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.