When the sunset finally let Downtown Las Vegas simmer down after temperatures peaked at 100 degrees on Sunday (Sept. 27), the heat would not retreat – thanks to Run The Jewels and Kendrick Lamar. Rounding out the three-day Life Is Beautiful festival, both acts experienced firsts in front of a sea of fans. For Run The Jewels, it was Killer Mike and El-P’s premier performance as a duo in Sin City. For K. Dot, it was his first festival appearance in Vegas. And both performances did their momentous occasions justice.
Claiming the Ambassador Stage to the tune of Queen’s triumphant anthem “We Are The Champions,” Killer Mike made a promise to the crowd that he and El-P would undoubtedly fulfill: “We’re gonna burn this stage to the motherf***kin’ ground Las Vegas.”
Starting with their on-wax namesake, “Run The Jewels,” the duo braved the dry heat to weave through favorites from their debut and sophomore albums, Run The Jewels and Run The Jewels 2. Backed by the scratching stylings of DJ Trackstar (and Killer Mike’s killer dance moves), Run The Jewels offered earlier gems such as “Banana Clipper,” DDFH” and “Sea Legs,” as well as later standouts like “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” and the explicit “Love Again (Akinyele Back),” complete with an assist from Gangsta Boo. A highlight of the affair was “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**),” before which El-P gave a fair warning to the audience to put their selfie sticks away:
Killer Mike and El-P’s seamless tag-teaming was also a chance for the duo to stir pertinent context into the mix of their on-stage party. Taking to mic stands that served as their soapboxes of sorts, Run The Jewels led an “I love America” chant before taking a stab at the establishment with “Lie, Cheat, Steal.” The two also took the time to acknowledge Mike Brown, Eric Garner and other victims of police brutality with “Early,” enacting the “hands up don’t shoot” gesture used to protest the shooting of an unarmed Brown. Killer Mike took a tender moment to bring his wife on stage as well, sharing with the throngs of concertgoers that they were married in Las Vegas nine years ago. The twosome also paid tribute to fallen hip-hop soldiers like Pimp C and Sean Price with “A Christmas F***king Miracle.”
Nearly three hours later, the Downtown Stage would be occupied by the festival’s final headliner: Kendrick Lamar. Continuing his summer run, the Compton MC brought his A-game to his Vegas festival debut with a plethora of tracks for latecomers and day ones. As a video narrative of his storied hometown splashed across the stage’s widescreen, K. Dot opened with “Money Trees,” clad in a white t-shirt, slim fit jeans and his now-signature “i” cap. With such an understated physical appearance, the rapper’s set would prove to be anything but, as he commanded the stage with tracks from his Section.80 debut all the way to his latest set of lyrical onslaughts, To Pimp A Butterfly. For the first song in his string of favorites, Kendrick shared the stage with his TDE cohort Jay Rock, who spit his verse from the good kid, m.A.A.d city track:
#VIBEonSite | @jayrock joined @kendricklamar on the #LifeIsBeautiful2015 stage for “Money Trees.” That’s just how they feel. A video posted by VibeMagazine (@vibemagazine) on
Energy reigned supreme as Kendrick accomplished his mission to keep the turn up at its peak. Refusing to allow the crowd’s zeal to waver, the rapper committed a continuous assault on adrenaline levels with tracks such as “Backseat Freestyle” and “M.A.A.D. City.” For the latter, as Kendrick enacted his usual repeating of the song’s hook, large balls were hurled into the crowd and lit up in red and blue hues while audience members reached up to tap the colossal props across the packed flock. The display ended with K.Dot sitting atop one of the oversized spheres on stage, in a bout of laughter at a quip about “blue balls” (you had to be there). It was these moments coupled with a high-powered setlist that championed Kendrick’s equal prowesses for talent and charisma.
Giving a live rendition of nearly his entire good kid, m.A.A.d city magnum opus, including singles such as “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “B**tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Poetic Justice,” K. Dot also took it back to 2011 with “A.D.H.D.” and gave a nod to Tupac’s “Hail Mary.” Rounding out his multi-faceted set with his latest singles, Kendrick Lamar also brought messages of love and positivity in tow with “i,” “King Kunta” and “Alright.” Ending his set with his 2009 “I Am (Interlude),” the rapper made a single vow: “I will be back.”
And Vegas surely hopes he keeps his word.