Kendrick Lamar brought a politically charged edge to the 2016 Grammy Awards, performing a medley of three tracks, including two from his acclaimed 2015 LP, To Pimp a Butterfly. The rapper – the event’s most nominated artist with 11 total – delivered “The Blacker the Berry” as a prisoner who breaks through his chains, then “Alright” backed by a group of African drummers and dancers. He finished by debuting an explosive new song that ended with cathartic screaming.
Host LL Cool J teased Lamar’s performance over the weekend, telling The Wrap, “Kendrick Lamar is going to do something very controversial. And that’s what art is about. It’s not about whether you agree or disagree, it’s about it stimulating conversation and provoking people to have conversations about society.”
Among his numerous supporters, Lamar earned accolades from the White House, which tweeted, “Shoutout to Kendrick Lamar and all the artists at the Grammys working to build a brighter future. #MyBrothersKeeper”
Earlier in the evening, Lamar won Best Rap Album (To Pimp a Butterfly), Best Rap Performance, (“Alright”), Best Rap Song (“Alright”) and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “These Walls” (featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). To Pimp a Butterfly is also nominated for Album of the Year.
“I want to win them all,” Lamar told Billboard in a recent cover story. “It’s bigger than me. When we think about the Grammys, only Lauryn Hill and Outkast have won album of the year. This would be big for hip-hop culture at large.”
Lamar previously performed with Imagine Dragons at the 2014 ceremony. The unusual pairing found the rapper and alt-rock band combining their respective tracks “m.A.A.d City” and “Radioactive” on a stage emanating pink smoke.
That year, Lamar was nominated for seven awards, but – to many fans’ shock – took home zero, most notably with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City losing to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist. “[The Grammy defeats] would have been upsetting to me if I’d known that was my best work, if I had nothing new to offer,” he recently told Billboard. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is great work, but it’s not my best work. To Pimp a Butterfly is great. I’m talking about the connection the record made. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City made a connection. But To Pimp a Butterfly made a bigger connection.”