Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly is a piece of art. It explores racism, poverty, and rhythm in a 16-song album that sounds both incredibly modern and like a cornerstone album of rap's early history. What stands out about To Pimp a Butterfly, six months after its surprise drop in March, is its energy. Lamar is a master of building and dropping the pace of his songs to keep his listeners captivated. Just when he reaches a peak of momentum, the sound cuts out—as it does on "Alright"—only to return stronger, smoother, and enchanting.
His performance last night on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the physical manifestation of everything great about that album. In a powerful medley, Lamar pushed through a series of To Pimp A Butterfly tracks, including "Wesley's Theory," "Momma," "King Kunta" and "U."
Late night show performances are notoriously lackluster. Artists generally perform a set they've already blocked out for their tour or another television spot. By the time an artist reaches the late night stage, the set is stale. But Lamar's performance feels invigorating. The composition of his medley (at a little over six minutes) is immaculately constructed exactly for this show, and Lamar's engagement with his own music makes it feel like his words really are alive. Rap is often about feeling powerful, but in Lamar's performance we see a power distributed through talent and word-smithing instead of one harnessed by stardom.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.