Coachella 2018 commenced yesterday in California’s Indio desert valley, and while it seemed like the festival’s lineup couldn’t get any more star-studded, Kendrick Lamar dropped in on two performances. The sets were by Vince Staples and SZA, both of whom Lamar recruited for the Black Panther soundtrack he produced and curated earlier this year.
But before Lamar showed up, both Staples and SZA seemed to be having a difficult time connecting with their respective audiences. While on stage, Staples said to the crowd, “I know y’all don’t know who I am cause none of y’all look like me, but I don’t give a…” The Long Beach rapper at one point referred to the Coachella main stage, where he was performing, as the “white people stage.” Staples was likely not referring to the diverse lineup of artists performing on the stage, but the audience members.
SZA was faced with a palpable sense of disconnect from the crowd as well. Despite her powerhouse performance (and adorable, trampoline jumping antics), the crowd wasn’t meeting her half way. According to Rolling Stone’s assistant music editor Suzy Exposito, this lax response was undeserved. Exposito wrote in a tweet: “SZA rolled out a pristine fucking performance and this tight-lipped crowd flopped big time. ‘If you don’t know me,’ she said, ‘Hi, my name is Solana!’ The shade.” Exposito later wrote that the audience didn't participate in SZA's call and response for "Love Galore," so "90% of the crowd [was] cancelled."
The lukewarm reactions from SZA and Staples’ crowds became entirely recontextualised when Kendrick Lamar joined their sets. While Lamar and Staples didn’t play “Opps” from the Black Panther soundtrack (they banged out their 2017 collab “Yeah Right” instead) it seemed that Black Panther’s manifesto of black empowerment was palpable when Lamar and Staples performed together; given Staples’ earlier discontent, it was a much needed boost of camaraderie.
SZA and Lamar shared a similar spark when they performed Ctrl’s “Doves in the Wind” and the highlight of the Black Panther soundtrack, “All the Stars.” Lamar introduced his host as “the beautiful, talented Solana, SZA!” before launching into the song. Lamar and SZA, arguably two of the most charismatic performers in contemporary music, delivered an unforgettable duet, playfully slinking around the stage and swapping verses while a galaxy of stars was projected over their heads. Despite the crowd’s previous indifference, SZA and Lamar sang the Black Panther anthem to a sea of waving hands.
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