There are moments you wait for your whole life. You strive for them, putting in hours of practice like an athlete seeking total mastery of their sport in order to one day win a professional championship. For Kendrick Lamar and his Top Dawg Entertainment cohorts, that moment felt like Friday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California, as the arena where LA’s beloved Showtime Lakers once won their NBA titles lit up from the flashlights of thousands of cell phones at Kendrick’s request.
It may not have been their 1989 Larry O’Brien trophy, but it feels like Kendrick, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q — along with their non-Los Angeles-raised labelmates SZA and Isaiah Rashad — earned something that night in the iconic building where Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar solidified their legends: The enduring love of a generation, and a night no one would likely forget.
The TDE Championship tour largely lived up to its athletics-themed rollout. The screens behind the artists flashed custom, illustrated trading cards featuring each performer as they took the stage. Their illustrated avatars each reflected their athletic themes; basketball for Jay Rock, Formula 1 Racing for Kendrick, and so on. From the parody training montage video announcement to the stage design for each act to their wardrobe, TDE reiterated the idea of championships and winning through athletic achievement, mirroring their numerous wins in their musical endeavors.
In 2017, SZA and Kendrick Lamar were both nominated for Grammys, with Kendrick cleaning up at the 2018 ceremony. While SZA didn’t pick up any of the awards she was nominated for, the backlash at her reverse sweep suggested a “people’s champion” status that none of the winners could claim.
Then, earlier this year, Kendrick achieved what no other rapper has done before him: Win a Pulitzer Prize for Music for DAMN., shifting the conversation surrounding hip-hop yet again, after he’d already done so with his previous works, Good Kid, MAAD City and To Pimp A Butterfly.
In the Forum on Friday night, both artists’ achievements were hinted to, subtly in SZA’s case, boldly by Kendrick. While SZA played up the people’s champ theme with her boxing ring stage appointments and boxer’s garb complete with a satin boxing robe over her TDE-branded trunks, Kendrick flexed mightily in front of a massive billboard reading “Pulitzer Kenny” with his Formula 1 racing suit proclaiming his pole position in the rap game.