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Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-opening performance powerfully tackles racism

This year’s Grammy Awards ceremony at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden skipped the awkward opening monologue by James Corden, the self-described “least diverse host in Grammys history,” and instead kicked things off with a powerful cold open from Kendrick Lamar that unflinchingly tackled themes of racism and police brutality.

The rapper, who was nominated for both Record of the Year and Album of the Year, appeared in front of a projection of a waving American flag with a precision crew of camo-clad military-marching dancers. Bono and the Edge, of U2, briefly joined him on stage to sing the chorus of “XXX.”

Comedian Dave Chappelle, who later won Best Comedy Album, appeared in a quick breather. “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America,” he said, affable with a steely edge. “Rumble, young man, rumble.”

The medley closed out with a fiery rendition of “King’s Dead,” from the soundtrack to the upcoming Marvel movie “Black Panther.” Lamar spat the rapid-fire verse that ends the song as his dancers, now wrapped in hoodies, fell to the ground one by one to the sound of gunshots.


Lamar isn’t typically one to shy away from political statements in his awards show appearances; his 2015 performance at the BET Awards broadcast emergent protest anthem “Alright” from atop a graffiti-covered police car, and his 2016 Grammys slot walked him out with a chain gang.

Minutes later, he picked up the first award of the telecast ceremony when the honor for best rap/sung performance was awarded to “Loyalty,” featuring Rihanna. He also won best rap album, beating out Jay Z’s “4:44,” among others.

Watch it here:

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.