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ATLANTA, Ga. - While the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide battled for college football supremacy under the closed roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, rap luminary Kendrick Lamar combated damp, chilly weather at nearby Centennial Olympic Park.
Expectations were high for Lamar’s appearance, which will be footnoted as the first-ever halftime performance at the College Football Playoff National Championship. The musical showcase aired live on ESPN, but not inside the stadium, where the university bands received the spotlight.
The 30-year-old native of Compton, Calif., took to the massive stage and catwalk as the game tilted in Georgia’s favor with a 13-0 lead.
A few thousand fans led a chant of “Ken-drick La-mar” until the cerebral rapper was illuminated in white light, crouched at the back of the stage.
Pops of pyro and a haze of smoke blanketed the background as Lamar, clad in a black coat with fur-ringed hood and gloves, blasted through favorites including “DNA” and “Humble.”
The vivacious audience sang along heartily and pumped their fists to the choruses as Lamar stalked the stage alone.
Lamar nimbly spit his rhymes, leading the crowd in a hand bounce, but kept the focus solely on his music.
With his nine-minute performance completed, he strode to each end of the stage, saluting the audience, which waved its smartphones (despite the pre-performance announcement that phones were not permitted) in a desperate attempt to coax him into one more song.
Lamar’s presence was a notable draw. A few minutes before kickoff, music and football devotees filled about half of half of the park – most of them crowded toward the massive video screen broadcasting the game, with many others hanging back, clearly not interested in anything to do with pigskin.
“Chappie” Chapman was waiting with a beer in her hand and one at her feet for Lamar’s performance. When asked if she had any interest in the game, she smiled.
“Not. At. All,” she said.
Chapman lives near the park and said when she heard at work today that Lamar was playing, she knew how her night would be spent.
“When you have Kendrick Lamar for free…,” she said, her voice implying the “no-brainer”-ness of the opportunity.
Likewise 19-year-old Decatur resident Branden Smith, who came to the park with his football fan brother. Smith, however, was only there for the halftime show.
“I’ve never seen (Lamar) live, and I like his music,” Smith said, citing “Damn” as a favorite.
Lamar, who performed in Atlanta last summer with a sold-out show at Infinite Energy Arena, is poised to have a big night at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 28 in New York.
He is nominated for seven awards, including album of the year and best rap album for “Damn” and record of the year for “Humble.” He’s already received seven Grammy awards in his career.
Lamar’s prestige factor also received a boost last week with the announcement that he and his Top Dawg Entertainment record label chief Anthony Tiffith will curate and produce the soundtrack to Marvel’s “Black Panther.”
The film arrives Feb. 16; the soundtrack will feature the newly released Lamar single with labelmate SZA, “All the Stars.”