Kendrick Lamar Covers Tupac at iHeartRadio Awards
The rapper honored Shakur and other rap legends with "California Love" performance

NBC's inaugural iHeartMusic Awards, held Thursday night at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, united pop music royalty from across the country. But it was a local rapper who brought the evening's truest passion, as Compton-raised Kendrick Lamar unleashed a fiery cover of Tupac and Dr. Dre's 1995 West Coast anthem "California Love."

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Lamar introduced the performance by reflecting (in a taped clip) on how he witnessed the song's music video shoot with his father as an 8-year-old. "Legendary," he said of that pivotal experience. "It just inspired me. That's a moment I'd never forget. . . It began with 'California Love.'" 

The rapper then graced the stage, announcing "Rosecrantz on the rise" in front of a four-piece band. "In the memory of Tupac Shakur, I need everybody to put one hand up right now; I need everybody to put two hands up right now," Lamar shouted, directing the crowd through an infectious group sway. He then worked his way into the vocoder-driven groove, matching Shakur's rhythmic precision line for line, before the band segues into "m.A.A.d. city," a cut from his acclaimed debut LP, 2012's good kid, m.A.A.d city

Lamar seems to be living out a childhood dream in the clip, smiling like a schoolboy as he takes on a hip-hop classic. But the rapper didn't gloat in the big moment – he ends the performance by paying tribute to some of the game's fallen heroes: "Tupac Shakur, Eazy E, Nate Dogg".

Of course, the iHeartMusic Awards also featured a tribute to another musical legend: Michael Jackson. R&B star Usher honored the late singer's iconic dance moves during the unveiling of Jackson's new single "Love Never Felt So Good," a track from his upcoming posthumous LP, Xscape.

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