The parking lot outside FAU's Kaye Auditorium rippled with three inches of flood waters from the evening's flash thunderstorm. Late in the afternoon, a blanket of darkness over North Broward suburbia brought 60 mph winds and hail the size of quarters.
Still, out of the cool darkness of the night, a stream of coeds glowed in neon crop tops and snapbacks, moving through the drizzle toward the shelter of the student center where Kendrick Lamar would be performing as part of Karmaloop's Verge Campus Tour Sponsored by NEFF Headwear. This was his first stop on a two-month tour across 27 universities beginning in Boca Raton and concluding in Watertown, New York.
Inside, an air of stale sweat mingled with the damp, frenetic crowd of
youths, recalling the musk of a high school gymnasium on a hot
afternoon. Despite the strict no-bags, no outsiders policy, the
auditorium radiated pure energy: throngs of girls skipped in, laughing,
dancing, and holding hands; boys wore plastic sunglasses to hide their
I settled into my seat, attempting
to come to terms with the cup of beer I would not be holding throughout
the duration of this no re-entry campus concert experience. EDM and Top
40 DJ and producer 5 & A Dime began his set, causing everyone to
abandon their seats and rush up to the barricades in front of the stage.
5 & A
Dime's set sounded like a slightly less ironic version of Harmony
Korine's Skrillex-filled Spring Breakers soundtrack, transforming the
auditorium into a surrealist rave playground of rowdy students hanging
over railings and breaking into tripped out dubstep dance-offs in the
middle of the aisles. The Philly-based DJ nerdily concluded his set with
some remix overlaid with the theme music from Tetris, hyping up the
crowd for Kendrick, even though we would have to wait another hour for
the up-and-coming Compton rapper to take the stage.
As the crowd
grew restless with waiting, pressing up into each other to get closer to
the stage, one girl created a frenzy when she decided to flash everyone
in protest for not being allowed access to the closer rows that
security had begun to block off.
When Kendrick finally took the
stage, his raw, unrestrained energy perfectly matched that of the FAU
crowd, who somehow, surprisingly, knew all of the lyrics to his songs, and made it
known. The rapper demanded our attention with his original and
effortless flow -- a completely refreshing sound like a cross between Bone
Thugs and Outkast -- even though at 5 foot 6 and age 25, he looked
more like one of the students rather than the artist some rap veterans
have begun calling the new "King of California."
He started out
with tracks from earlier in his career like "P & P (Pussy &
Patron)" and his breakout 2011 track "A.D.H.D.," asking the audience,
"Who's been a fan since day one?" He received an answer of impassioned screams.
When Kendrick said "Raise up your threes," the crowd obeyed, lifting
their three-fingered hands in the air, screaming louder when Kendrick
said, "Didn't y'all know this was going to be the loudest show?"
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show only got better as Kendrick warmed up and moved into his newer
tracks, "Money Trees," "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," "Poetic Justice,"
"Compton," and even A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problems," on which he rapped
only his verse and let the crowd handle the rest.
Apart from his
complex and often poetic lyrics on everything from love and sex to drugs, crime, fame, and family problems, the rapper can do some pretty
impressive things with his voice and intonations; and even though his
vocal style throughout the show was more aggressive and less polished than on his records,
he kept the crowd engaged and even broke out into brief freestyles
I was engrossed by the combination of the
neon-wearing, mid-rift-baring, dubstep-dancing crowd of adolescents
with the sincere, raw energy and talent of a young rapper who's
descended onto the map in the last few years like a hurricane out of
thin air. I couldn't help but allow the whole experience to restore a
little faith in our permanent Spring Breakers generation of young
As I listened to an entire auditorium sing along with every word
like a chorus of devout disciples, it dawned on me that even as we Americans revel in the demented freedom of our morally bankrupt, overly-saturated, and hyper-excessive youth-domintated culture, perhaps we are still capable of really caring about something,
of connecting, and creating our own future for ourselves.