MANSFIELD — Kendrick Lamar opened his show Tuesday night with “DNA.,” one of the standout cuts from his 2017 album “DAMN.” True, “DAMN.” is full of superlative cuts, but “DNA.” is a particular high-water mark. A blistering showcase of the Compton-born MC’s lyrical skill and willingness to grapple with the realities of American race relations, it also takes on Lamar’s TV-pundit critics — particularly Geraldo Rivera, who was shocked into full-on bloviation mode during a Fox News segment after Lamar’s performance of the rallying cry “Alright” at the 2015 BET Awards, calling hip-hop more damaging to young black men than racism.
Lamar didn’t use his position on the Xfinity Center’s stage to further castigate his news-media antagonists. At least not verbally — after the samples of Rivera and his fellow chatterers died down, a new backdrop came up with Lamar’s latest nickname: “Pulitzer Kenny.” That’s a reference to “DAMN.” picking up the Pulitzer Prize for music earlier this spring, making him the first hip-hop (not to mention pop) artist to nab the prize in its history. Considering the rest of the Pulitzers’ purview, the boast doubled as a neatly succinct piece of media criticism.
It was a fine opening for Lamar’s just-over-an-hour headlining set on The TDE Championship Tour, a showcase of artists from Top Dawg Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based label that’s launched Lamar and other luminaries of hip-hop and R&B into the pop world. Lamar has had a very good 2018, all things considered; in addition to the Pulitzer, he masterminded a companion album to the blockbuster film “Black Panther” and picked up a slew of Grammys — though not for album of the year, although perhaps the Pulitzer jury’s nod makes up for that. On Tuesday, he ran through songs from his brief but mighty discography, which only began minting albums in 2011 (his releases from 2003 through that point are classified as mixtapes), and he seemed somewhat astounded at the number of audience members whose rapping along hardly waned when he featured his earlier material.
Most of Lamar’s banter involved pumping up the crowd via compliments and actions. He set sections of the audience against each other to see who could scream the loudest multiple times, with the jumping-in-front-of-their-seats audience members more than happy to give it their all; he requested cellphone lights (the high-tech, low-flame alternative to the lighters of yore) to be illuminated during the existentially tinged musing on romance “LOVE.,” during which Lamar’s knotty lyrics were airlifted by the California crooner Zacari’s weightless falsetto. The set ended with two stabs at “HUMBLE.,” Lamar’s first solo Hot 100 chart-topper last year; he ceded MC duties on the first run-through to the crowd, then took over, asserting his exalted place at the top of the late 2010s’ musical heap.
Before Lamar came out, other TDE artists appeared for shooting-star sets that showcased their strengths — the pugilistic drawl of ScHoolboy Q, the swagger-filled crowing of Jay Rock. At one point, ScHoolboy Q remarked on the high percentage of men in the audience, which inadvertently brought up the night’s only disappointment: SZA, the singer whose space-emo-R&B opus “Ctrl” hit big in 2017, has been pulled off the tour indefinitely because of issues with her vocal cords. Her velvet-tipped observations would have balanced out the evening’s high testosterone quotient somewhat, adding another dimension to the already-impressive amounts of artistry and hyperactive showmanship on display.
The TDE Championship Tour
With Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, SiR, Ab-Soul, Lance Skiiwalker
At Xfinity Center, Mansfield, TuesdayMaura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.