Kendrick Lamar debuted an untitled new song during “The Colbert Report” on Tuesday night, capping the show’s nine-year run of musical guests with a devastating, slow-build track that equaled his memorable performance of “I” a few months back on “Saturday Night Live.”
“You are the last ‘Colbert Report’ musical guest,” host Stephen Colbert said at the start of a pre-performance interview with Lamar. “Honored to have you on, but keep in mind that means that Paul McCartney, R.E.M., Jack White and Nas were your opening acts.”
Calling the rapper, who is teasing tracks from his eagerly awaited follow-up to “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” “the leader of West Coast rap right now,” Colbert wondered on one possible consequence: “With that job title, is it hard to get life insurance?”
The host complimented Lamar on his verbal skills, challenged him to rhyme something with “Colbert” (Lamar’s quick response: “no hair”), discussed Lamar’s roots in South L.A. and namechecked N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton.” Colbert, who will air his last show on Thursday, asked a final question about the artist’s moniker before Lamar and band let loose: “Why did you choose to name yourself after Anna Kendrick and Sen. Lamar Alexander?”
Then came the world premiere, with live band and unblinking gaze. Featuring a slow-build keyboard and fingersnapped opening, the rapper, 27, jumped in with percussive, confident lines from a number of different perspectives. Taking the voices in verses of a business agent, a financial guru, a black man from his neighborhood and a white man from a record label, he rapped their advice on different aspects of his life: finances, responsibility, expectations, power. It’s a swirl of voices — all embodied by Lamar while behind him the magnetic bassist Thundercat, donning a big furry hat that covered his face, rolled through a humming bass line.
Lamar’s delivery and body language grew frantic as he embodied the record label guy. He gesticulated while listing expectations and obligations, a female vocalist behind him serving as Greek chorus, wailing and questioning the rapper while the band built volume and intensity.
Lamar then moved into his own voice, responding with fury: “I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I can breathe today!” He repeated it over and over.
He wondered, “What the black man say?”
Lamar’s response, repeated in rhythm while an alto saxophone wailed and Thundercat thumped: “Tell ‘em we don’t die — we multiply!”
With that declaration and that display, Lamar further hinted that his next record just may be another game-changer.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit