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Thousands arrive in Compton to give Kendrick Lamar a hero's welcome

The parking lot of the Compton Best Buy is 131 miles from the Empire Polo Club in Indio. Perhaps it’s much farther in the minds of many South L.A. hip-hop fans, at least for those who wished they could have seen their hometown hero Kendrick Lamar headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last weekend or this one.

But in a surprise announcement Thursday morning, Lamar told his closest fans that he was coming home.

The rapper released a new album, “Damn,” last week. Its songs’ mix of political fury, portraits of trauma and resolve in black life, as well as Lamar’s own complex introspection, was the centerpiece of his Sunday performance at Coachella.

But it also totally bangs, and for the expected 3,000 fans lined up around the mega-store to meet Lamar, it was the soundtrack to a homecoming from the most significant L.A. rap artist to emerge since the ’90s. Billboard is predicting “Damn” to debut at No. 1 with sales topping a half a million.

“I like [the album] a lot so far,” said Dee Hobson, a 22-year-old from Pomona. “It means a lot that he’s telling the truth about 400 years of black people being looked down upon. Those that glamorize it don’t understand it, but people from the ’hood can relate. Hopefully [the record] can open minds and help people do better.”

For others, even lifelong Lamar fans, “Damn” unveiled more sides of Lamar’s personality, ones that deepened their connection to his work: so much so that they’d clock hours in front of a sweltering electronics store to tell him all about it.

“‘Love’ is his only song where he really talks about his relationship,” said Jose Avina, a 26-year-old from Long Beach, referencing Lamar’s fiance and longtime partner Whitney Alford. “I hadn’t heard a song like that from him yet.”

As the first few fans trickled out the door with their signed records, the weight of their encounter started to settle in. Lamar wasn't just a superstar at a record signing, he was the reigning voice of a new music culture in Compton and South L.A., a place that for decades had been maligned in popular media.

“It was quick,” said Jose Deniz, a 22-year-old from Norwalk, flashing his copy of “Damn,” which now had Lamar’s squiggle in black marker on the cover. It was really just a handshake and a brief hello. “But I got to meet a living legend,” he said, breathless.

Kia Metoyer brought her three kids up from Long Beach for the occasion. She and he family were devoted Lamar fans, and she was proud to introduce her kids to such a visionary musician. Especially one from their side of town headlining one of the most prestigious festivals in America, and doing so with meaningful, unflinching hip-hop music.

“I love that my kids are into it,” Metoyer said. “He’s from the streets, so he can tell you what’s really going on there. Artists who have never been through that can only tell you what’s been pre-screened.”

So far, her household's consensus for their favorite song from “Damn” was “DNA.,” but 12-year-old Emerie Metoyer’s all-time Kendrick hit is still “King Kunta,” from 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” What will Emerie do if she gets the chance to meet her hero?

“I’m going to scream and yell,” she said, already bouncing with anticipation.

Behind her in line, 20-year-old Alex Vizuet from South Los Angeles was a little more demure but agreed with the sentiment.

“If he signs my hand,” Vizuet said, “I’m going to get a tattoo of it.”

august.brown@latimes.com

Twitter: @augustbrown

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