Following the May 2022 release of his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar on Friday brought The Big Steppers Tour to New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center. Accompanied by supporting acts Tanna Leone and Baby Keem, both of whom make appearances on the album, this was only the seventh date of the world tour that will continue through December.
The concert was scheduled to begin at 7:30, and to the surprise of many, it started promptly at the listed time. The opening act, Tanna Leone, took the stage while many fans were still filing in. The Los Angeles rapper was the third artist signed to Lamar and Dave Free‘s media company, pgLang.
While the tour’s stage is constructed as a long runway extending deep into the floor section of the general admission pit, Leone didn’t utilize much of the space. Instead, he opted to perform mostly from the center of the stage furthest toward back of house while images of the moon were projected on the large screens behind him. He stood alone onstage—no band, entourage, or dancers—as he performed a mix of both his up-tempo and slower tracks before ending the set with “Butterfly” from his 2022 album, Sleepy Soldier.
“My name is Tanna Leone, I love y’all. Thank you!” he announced to the applauding crowd as he exited stage. The second he walked off and the house lights again illuminated the space, you could clearly see how much more the arena had filled up as fans chanted “Keem! Keem!” calling for Baby Keem, who was next on the bill.
The lights were soon out again as an image of a swimmer underwater appeared on the screens and Baby Keem walked out to a screaming crowd wearing a white button-down, black tie, and black slacks. He opened with his song “Trademark USA”. When he pulled the mic away for a few bars, the audience didn’t miss a beat as they flawlessly carried on the lyrics for him. He continued with several of his well-known songs including “Hooligan”, “Scapegoats”, and “Moshpit”, the last of which prompted the audience to make good on the song’s name.
“I need all your participation for this song right here,” Keem told the audience, and they followed his instructions as he transitioned into “Honest”. He then moved on to perform his feature on Kanye West’s “Praise God” and his 2021 track “Lost Souls”, both of which were easily recognizable as viral TikTok sounds over the past year.
Much like the preceding performer, he didn’t have to do too much physically to get the crowd hyped. He moved around the stage a bit, but mostly stayed in the center. As he went into “Range Brothers”, the crowd went insane, screaming the lyrics “Top of the morning” as loud as they could.
“As the show winds down, I think we gotta party one more time,” he said before delivering his final two songs. then performed two more final songs before exiting. “My name is Baby Keem and don’t you ever forget it!” he called as he departed the stage.
This time, when the house lights came back on, it was hard to believe that at this time last year, in-person events of this size were out and social distancing was in. There was no fear of closeness to other people or room for 6 feet of space on the now-packed floor. The standing-room only floor section allowed for the crowd to completely surround elongated stage, which was draped in white fabric with a clear acrylic cube hanging overhead.
At 9:00 p.m. on the dot, the house lights went off, cell phone flashes came on, and screams, whistles and “Kendrick!” chants filled the arena. The music started and the crowd screamed as dancers dressed in black and white suits filed in to the back of the stage with military precision. As they sat, darkness took over. A single light illuminated the stage to show Kendrick Lamar at a piano with a dummy version of himself in matching locs and suit rapping the lyrics to “United in Grief” before the lights went out again.
Lamar made his way to center stage carrying the dummy, whose mouth moved along with his. As the dummy mirrored Kendrick’s words, the rapper’s image was projected on one screen while his inanimate double graced the other. He stood in the spotlight at the mic wearing an all-black suit with several pins and brooches, black embellished shades and, in an obvious nod to Michael Jackson, one sparkling glove on his left hand.
Heightened by production elements ranging from pyrotechnics to flashing lights to a descending platform that carries Kendrick and numerous props on and off the stage at various times, the show continued with a healthy mix of material from throughout his lauded catalog, from good kid m.A.A.d city‘s “Backstead Freestyle” to DAMN.‘s Rihanna-assisted “LOYALTY.” to Mr. Morale‘s “Father Time”.
One of the bigger crowd reactions came when he played a few notes on keyboard that were immediately recognized as “HUMBLE.” The crowd screamed the lyrics along with him as he performed his biggest hit to date.
Much like both of his opening acts, Kendrick also didn’t need to exert himself much physically to get a large crowd reaction. He utilized every part of the stage, giving all sections of the audience a great view of his performance. He jumped through a mix of uptempo and slower songs, yet it all flowed together seamlessly.
An hour into his set, Kendrick Lamar finally made his way to the furthest reaches of the stage as he asked, “I got one question for you New Orleans, can we go back to day one? Y’all been rocking with me for a long time, much respect!” He then performed the 2012 single, “Money Trees”
The clear cube that had been hanging overhead the entire show descended to the stage around him as he was joined inside by four men in hazmat suits who appeared to give him a COVID test. Apparently testing negative, Lamar told the crowd, “We gonna be alright,” before moving into “Alright”, the acclaimed protest anthem from 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Toward the end of his set, Kendrick was joined onstage by Baby Keem, his cousin as well as his opening act, for an appropriate performance of their collaborative hit, “Family Ties”.
who is also his cousin as they performed the appropriately titled “Family Ties.” He later welcomed Tanna Leone to the stage for a run through “Mr. Morale”, recreating the collaboration that serves as the namesake of Lamar’s new LP.
He took a bow to an arena of applause, beaming from the stage with a broad smile of appreciation as the lights went out. With time for one more, Kendrick performed Mr. Morale standout “Savior” to bring an eventful night in New Orleans to an end.
Kendrick Lamar will continue on the road with his worldwide The Big Steppers Tour throughout the remainder of the year. For a full list of upcoming dates, head here.
Setlist: Kendrick Lamar | Smoothie King Center | New Orleans, LA | 7/29/22
Set: Savior (Interlude)* United In Grief, N95, ELEMENT., Worldwide Steppers, Backseat Freestyle, Rich (Interlude)*, Rich Spirit, HUMBLE., Father Time, m.A.A.D. city, We Cry Together*, Purple Hearts, King Kunta, Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix), Die Hard, LUST.*, DNA., Count Me Out, Money Trees, LOVE., Alright, Mirror, LOYALTY., Silent Hill, family ties^, Crown, Mr. Morale#, Savior
^with Baby Keem
#with Tanna Leone