Gunna Makes Triumphant Return With Sold-Out Barclays Show

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If you let the internet tell it, Sergio Giovanni Kitchens was done for ahead of the release of his latest album A Gift & A Curse. The Atlanta rapper taking an Alford plea in the midst of YSL’s ongoing RICO case made many of his fans and peers sour on him. Twitter users who likely have never been in his position projected arbitrary street codes and loyalty infractions onto him; it got to the point where his objectively good music—which often saves artists from being “canceled,”—didn’t even matter. Thankfully, there’s the internet, and then there’s real life.

On Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., attendees flooded the arena with anticipation, as this was Gunna’s first performance since he was released from jail in December 2022. Though the experience was far from intimate (the venue’s capacity capping at 11000), there was still an air of exclusivity, as this was one of two shows he booked to support his June LP. Fans who’d purchased seats debated whether or not they wanted to be up close and personal with the 30-year-old rapper from the floor. A large broken bust of Gunna’s face surrounded by snakes generated curiosity from people who were seated at the side of the stage.

The lights went out and a video clip showed the “Pushin P” rapper jumping into the ocean in a similar fashion to his 2019 Drip Or Drown 2 album cover. As “Back At It” began to play, screams engulfed the arena. Gunna appeared on a slowly rising platform and rapped the track with fervor as a live band loaded with guitars, drums, and pianos accompanied him. In that moment, none of the narratives,  naysayers, or estranged relationships mattered, despite some eyebrow-raising moments during the show.

Per comments from some of his peers, Gunna no longer has the connections he once did. Drake and Future, for example, were both featured on his 2022 LP DS4EVER. However, Gunna noticeably did not play Drake’s verse on “P*ssy Power” or Future’s verse on “Too Easy” despite both being popular among fans. Neither artist promoted his latest album, nor did he appear on Young Thug’s June LP Business Is Business where both Drake and Future were featured. These omissions, however, did not take away from the show; they actually allowed Gunna to shine on his own.

Wunna ripped through a few songs from A Gift & A Curse with no breaks and impressively, no backing vocals on the performance tracks. He then took fans on a trip back to January 2022, a time when he was quite literally on top of the world after the release of his chart-topping DS4EVER album. “South To West” was an immediate jolt of energy in an already passionate set, followed by “Poochie Gown,” where women in colorful dresses and headwraps joined him on stage and danced during his performance of “P*ssy Power.”

Gunna finally took a quick break and shouted out fans who traveled from out of town to see him perform. One person told VIBE that they had driven up from Kentucky to witness this legendary night, and based on their excitement, Gunna made it worth their while. He then reached further back into his catalog, delivering tracks like 2019’s “Baby Birkin,” 2017’s “Drip Or Drown,” and 2020’s “Met Gala” and “Dollaz On My Head,” the latter of which he, again, skipped a feature verse: Young Thug’s. 2018’s “Yosemite,” where he joined Travis Scott, marked the first time Gunna actually let someone else’s verse play through and the crowd responded accordingly by yelling the Houston rapper’s lyrics.

Another major highlight was his rendition of “Top Off,” where he recreated his viral 2018 COLORSxSTUDIOS performance.  After a Michael Buffer-like microphone descended from the ceiling, he rapped and gesticulated to roars from the crowd. He skated through some of his other big hits from that year, namely “Sold Out Dates,” “Drip Too Hard,” and “Space Cadet” before another video changed the tone of the show.

Footage showed Gunna alone in his home smoking, recording, or sitting on a couch before transitioning to clips of him with seemingly former friends like Thugger, the late Lil Keed, and more. The video also included a photo of 2021’s sophisticated Slime Language 2 cover, where the entire Young Stoner Life roster appeared as “Alright” played in the background. Though it was somber, Gunna showed the crowd that no matter who has turned their backs on him, he continues to stand strong on his own two feet.

He quickly left, changed into an all-Black outfit, and returned to center stage. As he performed “Bread & Butter,” the stage rose into the air, revealing hordes of flowers surrounding it. An eagle figure also descended from the ceiling and hung above his head. The biggest highlight of the night came with “Hot,” the standout record from Young Thug’s 2019 album So Much Fun. There was a feeling that Gunna would stop before Thug’s verse came on, based on previously skipping one of King Slime’s parts of a song. Instead, he surprised everyone by turning his back to the crowd and staring at screens that read “Free Jeffery” before rapping Thug’s entire part on “Hot.” He followed suit on the next track, “Ski,” before the show’s biggest moment came.

Fukumean” took over this summer and a passionate performance by Wunna ensured that fans experienced it in its entirety. Mirroring A Gift’s sequencing, he transitioned right into “Rodeo Dr” after taking off his shirt and revealing the full extent of his impressive weight loss. The crowd erupted and yelled the lyrics back as this was the first time anyone could experience this smooth transition in a live setting.

He closed the show expressing his appreciation for everyone who came out to see him before performing the DS4EVER B-side “Missing Me,” where he contemplates being away from someone who matters to him while he is out being a star. It was a fitting end to a special evening for the Atlanta rapper and his fans, and a sign that the best may truly be yet to come, despite what people claim.

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