Kendrick Lamar has a lot of nicknames: K.Dot., Kung Fu Kenny, King Kendrick, Man-Man, Cornrow Kenny, etc.
But maybe he needs one more. Even if only for Wednesday, Aug. 16, when Lamar brings his Damn tour to the Sprint Center.
How does “KC Kenny” sound?
This may be only his second concert in Kansas City (and his first as a headliner), but that doesn’t mean Lamar doesn’t have his Kansas City connections. Here are six:
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1. Tech N9ne and Strange Music
Kendrick Lamar and Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne have collaborated on singles, spoken highly of each other, freestyled together and cited each other numerous times as influences. What many don’t know, however, is that Tech N9ne helped put Lamar’s career into overdrive.
In 2010, Lamar was on Tech’s Independent Grind Tour and got to meet L.A. super-producer Dr. Dre. Two years later, noted hip-hop video blogger Nardwuar was chatting with Lamar at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, and told him he should thank Tech N9ne. You could see the shock on Lamar’s face when he heard this piece of his development he thought many didn’t know. So yeah, thanks, Tech.
It’s not just Lamar, either. Jay Rock, Lamar’s close friend, frequent collaborator and Top Dawg Entertainment label mate, also has KC roots. Before signing with Top Dawg in 2014, Jay Rock was signed to Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label.
2. Gee Watts
Kansas City’s underground rap scene was buzzing electric in the spring of 2013 when young artist Gee Watts enlisted Lamar to rap a verse on his song “Watts R.I.O.T.” for his “Watts Up” mixtape. While most of his contemporaries struggled to find major-name co-signs, Watts scored Lamar, one of hip-hop’s biggest upstart acts at the time. It was perfect timing. Six months after “Watts R.I.O.T.” debuted, Lamar released “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” the album that launched him (and likely his asking price for a feature verse) into the cosmos.
3. Don Cheadle
Anyone who has listened to Lamar’s “Damn.” album has become acquainted with his alter ego, Kung Fu Kenny. What you might not know is that Kung Fu Kenny is a character in the 2001 movie “Rush Hour 2,” played by Kansas City native Don Cheadle.
Lamar was such a fan that he enlisted Cheadle to co-star in the music video for his single “D.N.A.,” even donning a Kung Fu Kenny-like outfit at one point. If there is any justice, Cheadle will return to his hometown for a once-in-a lifetime live rendition of the “D.N.A.” video for Kansas City fans. Fingers crossed.
4. Marcus Yates
Marcus Yates, a Kansas City rapper who can be found on VH1’s newest reality music competition show, “Signed,” is another local artist who can boast having a feature with one of the greatest rappers alive. Yates (who then went by the stage name Oobergeek) and Lamar were both featured on Tech N9ne’s song “I Love Music” from his 2011 album “All 6’s and 7’s.” (Tech and Yates are cousins.)
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Lamar narrated a Kansas City Chiefs commercial. Yes, to be fair, he did this for three other teams, too, as part of the NFL’s “There’s Playoffs in Every Play” commercial series during the 2016 playoffs. But the fact still remains that we live in a world where you can hear Chiefs announcer Mitch Holthus and Kendrick Lamar on the same track. You take your wins where you can get them, OK?
No other major hip-hop artist has done more to push America’s music to the masses. Lamar has infused jazz into his music since his early mixtape days, but when he released his universally acclaimed third album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” in 2015, the jazz reliance was unmistakable. Enlisting some of today’s most talented jazz artists — Grammy Award-winning pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Terrace Martin, bassist Thundercat, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, to name a few — Lamar did something remarkable: He created a rap album grounded in jazz that the world couldn’t get enough of. KC jazz greats Charlie “Bird” Parker and Count Basie would be proud.
Kendrick Lamar performs Aug. 16 at the Sprint Center, with YG and D.R.A.M. opening at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50-$99.50 through sprintcenter.com or by calling 816-949-7000.