By Matt Goodman,
kendrick lamar1 Kendrick Lamar Captivates A Young, Packed Trees

Kendrick Lamar. (Photo courtesy of Top Dawg Ent.)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Kendrick Lamar is an astounding rapper.

There’s really no other way around it: He darted about the diminutive stage at Trees Thursday for nearly an hour-and-a-half, offering up a 17-song set that summarized his relatively nascent career.

On last year’s excellent Section.80, the 24-year-old managed to find a balance between exploring societal issues while still toying with gravelly braggadocio.

There’s a certain vulnerability in Lamar’s songs, a willingness to package his faults alongside the things that make him attractive.

And that may be the foundation for his connection with the very young audience in Deep Ellum last week. Trees was so packed that kids were nearly spilling out into the patio. When the crowd’s hands went into the air, many had crude X’s drawn on.

The energy in the room made it feel like the Comptonite is on the verge of tipping into stardom.

Lamar’s style of rap isn’t an easy thing to replicate live: He enjoys crafting allegorical narratives within the bars of his verses, double-speaking his way through analyses of fame and politics, addiction and desperation.

He pulled it off perfectly on Thursday. He started his set with “Buried Alive,” the downright bizarre two-and-a-half minute epilogue that bookends Drake’s intoxicated study of egotist introspection, “Marvin’s Room.”

Once those wobbly, screwed horns filled the room, Lamar was off and running, brilliantly weaving his tale of sacrificing art for fame under the guise of a business meeting with the Toronto superstar and his producer, Noah “40” Shebib.

It’s fairly complex stuff, and the crowd ate it up. If Thursday’s show was any indication, Lamar won’t have to alter his message or his style to have an impact.

He’s already been championed by Lil’ Wayne and Dr. Dre –– he made sure to twice repeat the line about breaking his mentor’s wrist if he ever gave him a handout on “The Spiteful Chant” –– it’s now time for him to get the general public on board.

The more accessible portions of his catalogue –– “F–– Your Ethnicity,” “Rigamortis,” “P&P” –– kept the energy level high. The artists on stage seemed to soak it up like a sponge: Lamar teased the youngsters with a bottle of Moet, and label mate Jay Rock somehow managed to successfully land the only backflip I’ve ever seen attempted at a rap show.

Lamar closed with the boom-bap political salvo “HiiiPower” and offered the crowd a beaming smile.

Cheers to Austin-based promoter Score More Shows for booking Kendrick on a mini-Texas tour, for there was an undeniable elephant in the room at the end of the night: Thursday is the last time his North Texas fans will get to see him at a venue as intimate as Trees.

He’ll be back in March, though, opening for Drake at the University of Texas at Arlington’s new 6,500-capacity College Park Center. And then at some point this year, he’ll release his first proper full length Good Kid in a Mad City.

That kind of surge of artistic momentum is the sort of thing that motivates folks to pull off a backflip during a hip-hop concert. We’ll have to wait and see if Lamar sticks the landing.