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.”
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.