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Read about the new Kendrick Lamar album.
Kendrick Lamar stares off into the distance to share his energy with the crowd. | Photo by Ural Garrett for Okayplayer.
Photo Credit: Ural Garrett for Okayplayer.

Day 1: Kendrick Lamar, Kelela, Vince Staples Tear Down The FYF Fest

FYF Fest photos taken by Ural Garrett for Okayplayer.

FYF Fest has gotten all grown up.

The layout is more intuitive, almost guaranteeing you won't run into a too-lit-former-lover roaming the concrete corridors like a white walker. It is almost plush, as the previous year's daunting walks and challenging set times (don't forget how you ran that quarter mile from Kanye West to Purity Ring and failed) have all been streamlined down to a shiny hilt. This is what we all wanted. A separation of walking lane and stage church-and-state, a line-up ready to kick your ass. Sure, FYF Fest was light on the rappity-rap. Day One featured up-and-coming rap king, Boogie, whose stripped down set continued to remind us of why we were feverishly anticipating his debut; a seasoned curb-stomp courtesy of Vince StaplesKamaiyah's star turn and alt-Too-Short pimpery, and Kendrick Lamar as best-living-rapper. Add to the mix, a standout sunset featuring Grimes on the main stage, and superlative sets from Air and Tame Impala, and the FYF Fest kept hurling forward towards greatness.

Vince Staple's set was demure by his own standards (no sarcastic shots at a wasted crowd not knowing enough of his music, this time). Instead, he laid waste to the stage with a set that featured mosh pits set to "Mamacita" and "Surf". A multimedia stage show that at one point had Patrick Swayze's astonished face from Ghost set stark on the screen, a group of marching soldiers walked over Vince's face during "Birds & Bees," and the subtle falling of blue roses on Kevin Spacey's face during "Blue Suede" was a nice added touch. Staples saved his best for the police, sardonically saying that they were doing "such a great job" before asking us to say "fuck the police" with our hands to the sky during his fiercest cut, "Hands Up".

Arguably, the night's best performance happened at the hippie stage where Kelela gave us her all with a tender slaying of her jams. She took time to tell us she was leaving Los Angeles, all her bags packed and ready to go catch her flight. "Rewind" settled on the crowd like a cool vapor and "Bank Head" elevated the set toward the clouds as time slowed to show just her silhouette cutting against blue, red and white lights. Kamaiyah, the Oakland, California rap savant, had all the alt-kids sown up at the club stage with "Out the Bottle" making a coterie break out in spontaneous dance. If you ain't know, Too $hort has an Oakland cousin that the rest of us know all about!

To say that Kendrick Lamar was electric is not enough. He's become such a strong performer that you can physically see the transformations from K.Dot's hesitation to Kendrick's precision. Not once did he run out of breath. Never did he sound like the quality of his studio tunes would be diminished live. Yet, this performance at the FYF Fest was special. To Pimp a Butterfly was finally turned into a viable live set, so it was worth the wait. The chords were gorgeously laid out on "Institutionalized," the horns swirled on "For Free". He brought to life his dense junior album with a fury. A jubilant "Alright" filled the main stage, and Isaiah Rashad joined him for cuts of "Money Trees" and "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe".

In the end, and at every time you see Cornrow Kenny perform, you realize that he might not have a litany of hip-hop, top-40 hits, but if you can't realize he's the best rapper alive and doing it right now then you're fast asleep.

Andre Grant is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and you can find out the latest and greatest from him (and us!) on Twitter @DreJones.