By: Neil MacAlister
Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) is one of hip hop’s biggest labels, an absolute powerhouse of overwhelming talent that decided to bless their fans by taking the whole team (minus, unfortunately, personal favourite Isaiah Rashad) out on “The Championship Tour.” To see such top-tier artists as Kendrick Lamar, SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and SiR together outside of a festival setting is a rare opportunity, and one I couldn’t pass up. Even watching from the (relatively) cheap nosebleed seats, the show was phenomenal.
As a label, TDE has always been collaborative, with members frequently appearing on their label-mates projects; fans reasonably expected this tour to be a rare opportunity to hear collaborative tracks in their entirety. The performances were nothing short of fantastic, but there’s something disappointing about hearing “Collard Greens” or “Doves in the Wind” performed solo, knowing full well that Lamar is probably just meditating somewhere backstage.
There were only three instances of onstage collaboration between the artists: SiR and ScHoolboy Q’s “Something Foreign,” Lamar and Zacari’s “LOVE.,” and, most notably, Lamar and Rock’s “Money Trees.” The latter was, at least for me, the high point of the night: seeing Rock join Lamar on stage to perform the best verse of his career was worth the ticket price alone. For a concert that could have been filled with moments like that, one can’t help but feel TDE dropped the ball on what fans expected from the tour. However, despite this unfortunate disappointment, this was one of the most excellent concerts I’ve seen to date.
TDE’s latest signee, Inglewood R&B singer SiR, opened up the show with a quick three-song set of tracks from November, including a stellar rendition of album-standout “D’evils.” Rock, TDE’s first signee, tagged in next to perform a few tracks off 2015’s 90059, as well as his recent Black Panther single “King’s Dead.” Rock briefly surrendered the stage to Ab-Soul, TDE’s high-minded, conspiracy-obsessed lyricist who, disappointingly, performed only a single song: “Terrorist Threats,” from 2012’s Control System. Soul wasn’t seen again for the rest of the night; Lance Skiiiwalker, another label signee who was slated to perform, didn’t even make an appearance.
After these brief but excellent sets from Rock, Soul, and SiR, the label’s three biggest heavyweights followed with more substantial sets. ScHoolboy Q arrived onstage on a stretch golf cart, and performed his infectious, Kanye-assisted single “THat Part.” He put on a high-energy show, performing the biggest hits off his last two albums, including “JoHn Muir,” “Man of the Year,” and “Collard Greens.” SZA followed shortly thereafter, delivering one of the most moving performances I’ve ever seen. Ducking in and out of a boxing ring set up in the middle of the stage, the St. Louis songstress belted out a series of tracks off her phenomenal 2017 album Ctrl, bringing all the grace, humility, and inspiring talent of her studio work to the stage.
Lamar predictably ended the night, and gave a performance worthy of his status in the rap game. Opening with “DNA.,” Kendrick never let the energy die, performing hit after hit from his seemingly endless arsenal of singles, from “Backseat Freestyle” to “King Kunta” to a fantastic “XXX.”/ “m.A.A.d. City” medley. For his encore, after a rousing performance of “Alright,” Kendrick performed “HUMBLE.” twice: once, with the entire audience performing it a cappella, and once on his own, and the experience was nothing short of spiritual. Despite the missed collaborative opportunities, TDE provides such an overwhelming array of talent that The Championship Tour was still extraordinary.