lights no food. Heard that the joke is “Hykeem broke” and head to the ground when I walk in school. Going through the motions, mad impulsive, Granny I won’t abide by the rules.”Baby Keem on ‘Range Brothers’ (2021)
The Melodic Blue thrusted Keem into the spotlight, who thrived in the moment – but as the curtains closed on 2021, there was still no Kendrick album. The hype certainly didn’t die down, however fans were becoming impatient. Yet, it again spiked as he performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show in February alongside Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, and 50 Cent, in an iconic hip-hop tribute. But still, no album.
2022 saw almost evert major artists dropping left and right. By March, announcements for new music from nearly every major artist were flying, yet fans became afraid at the dawning possibility that Kendrick may have scrapped the album.
A hip-hop twitter account posted a tweet following the Super Bowl, jokingly stating that Kendrick had retired due to the lack of new music. Two months later on April 19th, and that tweet became the album announcement. The hip-hop multiverse was put on pause as it’s main power-provider pulled the plug, consuming all the energy himself.
May 8th came, and Kendrick released the fifth edition of ‘The Heart’ series. He reflected on the culture and the normalities, both negative and positive – pointing out the importance of perspective. It was a highlight of the lack of understanding in modern society, and many conceptual ideas were introduced by using the perspective of icons like LeBron James, Nipsey Hussle, Kobe Bryant, and even OJ Simpson. He used a deepfake for the video, switching faces as he narrated through different personal struggles, relating it to the significant figure he spoke on behalf of.
Five days after The Heart, it was album time. May 13th arrived, finally marking probably the most anticipated rap album in a long time. People couldn’t quite believe it, but the era of the Big Steppers was finally among us. Kendrick’s finger was on the pulse, and for a minute, nothing else mattered. He was here, finally presenting Mr Morale & The Big Steppers.
In the presidential speech that stands as his fifth studio album, Kendrick once again set himself apart, proving why he’s Mr. 1-5. It was confronting, powerful, and extremely introspective, hardly a social issue that he didn’t touch upon. From R. Kelly, Vladimir Putin, the LGTBQ community, and traumatic aspects of his own upbringing and topics discussed in his therapy sessions, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers captured real conversations and thoughts happening within different communities everyday. He presented them in a way that offers contemplation, empathy, and solution. It wasn’t what people were expecting, but in retrospect, it’s so Kendrick. It’s already started to age immaculately and will likely continue to do so.
Musically, it’s incredible and does the best job at reflecting Kendricks’s stature and artistry. Garnering a Grammy nomination in the Best Rap Album category (which he should take home), he’s also considered for an Oscar Award after the short film ‘We Cry Together‘ from the album.
Subsequently, the Big Steppers tour kicked off in June, with Baby Keem and fellow PGLang artist Tana Leonne as support. They globetrotted from continent to continent, and finally the Range Brothers touched down in Naarm/Melbourne for the first of two shows at Rod Lavar Arena. Keem hit the stage, opening with ‘trademark usa’, the energetic, fiery intro to TMB. He swiftly moved through staples in his growing catalogue in a short 20-something minute set, seemingly gaining important work experience as he builds his presence in front of an international audience.
Keem’s story is inspiring. From being a gaming YouTuber in his early teens, deciding to pursue rap at 14 and longing to stand beside Kendrick, the cousin he looked up to – he’s touring the world, bearing the torch passed down to him by one of the best ever.
It’s clear that next time he returns, it’ll be the Baby Keem show.
The crowd couldn’t contain their excitement as Kendrick appeared behind a piano already on stage just past 9pm. Between the Broadway Show that was Mr Morale the album, and fan favourites from his previous work, one thing was evidently clear: Kendrick Lamar is one of the best artists ever. Hands down. And it showed during his nearly 2 hour set. Amidst the chants and pure love the crowd had for him, Kendrick controlled their every move while simultaneously basking in the moment. He often paused, standing motionless and letting the crowds energy transfer through the electrifying room and then into his mic for his next song.
It’s rare that a major artist performs for over an hour, especially one of Lamar’s calibre. He loves what he does, and the world loves him for it. The Big Steppers Tour will go down as one of the best rap tours ever. Lamar has played a huge role in modern hip-hop, navigating between the generational change and comfortably shifting into his role from hungry rookie to elder statesmen, passing the torch to Keem, just as Dr Dre did to him at the switch of the last decade. A joint album between K.Dot and Keem has already been teased and it’s likely something we’ll get as they embark on their journey with PGLang.
Amongst the chaos and social uproar that took over the early 2020s, artists like Kendrick Lamar are ever so important. He just gets it. He’s one of us. He’s one of you. He sees things from the right lens, from a pure lens, and in an age where celebrities seem to be more distanced from society than ever, Kendrick appears to be only more tapped in with time. He’s an unapologetic visionary, a greatly appreciated human, and one of, if not the best rap performers ever. It’s almost unfathomable to re-imagine Kendrick Lamar’s rise and development as an artist, but he’s still here and he’s here to stay – on top.
“What the fuck is cancel culture, dawg? Say what I want about you n*****, I’m like Oprah, dawg. I treat you crackers like I’m Jigga, watch, I own it all. Oh you worried ’bout a critic? That ain’t protocol, bitch.”Kendrick Lamar on ‘N95’ (2022)