Kendrick Lamar's Triumphant Pop Out Got Complicated With That Dr ...

30 days ago
Kendrick Lamar

In this op-ed, culture editor Kaitlyn McNab analyzes the painful irony of Dr. Dre’s appearance at Kendrick Lamar’s otherwise triumphant The Pop Out concert. Content warning: This story contains mention of alleged domestic violence.

The city is back up, and all of Los Angeles is definitely outside. This Wednesday Kendrick Lamar hosted The Pop Out: Ken & Friends, a special one-night-only Juneteenth concert at Inglewood's Kia Forum.

Lamar's first major live performance since effectively winning his months-long public beef with Drake has been met with widespread praise as a love letter to and unifier of West Coast Hip-Hop. The ensemble concert, which was announced just two weeks ago on June 7, was live streamed by Amazon Music and featured the live debuts of four out of Lamar's five Drake diss tracks.

With everyone in the audience from Lauren London to LeBron James to North West, the Compton rapper paid tribute to his city by bringing out dozens of his West Coast “friends,” including YG, Tyler, The Creator, Roddy Ricch, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Ty Dolla $ign, Dom Kennedy, Russell Westbrook, ScHoolboy Q, Steve Lacy, Mustard, Tommy the Clown, and Dr. Dre.

The Pop Out was an homage to the evolution of Top Dawg Entertainment, California's imprint on music and the culture, and an unapologetic display of Compton pride; real-time sentiments during the livestream and the critical acclaim that followed have cemented The Pop Out as an unforgettable event in Black history. “It's only right that we show ‘em where we been, and we show ’em where we going," Lamar told the crowd at one point during the show. Like 2018's Beychella, The Pop Out was a cultural spectacle shared collectively with thousands across the nation thanks to the communal nature of live streaming and live-posting.

Still, for some, the butterflies that formed while watching a moment in pop culture become history turned into dread at the sight of an alleged abuser being uplifted in front of over 16,000 people.

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That alleged abuser is Dr. Dre, who has a long documented history of physical violence against women, with the most publicized accusations of assault from legendary Hip-Hop journalist Dee Barnes, which led to charges of assault and battery, as well as Dre's ex-wife Nicole Young, and Dre's ex-girlfriend, R&B singer Michel'le.

It is Michel'le's natural falsetto you hear singing the post-chorus line on “Like That,” the Future and Metro Boomin record Lamar surprise-featured on, and the one that set his beef with Drake in motion. The post-chorus sample comes from Michel'le's intro to the 1988 Eazy-E single “Eazy-Duz-It.”

At The Pop Out, Lamar performed his verse on “Like That” and jubilantly sang Michel'le's post-chorus line before turning to the crowd. “It's only right that we start from day one, you know? So where would we be without our legends?” The needle then dropped on one of the most iconic Hip-Hop beats of all time, the intro to Dr. Dre's “Still D.R.E.”

The painful irony of the proximity of Michel'le's voice and Dr. Dre's presence made for a complicated moment during an otherwise extraordinary night — especially given that K.Dot has also been accused of domestic abuse by his opponent Drake. On the diss “Family Matters,” Drake claimed that Lamar “beat on” his fiancée Whitney Alford and alleges he “hired a crisis management team” to keep the incident quiet.

Since the release of “Family Matters” and its subsequent responses, fans have called out the hypocrisy of the two beefing rappers for using women as cheap punchlines and pawns, trading accusations of domestic violence and pedophilia and grooming.

While Lamar's platforming of Dr. Dre is dismaying, it's not surprising, as the “Not Like Us” rapper has platformed and defended other alleged abusers in the past, including alleged rapist Kodak Black in 2022. Kodak Black appeared on three songs on Lamar’s 2022 album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.

In 2015, after backlash for the erasure of his abusive past in the biopic Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre shared a statement to the New York Times apologizing to the “women [he's] hurt," attributing the violence to excessive drinking and a lack of structure in his life. He vowed to continue “working to be a better man for [his] family.” “I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives,” said Dre.

Michel'le did not accept his apology outright. “He apologized to the public," she told HuffPost in 2016. "I don’t think that was an apology to me, because if it was, he would’ve called me either without the public… I just think he did a general apology because he had a movie out, and he’s got a brand and that’s what you do. I’m not mad at him. If he feels free with that, then that’s good. I don’t know if Dee Barnes took it to heart.”

In 2023, after the Grammys named their Global Impact Award after Dre and gave him the inaugural honor, Barnes spoke to Rolling Stone's Mankaprr Conteh about watching yet another of Dre's public victories from the sidelines. “They named this award after an abuser. It wasn’t just a one or two-time thing; these are choices,” said Barnes. “The first time, it’s maybe a mistake. The second time, okay. The third time, it’s a choice."

Lamar made it clear throughout The Pop Out that his goal for the concert was to stand up against disrespect of the West Coast and unite his community with love and peace. Early in the night, he prefaced his set with: “This sh*t we got going on tonight is bigger than me.” He made the choice to bring out L.A. gang members of various affiliations, basketball players, fellow entertainers, and family members onstage with him for his five blowout crescendo renditions of “Not Like Us.”

And he made the choice to platform a known abuser. Multiple truths exist: Dr. Dre has molded Los Angeles culture and Hip-Hop for decades and is one of the most influential music icons of our time who maintains a special, storied relationship with Lamar. And The Pop Out was stained by Dr. Dre's presence.

As an artist who has always been ahead of his time, does Kendrick Lamar know when his victory lap will stop running over women? The world would like to know.

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If you need help or support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800.799.SAFE [7233]) or use their live web chat.

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