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5 takeaways from Las Vegas’ new hip-hop festival Day N Vegas

Updated November 4, 2019 - 12:40 pm

“The funk shall be within you.”

So said the hip-hop cowboy dressed like an Old West villain, head-to-toe in black, practically indivisible from the night sky above.

The song was “King Kunta,” a staccato soul rebel yell, and Kendrick Lamar was working it like hammer to anvil.

“I see we got a party going on,” he said afterward, addressing a massive crowd Sunday at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds.

And with that, Lamar began bringing said party to an end as the final headliner on the Jackpot stage as hip-hop festival Day N Vegas built toward the conclusion of its inaugural year.

Lamar was a fittingly climactic closer, performing with a backing band that buffered opening salvos “DNA” and “Element” with peels of rock guitar that brought an even more visceral dimension to those already-visceral cuts.

He never let the audience catch its breath, and plenty could have probably used a break after three days of hip-hop that spanned from noon to midnight.

The fest featured a broad array of acts, from R&B Casanova Miguel to bawdy, business-minded femmes Salma Slims and Megan Thee Stallion to British grime upstart Slowthai to 53-year-old West Coast rap veteran Too Short, who made a surprise appearance on the Roll the Dice stage Sunday, and dozens upon dozens more.

There were logistical hurdles due to a lack of parking and numerous schedule changes, but overall the capacity crowd seemed undaunted, coming out in full force from beginning to end.

It was a lot to take in. Here are a few takeaways:

Oh, say can you scream?

Yelling is fun.

Migos like to yell.

Yelling with Migos is fun.

Now, granted, you don’t ever, ever — and we mean, ever — want to take the Atlanta trap trio to the library, a wake or anywhere that silence is as golden as their teeth.

They do more yelling than your mom when you don’t un-ball your socks before throwing them in the dirty clothes.

Every one of their song titles should be followed by at least 38 exclamation points.

When it comes to firing up a crowd at an outdoor music festival, Migos gets the job done like a blowtorch to kerosene.

Such was the case Saturday at the Jackpot stage.

You could have saved a fortune on Vodka Red Bulls had you just waited for the adrenaline kick supplied by three highly exuberant rappers yelling “Hannah Montana!” at you over and over again (16 times in the first hook alone).

The song?

“Hannah Montana.”

It’s a euphemism for drugs, not an ode to the Miley Cyrus Disney TV character, but whatever.

Migos yell.

You yell.

We all yell.

Pass the Chloraseptic.

Party pooper/starter of the weekend

The Bauhaus gear was telling.

OK, so we’re not totally sure that the lyrical Eeyore that is Chicago rapper Juice Wrld really is a fan of the seminal British post-punk group whose T-shirt he wore Friday at the Jackpot stage.

But it would make sense that he would be familiar with them: They’re goth-rock forebears, and he’s a goth rapper if ever there was one.

We’re not talking goth in terms of fashion sense or Anne Rice fandom.

We mean goth in the sense that melancholy and abjection underpin almost everything he does — Juice Wrld has been branded an emo rapper because of this, but he’s way darker than anything associated with Fall Out Boy.

To wit, the 20-year-old MC frequently rhymes about partying too much, but no rapper — maybe ever — sounds less celebratory about said partying than Juice Wrld, his doleful singing voice making almost everything sound like a lament.

Death and loss loom large in his catalog, whether he’s contemplating his own mortality or that of his peers, dedicating his song “Legends” to deceased rappers Nipsey Hustle and Mac Miller on Friday.

Juice Wrld did attempt to end his set on an encouraging note. But even that was tinged with finality.

“You can do anything you put your mind to,” he said by way of a goodbye. “That’s it.”

She said what?

Then there was the reefer-abetted young lass rhyming about puffing on feline urine.

Yes, the most inexplicable rhyme of the weekend came courtesy of Rico Nasty on Saturday at the Roll the Dice stage.

“I’m nasty, and I don’t give a (expletive), like, what is classy?” she wondered on the aptly titled “I’m Nasty.” “Smokin’ on cat pee and my voice is raspy.”

Now we know why.

Where are we again?

OK, so he earned some chuckles — and a few jeers — when he incorrectly referred to this event as “Day N Night.”

But 21 Savage’s gaffe Saturday at the Jackpot stage was forgotten soon enough, as the light-pole-lean Atlanta rapper turned in one of the grittiest sets of the weekend.

“I grew up on the streets without no heart,” he explained in song over a minor-key musical backdrop as stark as his words.

Savage gets by on conviction, delivering his rhymes with a steeliness, a coldness, that counterintuitively warms you to him: When he recalls growing up so poor that his family only had rice to eat, for instance, doing so with zero discernible emotion, it makes the ice-blooded sentiments he so frequently expresses that much more resonant.

“My brother lost his life and it turned me to a beast / My brother got life and it turned me to the streets,” he simmered on “A Lot.” “I been through the storm and it turned me to a G.”

The thing about weathering a storm, though?

Eventually the clouds part.

“The other side was sunny,” he continued. “I get paid to rap on beats.”

Best of the fest

His performances, his records, his emotions, they’re all like a car without a driver but a brick on the accelerator nonetheless.

“I don’t know where I’m going,” Tyler, the Creator confessed at the outset of his manic, messy, engrossing performance Sunday at the Jackpot stage, where he heavily mined his manic, messy, engrossing latest album, “Igor,” one of the year’s best.

“Igor” is an album of bruised-heart soul, concussive funk and alternately sweet and stinging hip-hop.

Sporting a blond bob hair cut and a blue suit, Tyler, the Creator brought the songs to wild-eyed, sweaty life, his set somewhere between a concert and a performance-art spectacle, delivered by a man akin to a rap Andy Kaufman.

The man of the hour flung himself about the stage, at times looking like a marionette being worked by a drunken puppet master.

It was a suitable visual representation of how all-over-the-place his repertoire is.

“I’m off balance,” he announced on “I Think.”

Yeah.

“I need some fixin’,” he added.

Nah.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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