Kendrick Lamar celebrated the 10th anniversary of Section.80 during a deft, tightly coordinated set at the Day N Vegas festival on Friday. The performance marked Lamar’s lone scheduled show of 2021, and his first U.S. concert in two years.
Released in 2011, Section.80 was Lamar’s easy-going yet audacious debut album, which swings from brassy boom bap to R&B in 6/8 time to funky ventures into southern hip-hop. The rapper became a hit-maker and cultural phenomenon on his follow-up, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, in 2012; he’s racked up pretty much every accolade available, from platinum plaques to Pulitzers, in the years since. But he wasn’t always a juggernaut — casting back to Section.80 was a chance for a star to revisit his roots as a scrappy up-and-comer.
And a chance for Lamar to inject some variety into his set by performing songs he’s rarely revisited in the last five years: “F*ck Your Ethnicity,” a quarrelsome, jump-in-place number; “Hol’ Up,” snappy but simmering; “A.D.H.D.”, a tale of substance abuse that ends up surprisingly celebratory in the hands of a festival crowd; “HiiPower,” Lamar’s first official single, a head-nod track in which the rapper invokes the lineage of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
But in truth, the crowd was waiting for juggernaut Lamar. As soon as the organ-like loop that opens “Money Trees” oozed out of the speakers, hip-hop karaoke ensued. (Maybe this preference for the hits was because a festival crowd contains more casual listeners; it might also have to do with the fact that two major stars who preceded Lamar at Day N Vegas on Friday, Roddy Ricch and Polo G, likely weren’t even in high school when Section.80 came out.) The rest of Lamar’s set was a chronological tour of his biggest tracks, a performance as predictable and gratifying as a home run derby.
The rapper frequently stalked the stage alone, clad head to toe in white, with cozy, comfy sweater sleeves extending several inches past his fingertips. Any musicians remained hidden; Lamar’s only accompaniment came in the form of kinetic dancers. First that meant a contingent of more than a dozen men clad in bow ties and maroon blazers, who served as hectic moons orbiting Lamar’s star. They pretended to pray one moment, fake brawled the next, and illuminated the MC in flashlights later. A group of young ballet dancers also joined the fray, and Lamar danced frequently as well. He relied on jerky, robotic movements, or ran in place, or waved his arms like a windmill gone haywire.
Lamar didn’t have to deliver a verse if he didn’t want to — a track like “Alright” has reached the status of a modern standard, and the crowd was content to carry the whole thing. When the rapper briefly queued up “Poetic Justice,” his 2012 Drake collaboration built around a lethal Janet Jackson sample, he just let fans sing to him before moving on.
But more often than not, Lamr rapped with his typically bewildering dexterity, demonstrating a syllable-slinging flair that was mostly absent during other performances from the first day of Day N Vegas. He was especially impressive verbally hot-stepping and slip-sliding around the lacerating guitar in the Isley Brothers-sampling “I.” He was vehement yet agile throughout “Blacker the Berry.” He was a funky drill-sergeant orchestrating a fierce, stiff-spined march during the DJ Quik-like “King Kunta.”
Towards the end of the night, Lamar brought out his cousin Baby Keem to perform several songs — including the martial “Family Ties” and the blurting, bottom heavy “Range Brothers,” which also happen to represent Lamar’s two most recently released verses. (Keem is also set to perform at Day N Vegas on Saturday.)
The set’s energy flagged briefly, but then Lamar grabbed hold of the reins again, double-timing his way through the power ballad “Love,” from his 2017 album DAMN. The crowd knew what to do — they sang every word.