Kendrick Lamar shook up the Grammys on Monday night with a set that lifted a sleepy fog that had descended on a television audience that, up to that point, had weathered a series of uninspiring, mostly midtempo performances.
Containing the many echoes of the social and political issues heard in Lamar's acclaimed album "To Pimp a Butterfly," his performance paid tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement and Compton itself through carefully staged and choreographed performances of "The Blacker the Berry" and "Alright."
"The Blacker the Berry" kicked off in a prison with swirling smoke and a psychedelic jazz saxophone reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's 1970s work with Prime Time, a connection to jazz that was also underscored by his introduction by Don Cheadle, who is directing an upcoming Miles Davis biopic.
Lamar, who had earned a shout-out from the White House earlier in the night for his win for rap album, shuffled onstage in shackles. Soon he and a group of performers were headbanging under black lights and were joined by traditional African drummers and dancers.
As the song rose in intensity, Lamar sang fiercely in front of a raging bonfire.
"We gonna be alright," he repeated, the empowering refrain that had been adopted in "Black Lives Matter" protests. Intense close-ups of his face flashed under a strobe light and when he was done he stood still in front of a giant projection of a map of Africa with the word "Compton" written across its middle.
The performance underscored what has been a big night for Lamar, who received 11 nominations, including a nod for album of the year, for "To Pimp a Butterfly."
Win or lose, Lamar made an unforgettable impression.