By Casey Murray and Srishti Prabha | OBSERVER Staff Writers

Outside the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento Tuesday night, thousands of fans, worried about getting to their seats in time, pressed into the arena to see rapper Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem, and Tanna Leone perform.

“I’m personally juiced. I feel like it might be his last tour, so we really wanted to make a point to come out here,” said concert goer Janae Hair. “I feel like it’s probably one of the biggest artists that’s been out here in Sacramento.” 

For many fans, it was their first time back to such a large event post COVID-19. 

“I got this mask right here,” said 16-year-old Roy Whitaker. 

His friend Meili Allen-Wade added, “I am nervous but I do not play when it comes to COVID.”

For Allen-Wade, it was also her first experience attending a concert.  

“This is my very first concert and seeing him, I might cry,” 15-year-old Allen-Wade said. 

Allen-Wade and her friends grew up on Lamar’s albums, their parents playing the music in the background. They developed a love for his style that they all described as unique, connecting with the message of Lamar’s work.

“He’s just amazing, though. His flow, his lyricism, and what he talks about, ” said Meili’s older sister Kaiden Allen-Wade about the 35-year-old Grammy and Pulitzer prize-winning rapper, songwriter and producer.

Concertgoers, from left to right, Donnie Hair, Janae Hair and Abren Lang pause outside of the Kendrick Lamar concert at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Srishti Prabha, OBSERVER

Lamar’s The Big Steppers Tour is his first since he put out his last album “DAMN” in 2017. The fans had been waiting a long time and were ready to see his art come to life. 

“It might be my favorite (album),” Hair said. “We went through a long period of time, you know, it’s a pandemic and everything, and I feel like he was really marinating on this album.”  

Mental Health and COVID-19 took center stage in Lamar’s performance. The concert mimicked a therapy session — a woman with a smooth voice set up many of the songs. 

“You seem to forget who you are … do you need a reminder?” she asked Lamar, walking him through the songs. 

Dressed in a black suit and one glittering white glove, an ode to Michael Jackson, Lamar first appeared on stage playing piano next to a look-alike ventriloquist doll. Back-up dancers, men in black suits and women in white suits, punctuated the show, striding in before Lamar even hit the stage. 

In the song, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, Lamar’s act shifted when he danced with a woman in an ethereal red dress. 

The act shifted again when Lamar rapped “Alright” while being given a COVID test in the center of a plastic-covered cube, harkening back to quarantine. 

Set decorations included a psychologist’s chair, a bed, a quarantine cube, and imagery to match the song choice. Some images featured were of trees being whipped around in a wildfire storm during “ELEMENT,” a couple’s relationship cycle during “We Cry Together” and “Purple Hearts” and leaves blowing in the wind during “Money Trees.” And song changes were denoted with a full blackout of the stage. 

These fans were anxious to see Kendrick Lamar perform. Shown are, from left to right, Roy Whitaker, Meili Allen-Wade, Kaiden Allen-Wade, and Shamara Menefee at one of their first concerts. Srishti Prabha, OBSERVER

Lamar performed a number of his old hits, like “DNA,” “Humble” and “Swimming Pools,” which were cleverly placed between some of his newer songs like “N95” and “Die Hard”.  He ended with a high-voltage performance of “Family Ties” with Baby Keem — a crowd favorite. 

“I appreciated the passion and energy Kendrick and Baby Keem brought to the show and I feel like it was because they performed together,” said Abren Lang after the show. “I feel like their mindset was to impress the crowd and they definitely didn’t disappoint!” 

While the new album wasn’t every fan’s favorite, denying Lamar’s stagecraft was impossible. Much like Lamar’s previous tours, he showcased his  ability to take social commentary and turn it into performance art.

“The mix from all the albums was fire,” Marquis Butler said after the show. “And the order he did them was perfect. He controlled the crowd perfectly. There was never a dull moment.” 

After the concert, Kaiden Allen-Wade, whose parents drove her in from Natomas, left satisfied. “Love the songs and how everyone was enjoying themselves,” she said.  “The song set was great and the dancers were great too.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Casey Murray and Srishti Prabha are Report For America Corps members and reporters for The Sacramento OBSERVER