The GRAMMYs were tonight and you have to emphasize the name GRAMMYs because they’re the bastion of music. The totem pole, the big measuring stick. Kendrick Lamar used that stage to speak his truth, a small revolt of what black identity has been to some and what black identity truly is to many. There’s no problem of knowing Kendrick Lamar is a rather theatric, energetic performer. No matter what the venue or setting, he’s going to set the tone and use a ceremony for what it exactly is – a celebration. Not a hollow mausoleum to the past or a self-satisfying middle finger to one man not in the room but rather the headlines. Nope, Kendrick Lamar treated the GRAMMYs stage as a loud reminder of how tone deaf America has been and how he decides to police his words and actions.

The line “and we hate po po” was omitted from Lamar’s performance of “Alright”, the high-spirited gospel refrain that sits in the middle of his acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly. Probably because CBS is the home of police shows and Tom Selleck can still play an avatar of Magnum P.I. on Blue Bloods or whatever. After Don Cheadle’s introduction, Lamar sauntered out — flanked by men in the chains of prison, blue work shirts and jeans. He began performing “The Blacker The Berry” as an admittance of contradiction. It was he who walked through murky waters in explaining his position on America post-Ferguson in 2014, months before To Pimp A Butterfly was released. It didn’t matter, the whole context of the LP won people over.

Things shifted, bodies started moving with prouder grunts and glides. Lamar was in Africa, tribal and celebratory while singing his brand of gospel. Flames bellowed from the stage as Lamar and dancers strolled around a bonfire, happy and electric, though still sort of pissed off. When you see Lamar move towards center stage, spotlight and frantic camerawork on him, he’s sporting a black eye and mixing HiiiPoWeR with another, presumably untitled song. The fiery mix of jazz, lighting and effects turned Lamar’s performance into art. A clever dance of a man’s emotions and circumstance. If Lady Gaga had practiced to pay tribute to David Bowie all of her life it seemed then Lamar decided that on this stage and this night, he would be as close as a dangerous figure to mainstream America as he possibly could.

But he still showed a bit of restraint. The crown of most political and dangerous musician in 2016 still belongs to Beyoncé but where she went full-measure on Super Bowl Sunday, Lamar pushed “All Lives Matter” and everyone of their ilk to the edge and left them dangling for support. A master of ceremony. That’s what an emcee stands for. Kendrick Lamar stole the show at The GRAMMYs on Monday night, even if the vessel he used to get there was shunned for the biggest award of the night.

Watch Lamar’s riveting performance up top.

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