Kendrick Lamar Credit: Kevin Winter Credit: Kevin Winter

The reason you’ll want to see Kendrick Lamar in concert is that he’s indisputably the best rapper alive right now. Lamar had the daunting task of releasing a follow-up to 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which landed atop multiple year-end lists, including Pitchfork’s and Rolling Stone’s—a sharp-eyed examination of black American identity, Butterfly contained a rich musical synthesis of backpacker hip-hop, west-coast gangsta rap, jazz fusion, gritty funk, experimental R&B, and bedroom electronic music. But on this year’s Damn (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope), Lamar stripped down his musical backing to straightforward hard-core rap beats and focused on demonstrating his next-level prowess as an MC. For evidence, look no further than the second verse of the track “DNA,” where Lamar launches into a breathless, mind-shattering flow in which he packs an incredible number of words and internal rhymes into four bars. Like this: “This how it is when you’re in the Matrix, dodging bullets / Reaping what you sow and stacking up the footage / Living on the go and sleeping in a villa / Sipping from a Grammy and walking in the building.”   v