When Top Dawg Entertainment first began in 2013, it was Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, a producer, and Kendrick Lamar (going by “K-Dot”), a nascent young rapper out of Compton. Then came Jay Rock, a rapper from Watts; Ab-Soul, from Carson; and ScHoolboy Q, from Los Angeles. Once the core four were all signed, they formed the rap supergroup Black Hippy. A few years later, TDE would sign two up-and-coming artists: rapper Isaiah Rashad and R&B singer-songwriter Solána Rowe, aka SZA. In 2016, TDE then added singer/rapper Lance Skiiiwalker, and R&B singer SiR, in 2017.
Which brings us to: the Championship Tour, presumably titled after what sports teams embark on once they reach the top and claim the (literal or metaphorical) championship belt. TDE is now home to three platinum artists: Kendrick Lamar, the man you know; SZA, the First Lady of TDE (literally) and your most recent crush; and ScHoolboy Q, the bucket-hat rapper. Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Isaiah Rashad have also all dropped albums that have made it to Billboard’s Top 10 U.S. Rap charts. The roster is deep.
The 29-city tour kicked off in Vancouver, Canada this past weekend — and will conclude on June 15 in Pittsburgh — and the theme of sports continued. The stage was decorated with championship banners, listing the artists and their albums and accolades. SiR donned a baseball uniform, Jay Rock a basketball jersey, ScHoolboy Q drove onto the stage in a golf-cart (very on-brand), SZA entered the ring in a boxing gown, and Kendrick was a race-car driver (get it? cause he raps fast). To add to the theme, each artist also had a trading-card banner behind them with some basic info and fun facts.
Another big part of the performances was the videos that played behind the artists. Jay Rock had some Karl “the Mailman” Malone highlights playing, which was apt because Jay consistently delivered, as well as clips from the infamous “Malice in the Palace” brawl. Q had a montage of Tiger Woods’ iconic fist-pumping. SZA had flowers blooming behind her, and some grainy video of her surrounded by nature, and, of course, Kendrick made good use of the visuals, too, showing lava, waterfalls, storms, and forests (fire, water, air, earth) during “ELEMENT.”; and trees ablaze during “Money Trees.”
As somebody who listens to the entire TDE roster, it was awesome seeing the #FullSquad, minus Isaiah Rashad, who’s working on an album due this summer, but there were a lot of missed opportunities. There were only a small handful of moments when more than one member was on stage, which is a letdown considering the catalog of songs that feature other TDE members already present in the building (Exhibit A|B|C|D). SiR, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock built momentum for ScHoolboy Q, who brought the fire (literally), and the arena would’ve collectively lost their minds had Kendrick came out to perform his fire verse (Nights like this I’m a knight like this, sword in my hand I fight like this, I’m more than a man I’m a God, bitch touché en guarde!) on Q’s “Collard Greens.” It’s the perfect entrance that unfortunately didn’t happen.
The lack of collaborative performances was most notable when SZA performed “Doves in the Wind” and played a recording of Kendrick’s verse instead of actually bringing out Kendrick. When he did come out, however, after SZA passed the baton to him, he brought Jay back out for “Money Trees”, and Zacari for “LOVE.”, which was funny in the moment because it felt like the crowd had no idea who he was until he started singing. I also could’ve used more Ab-Soul.
This particular night was also the world debut of another one of Kendrick’s alter-egos: “Pulitzer Kenny”, adding to a list that already included “Kung-Fu Kenny”, “King Kendrick”, and “K-Dot.” This, of course, comes after last month’s announcement that Kendrick was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, an award historically (and unofficially) reserved for classical music. As if TDE didn’t have enough accolades. If there was a message behind this Championship Tour, it’s this: We are TDE, and we are the champions.
Note: This list could be missing a small number of songs
- War (SiR)
- I Know (SiR)
- D’Evils (SiR)
- Easy Bake (Jay Rock)
- Vice City (Jay Rock)
- Terrorist Threats (Ab-Soul)
- That Part (ScHoolboy Q)
- What They Want (ScHoolboy Q)
- Studio (ScHoolboy Q)
- Dope Dealer (ScHoolboy Q)
- Something Foreign (ScHoolboy Q & SiR)
- Hell of a Night (ScHoolboy Q)
- Collard Greens (ScHoolboy Q)
- Break The Bank (ScHoolboy Q)
- Man of the Year (ScHoolboy Q)
- Supermodel (SZA)
- Broken Clocks (SZA)
- Go Gina (SZA)
- Drew Barrymore (SZA)
- Normal Girl (SZA)
- Doves In The Wind (SZA)
- Wavy (SZA)
- Garden (SZA)
- Love Galore (SZA)
- The Weekend (SZA)
- DNA. (Kendrick Lamar)
- ELEMENT. (Kendrick Lamar)
- King Kunta (Kendrick Lamar)
- Untitled 07 (Kendrick Lamar)
- Goosebumps (Kendrick Lamar)
- Swimming Pool (Kendrick Lamar)
- Backseat Freestyle (Kendrick Lamar)
- LOYALTY. (Kendrick Lamar)
- Money Trees (Kendrick Lamar & Jay Rock)
- XXX. (Kendrick Lamar)
- m.A.A.d city (Kendrick Lamar)
- LOVE. (Kendrick Lamar & Zacari)
- Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Remix (Kendrick Lamar)
- Alright (Kendrick Lamar)
- HUMBLE. (Kendrick Lamar)