Kendrick Lamar made his debut on Saturday Night Live nearly two years ago, basking in the acclaim of his first album, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. With his follow-up in the works and expected to arrive sometime soon, the 27-year-old Compton rapper made a triumphant return to the show last night, in an episode hosted by Woody Harrelson.
For his first set, Lamar brought out a full live band and a chorus of backup singers for the as-yet-unnamed new album’s first single, the Isley brothers-sampling “i.” Wearing creepy black contacts and punctuating the beat with frenetic, jerking choreography, Lamar dedicated the song to his homies in the pen.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Lamar gave some insight into what listeners can expect from the forthcoming new album, promising “aggression and emotion.” “If I can say anything about this record,” he said, “it’s that it will connect again.” He also noted at the time that he hadn’t yet called in any guest MCs for tracks. “I have so much to say!” he says, laughing. “It’s somewhat selfish of me.” But he was happy to share the stage last night.
Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk ushered in the second act, singing the intro at a piano before Jay Rock emerged from the shadows to deliver the first verse of “Pay for It.” It was nearly two minutes into the song before Lamar himself took the stage with his searing verse before graciously ceding the spotlight once again.
Lamar’s performances weren’t the only musical numbers to grace last night’s episode. In addition to the “Tarts and Old Farts” duets album ad (which featured a cameo by Lamar, paired with a disgruntled Barry Manilow) and the “Campfire Song,” Harrelson’s opening monologue featured his own take on Taylor Swift’s new album as the host paid tribute to the year of his first time on the show.
“With all due respect to Miss Swift, I think I know a little bit more about 1989 than she does – even if the memories are a little bit fuzzy. Because of the drugs,” Harrelson said as he launched into a hazy acoustic tour of the year (“thought I met Margaret Thatcher, but it was Saddam Hussein”), before his Hunger Games co-stars arrived to give him a little help.