Kendrick Lamar takes the stage at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards tonight (Aug. 27) for his first standalone performance (he performed at the VMAs in 2013 as part of that notorious Robin Thicke/Miley Cyrus/2 Chainz medley, remember?)

Kendrick has become one of the most must-see live performances in music, and he knows how to turn high-profile television appearances into his own pulpit for creative expression. The guy just knows how to make a moment--so we decided to look back at some of the greatest moments he's given us during his live TV performances over the years.

  • 10

    "Radioactive/mAAd city"

    with Imagine Dragons at the 2014 Grammy Awards

    Kendrick's first big Grammy appearance wasn't as the main feature, but it didn't matter. Kendrick took the stage with Imagine Dragons and made it clear that he was right where he was meant to be--stealing the show during the music industry's most-hyped night. He was just getting started.

  • 9

    "To Pimp A Butterfly"

    on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2015

    After helping Colbert close out his run on Comedy Central, Kung Fu Kenny was one of the first to give him an epic performance as host of The Late Show. Kendrick Lamar had dropped the most acclaimed album of the year, and he was making it his business to turn every major TV appearance into a hip-hop revival.

  • 8

    "Untitled 8 (Blue Faces)"

    on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2016

    Debuting the funky untitled, unmastered fan favorite, Kendrick took the stage and wowed Fallon and the fans with a performance that earned raves from seemingly everybody. Tackling relationships, knowledge and always introspective, K. Dot only added to his legend. During the interview, he was asked about his Grammy success--something that put him in pretty rarified air, alongside luminaries like Michael Jackson.

  • 7

    "These Walls" w/Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat

    on Ellen in 2015

    Ellen loves Kendrick. And he rocked the daytime talk show host's stage with a little help from his friends. The cool finish? Once he was finished doing his thing, the camera pulled back to reveal a portrait of Kendrick’s performance, painted as it happened.

  • 6


    at the 2016 BET Awards

    Kendrick opened the show against a backdrop of the American flag, riots and rapping atop a graffiti-covered police car. During the height of Black Lives Matter protests in the wakes of the killings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, 2014 and 2015 were intense. Kendrick caught the moment and gave a performance that drew praise and criticism. We gone be "alright."

  • 5


    on Saturday Night Live in 2014

    Kendrick's sophomore appearance on Saturday Night Live was a monumental moment for the emcee. Rocking black contact lenses and going with one of the most high energy performances he'd yet delivered on TV, K. Dot made it clear that his jubiliant "I" was an anthem for the ages.

  • 4

    "Untitled 3"

    on The Colbert Report in 2014

    As host Stephen Colbert was exiting his beloved Comedy Central show, he announced that his final musical guest would be none other than Kendrick Lamar. K. Dot took the occasion to debut an untitled new track alongside a band featuring frequent collaborators Thundercat and Bilal that would be released on 2016s untitled, unmastered. 

  • 3

    "Poetic Justice"

    on Saturday Night Live 2013

    Kendrick made his SNL debut with a live band--and gave the kind of performance that affirms stardom. His take on “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and especially “Poetic Justice" were highlights of the SNL season. And K. Dot even appeared in a Digital Short--spoofing “YOLO” with guest host Adam Levine and Lonely Island.

  • 2

    "Freedom" with Beyonce

    at the 2016 BET Awards

    Kendrick and Beyonce brought the house down with an electrifying performance of "Freedom." During a tumultuous but triumphant year for black culture, two of the biggest artists in the world joined forces for a performance of a song that brought out the best in both. A moment.

  • 1

    "The Blacker the Berry"

    at the 2016 Grammy Awards

    In recent years, there have been very few Grammy performances that were as talked about as this one. Kendrick's performance traced black strength and history through shackles and pain, through divinity and triumph. It was intense, it was captivating--it was Kendrick Lamar proving that no one in hip-hop knows how to seize a moment quite like him.


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