Kendrick Lamar Returns to the Stage in Vegas

Kendrick Lamar returned to the stage for a headlining performance at Day N Vegas festival on Friday night. We were there. Here’s everything that happened.

Kendrick Lamar Day N Vegas

Photo by Julian Bajsel

Kendrick Lamar Day N Vegas

At 9:45 p.m. PT in Las Vegas on Friday night, there were three artists playing or set to play at Day 1 of the Day N Vegas festival. They each drew plenty of fans at their respective stages, but there were thousands of others camped out in front of the festival’s main stage waiting for headliner Kendrick Lamar—much like the rap world has been since he released DAMN. in 2017. 

Kendrick has been reclusive since dropping his record-shattering album and embarking on the Championship Tour with TDE the following year. In September 2021, he finally let fans in on what he’s been up to, revealing in a letter that he’s set to release his next album, his last on TDE, sometime soon. Then he jumped on “Family Ties” and “Range Brothers” with his cousin Baby Keem, showing that he’s as sharp as ever and “smoking on your top five” tonight. He kept that energy that last night during a sprawling set that didn’t satiate fans’ appetite for new music, but did reaffirm why they’re clamoring for it in the first place. 

The night was billed by Day N Vegas as a performance veering “from Section.80 to DAMN.” Kendrick stayed true to the theme by opening the set with a big screen message about Section.80 that said, “I wrote this album as a prelude. There was an energy in 2011 that formed around the culture of L.A.” And each album that followed had its own message on the screen. Good Kid M.a.a.d City’s was “The Life & Times of Compton, CA.” To Pimp A Butterfly was about him “expressing himself in a way he’d never done before” with “no boundaries.” DAMN. was about “the beginning of self-awareness, and the conflicting nature of man.” 

The performance began with Kendrick taking everyone back in time a decade with a slew of his breakout Section.80 favorites, including “Fuck Your Ethnicity, “ADHD,” and “Hiipower.” Before the latter song played, the crowd roared back when he asked them to put three fingers up, exemplifying that he indeed had many day ones, or “section babies” as he called them, in attendance. 

There were no backing vocals to be heard—just Kendrick’s powerful voice wheeling through his verses while dancers augmented the performance. He worked all sides of the stage, decked in flowy, all-white AIREI clothing and long hair, which felt like him debuting a “new era” look. From his pristine performance to his dancers’ sharp choreography and the constantly shifting big screen visuals, it was clear he wanted to put his all into this specific performance. He noted that he hasn’t performed in Vegas since Day N Vegas 2019, and fans weren’t shorted on the comeback.  

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There have been rumors that Kendrick is working on a rock-inspired album, and he gave a preview of what that could sound like through live renditions of his greatest hits. “Poetic Justice” and “I Love Myself” got lush, jazzy renditions. Other tracks were bolstered by soaring bass play that harkened to his memorable 2014 performance with Imagine Dragons at the Grammys. If you had any doubts that Kendrick could pull off an album that centered on rock production, they should be put to bed after last night’s set, which gave a sneak peek of the future without actually taking us there. 

Once he finished “Humble,” which was thought to be the final song of the DAMN medley (he later did “Love”), Kendrick stood ominously. Fans waited in anticipation of a potential new song, but instead, Vegas’ own Baby Keem came out to run through his hits with his cousin. The two had strong chemistry during “Family Ties” and “Range Brothers,” going back and forth and getting everyone to excitedly scream the memeable lines “top o’ the morning” and “let’s get this shit.” Last night was clearly Kendrick’s—he owned the stage—but Keem held his own and proved why he’s one of the most exciting young artists in rap. Kendrick called him the “hometown hero.”

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Once again, Kendrick paused after the Keem songs, leaving open the door to debut new music. But instead, he went to “Love,” and closed with an emotional rendition of “Sing About Me,” telling the crowd it’s one of his favorite songs ever. Many people agreed. The emotion in Kendrick’s eyes was palpable as he recited the song’s doleful chorus, and the dancers from earlier in the performance gathered around him to resemble a family picture. They paused for what Kendrick deemed a “moment of silence” before he thanked the crowd and promised that he would be back “very soon.”

The comment sounded like a hint that his album might be coming sooner than later. Those who attended the set with anticipation of receiving new album information only got the inkling that new music is on the way. But more than that, they also received a winding, passionate set from one of the greatest rappers of all time. He rhymes “I am the Omega” on “Family Ties,” and last night he tore through his hits and reminded the rap world that he just may be. 

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