Kendrick Lamar-i

Sometimes particular songs shine more when they’re performed live.  Other times, the live version completely obliterates anything that could ever be put to record.  Such is the case with Kendrick Lamar’s performance of i on Saturday Night Live.  Before showing up on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, before his widely praised appearance at the Grammys, Kendrick Lamar gave the most powerful high profile performance of his career on SNL.  Lamar is in a constant state of reworking and re-envisioning his songs, whether it be on record or in concert.  This performance was no exception.  A far cry from the bouncy single version released some months earlier, it set the stage for the charged, yet truncated, album version, which was never intended to stand alone as a song.  Instead, this acts as the definite version of i, an electric display of his artistry and innovation.  The performance feels so improvisational it’s like the words are pouring out of him for the first time.  Thanks to some new political lyrics and the addition of a manic closing verse from the track Momma, this version is completely transformed from what came before it.  But more than being poetically superior, it’s the ecstatic place that Lamar transports himself to that makes the performance so stirring.  He manages to simultaneously be completely present in the song and a million miles away from us, lost in it.  He quivers, jerks and glides, possessed by the spirit of the music.  It’s a selfless, visionary display.  The audience immediately recognizes it, instantly erupting into explosive applause, knowing they’ve witnessed something spectacular.  At this point in his career, it stands as the ultimate display of his passion and raw talent.

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