Kendrick Lamar performed a beautifully crafted medley of tracks from To Pimp a Butterfly on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Wednesday night, intricately stitching together renditions of “Wesley’s Theory,” “Momma,” “King Kunta” and “u.”
Both “Wesley’s Theory” and “Momma” were marked by a purposefully disjointed interplay between Lamar and his band: Lines and phrases were delivered and immediately followed by sharp pauses as if each was testing the other’s timing and rhythm. Neither faltered, and on “Momma” in particular, the arrangement injected the song with moments of sudden, haunting clarity.
But after spending those first two tracks situated in front of the microphone, the staid side of Lamar vanished as “King Kunta” kicked in. The rapper delivered a blazing, breathless performance of the To Pimp a Butterfly standout, which built to the scream that opens “u,” the album’s existential breaking point. Despite the song’s sloshed, harrowing production on record, live Lamar gave it the slow-burning bombast of an arena anthem.
Lamar had been billed as Colbert’s first official musical guest on Late Night, though the new host kicked off his tenure on CBS Tuesday with an all-star rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” with Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard, Ben Folds, Derek Trucks and more. Still, booking Lamar was fitting for Colbert’s first week as the rapper delivered the final musical performance — of an untitled, unreleased track — on The Colbert Report.
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Colbert’s debut week continues tonight, Thursday, with guests Vice President Joe Biden, Uber founder Travis Kalanick, and country star Toby Keith. On Friday, Colbert will host Amy Schumer and Stephen King, with a performance from the Paul Simon tribute outfit, Troubled Waters.