Since his release from prison amidst the ongoing YSL trial, Gunna has opted to let his music and the work do the talking, addressing the controversy surrounding him across his new album A Gift & a Curse—and most importantly, getting back to making hits. The Atlanta rapper doubled down on that mindset this past weekend in New York, when he returned to the stage for the first time since his May 2022 incarceration. Performing at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for one night only, Gunna was in peak form (literally, scroll down for proof that he’s taking his swole era seriously), breathlessly running through a list of hits exceeding 30 songs both old and new. He’s always been a solid performer, but his energy and showmanship on Saturday was on a new level. Acclaimed band 1500 or Nothin gave his trap hits an arena-ready upgrade, which Gunna attacked without the backing vocals many of his peers rely on. Shrewd sequencing allowed him to maintain the momentum throughout the night. (Those of us who were there to witness the titanic transition from Song of the Summer candidate “fukumean” to album standout “rodeo dr” will be talking about it for ages.)
Gunna opened the show with a hilariously dramatic clip showing himself and a crew of James Cameron-esque deep sea divers retrieving a huge, submerged bust of his visage from the bottom of the ocean floor, similar to the one that appears on the album cover of his previous project, DS4ever. He performed for much of the show with the bust as a backdrop, a fallen idol harkening back to simpler times. It’s unclear what the takeaway should be—is he closing the door on an older era, or signaling, as the first song on Curse implies, that he’s “back at it” like he never left. But with one of the year’s best rap projects and now one of the best live shows under his belt, Gunna’s momentum has arguably never been stronger.
Gunna gave GQ a look at the scene at Barclays for his big show, scroll down for exclusive images of him preparing before showtime and some of the on-stage highlights.