Will Freestyle for Kendrick

I had to be there. For the first and perhaps only time, Kendrick Lamar would be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Nevermind that I’d already seen the now critically-acclaimed rapper four times before — no, this time was different. This time would be magical.

My hopes for getting a ticket started off high. My father, when he feels like it, can be the ultimate plug so I called him up.

“Dad,” I said. “Kendrick Lamar is performing at the Kennedy Center for one night only with the NSO — do you think you could get me some tickets?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll make a phonecall in the morning.”

That morning, I woke up to an email.

This content is vile and ignorant. When you choose to embrace garbage, you will do so without my assistance.
Is this indicative of what you learned in college and your new value system?

Links of “Backseat Freestyle”, “Money Trees”, and “Collard Greens” (which we all know is a SchoolboyQ song) followed.

Whelp, so much for my dad coming in for the clutch. When I got to work that morning, I eagerly waited for the online waiting room to open at 10am . It opened before then. When I joined around 9:45, I was one of over 4,000 people attempting to get one of the maybe 200 tickets left that were up for grabs after all of the Kennedy Center members snatched up their tickets in multiples of eight with ease the day before. I didn’t know all these specifics at the time but quickly found out once the remaining tickets sold out in less than five minutes. The phone lines were down. I was kicked out of my 200 spot in the virtual waiting room and set back by the thousands. I was outraged. My friends were unable to get tickets. The Kennedy Center had no sympathy.

In the following weeks, I wondered how I could possibly get a ticket to the concert. Tickets on StubHub ranged from $300 to nearly $1,000. That definitely wasn’t an option. When I called the box office to see if there were any extra tickets, it was to no avail. Another time I called, a $250 ticket was available. Also, not an option.

Kendrick Lamar’s 1st Annual “Kunta’s Groove Sessions” at the Lincoln Theatre was later announced. The tickets sold out quickly. Although this was sure to be another engaging show, my heart was set on his Kennedy Center performance. I didn’t even try to get tickets, though I heard the chances, like the Kennedy Center, were slim to none.

Yesterday, I sat at my desk, pondering. It was the day of the show. THE show. What could I do to get a ticket? I started searching Craigslist. The prices, though some were ridiculous, weren’t as bad as StubHub. I emailed about six people who were asking around $100-$200 for their tickets, eager to connect and haggle.

“Maybe…” I thought. I grabbed a Sharpie and a piece of paper.


A simple sign in the spirit of “earning” a seat at the Kennedy Center. I posted it to Twitter and Instagram, hoping somethingwould come of it.

“Let her in KenCen!” One follower tweeted to the venue’s account.

Only one of the Craiglisters responded. He requested that I call him but I saw the email about a half an hour too late. When I tried to call (several times, I might add) he did not pick up.

“I’m headed to the Kennedy Center shortly. If you can meet me there, let me know,” I typed in an email.

I spit a couple of verses as I was driving to try and prepare for what could transpire.

Yo, my name is Randi and you be Kendrick. ‘Bout to have the Kennedy Center rockin’ like Hendrix…

Who was I kidding?

I arrived just after 7pm. There was a steady flow of people into the historic venue. As I reached the top of the steps, two guys were almost frantically asking, “Do you have any extra tickets? Extra tickets?”

I pulled out my sign to let them know I was in the same boat. I couldn’t decide where the best place to be was. Inside? Or outside? People were coming from all directions — the drop-off circle, parking garage, entrance on the other side of the building…What was I to do?

I posted up inside near the main hallway. “Anyone have an extra ticket? Extra ticket?” I said in a polite voice.

People smiled and shook their heads. “No, sorry.” They seemed to take pity but pity doesn’t magically create extra tickets out of thin air. At one point, a Kennedy Center employee overheard my request and directed me to the box office on the other side of the venue. “There are probably some at the box office. I just turned one in,” she said.

I hustled over there. A kind box office employee by the name of Joel told me he had a “fantastic seat” available — but of course for a price. He also told me about the standby line. So, I stood for a moment and watched as the will call line grew longer. I recognized a few faces too. The CEO of BET, Ms. Debra Lee was there, as was Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and I’m sure a few other notable folks.

Then of course, there was just me. A person who belonged to the masses who couldn’t quite manage to beat the system and get a ticket. Showtime was quickly approaching. I returned to the box office and told Joel that I’d pay. It was a game time decision.

Ticket in hand, I walked down to the sixth row of the Orchestra section. The lights dimmed. A fantastic acapella group from the Duke Ellington School of Arts took the stage for a few numbers, including a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Going On” that elicited a roaring applause from the crowd.

That night at the Kennedy Center, white privilege mixed with black elitism and everything in between. There were couples, singles, groups of friends and even a large group of what looked like middle schoolers with badges around their necks (this must be apart of their tour of the city…).

The orchestra took the stage. Then the conductor. The musicians. Then finally, Kendrick.

Dressed in all black, with cornrows that just grazed the nape of his neck, he dragged the mic stand across the stage with one hand, mic in the other. The crowd stood, cheered and applauded.

He wasted no time, diving into the jazzy interlude, “For Free?” which calls into question the pimp-like relationship America subjects Black Americans to since the inception of slavery and, the paradox that is purchasable pussy and seemingly free dick. A crass yet ingenious metaphor in both respects.

“This dick ain’t freeeeeee!”

The refrain echoed throughout the concert hall. Next was “Backseat Freestyle”, then came, “These Walls,” one of my favorite tracks on To Pimp A Butterfly.

The strings of the dozens of violins, cellos and basses struck chords in my soul that electronic beats could never reach. The horns blared with the intensity of the coming of the end of times. It was as if this were the soundtrack to a movie America never wanted to show.

We stood. We bobbed. We clapped. We rapped. We cheered. We soared.

At times, Kendrick performed with the ticks of a drug addict, schizophrenic or just someone feeling life and all of its highs and lows.

“As I listen to the lyrics as I was rapping that verse…I was in a dark place,” he said. “You go through those same emotions now matter much money you have…but sometimes, you lose out on G-o-d.”

I saw Kendrick commune with God on stage last night. He looked up, eyes closed, and silently mouthed, “Thank you Jesus.” He shook and bowed his head in reverence. He crossed his chest and pointed upwards.

I understood what was going on. The moment when the frequency of your spirit becomes in tune with the exact channel of God’s. You become at a loss for words. Your mind transcends and moves from the physical space into a holy one. You are overwhelmed by His grace and mercy. You praise Him.

This moment was familiar to me. I stood, reminded of my own moments of worship despite my surroundings. I watched as he allowed himself to let go.

Then, he became present again. Continuing to perform each and every song with the veracity of an acclaimed scholar and the confidence of a seasoned preacher. He was in control.

I do not doubt that I will ever see nor experience a show like this ever again.

Thank you, Kendrick.