With “Back At It” blaring from the speakers in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Gunna emerged atop a platform that held him several feet above the ground. The rapper’s face and a large snake, both in the form of stone-like sculptures, were laid out on the stage beneath him. This entrance was equally triumphant and boastful, and rightfully so, as this time a year ago, Gunna was behind bars as a part of YSL’s 56-count RICO Act indictment filed by Fulton County in May 2022. Gunna was released seven months later after he agreed to Georgia’s Alford Plea “in which a defendant doesn’t admit he committed the crime but acknowledges that it is in his best interest to plead guilty.”
Gunna’s plea deal and subsequent release led to a wave of criticism from rap fans, many of whom were supporters of Young Thug, who to this day, remains behind bars as a result of the same RICO indictment. Gunna was called everything in the book as many believed that his plea deal contributed to Young Thug’s ongoing imprisonment. Many declared they would no longer listen to the Atlanta rapper because he was a “snitch.” Unmoved by this, Gunna released his fourth album A Gift & A Curse in June of this year in what would be the start of his summer takeover. It debuted at No. 3 on the album charts to become his fifth top-10 release and the album. It also spawned the hit record “Fukumean” which has spent the last two months in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 while also becoming the highest-charting single of his career.
Gunna’s 2023 success is wrapped in plenty of irony. He’s a rapper who became more successful than ever after many – both fans and artists alike – cut ties with him. He’s also a rapper that, as our own Aaron Williams pointed out, many called a snitch despite simultaneously claiming that Young Thug and others were innocent of all charges against them. None of that mattered though as the rapper stood on that platform in Barclays for his first live show since his prison release. What mattered is that, as his A Gift & A Curse album proved, Gunna is back and he can’t be stopped.
After his captivating entrance to “Back At It,” Gunna dove into took on other A Gift & A Curse records like “Bottom” and “Idk Nomore” to solidify the commanding presence he established with his opening record. He quickly catered to fans of his 2022 chart-topping album DS4EVER with performances of “Too Easy” and “Poochie Gown,” the latter of which was eloquently accompanied by women in Pucci gowns on stage. Through this opening section, Gunna made it clear that he was not deterred by the unproven allegations placed on him from all angles over the last year. He’d successfully filled up Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with a show that nearly sold out, and in return, he treated his audience to a spectacular concert with an attention to detail that was not only admirable but worthy of applause as well.
When Gunna performed “Top Off” from his beloved 2018 project Drip Season 3, he did so from a hanging mic to reference his viral A Colors Show rendition of the record. He recognized the popularity of B-side records like “Baby Birkin,” “Who U Foolin,” “Met Gala,” and “Pedestrian,” a delivered those moments to fans who have been unable to see the rapper since his Drip Or Drown 2 Tour in 2019. Regardless of what his stance with YSL artists and affiliates is, Gunna knew to perform standout collaborations like “Drip Too Hard,” “Yosemite,” “Sold Out Dates,” “Ski,” and “Hot.” More recently in terms of his discography, Gunna took notice of the acclaimed transition from “F*kumean” to “Rodeo Dr.” on A Gift & A Curse and recreated it at Barclays for a moment that sent the audience into an explosive cheer that nearly threw the arena off its axis. Gunna has always been a showman who knew what his audience wanted, but with plenty to prove to the world, the rapper delivered a performance with fiery authority for a set that will be remembered throughout his career.
The rapper’s show at Barclays did have its minor flaws. At its halfway point, the rapper performed a section of songs that sent the arena into a bit of a lull. The nine-song section included slower-tempo records like “Bread & Butter,” “Paybach,” and “I Was Just Thinking.” After such a fiery start upended by songs like “South To West,” “P Power,” and “Dollaz On My Head,” the switch in energy was noticeable as Barclays felt noticeably dormant. Thankfully, Gunna brought life back to the arena with a section of records dedicated to Young Thug as he performed tracks that featured his YSL boss. “Hot,” “Ski,” “Oh Okay,” and “Pushin P” all rang out after a “Free Jeffery” graphic appeared on the big screen. The songs sent the arena into a frenzy, and more noticeably, signaled that maybe the rumors about Gunna’s post-incarceration relationship with Young Thug aren’t what the internet chalked it up to be. Maybe there is no animosity on either side, but at the bare minimum, nothing is confirmed, and maybe the assumptions and theorizing should be saved for more important things.
Gunna’s 2022 incarceration couldn’t have come at a worse time in his career. He was just a few months removed from landing his second No. 1 album with DS4EVER, a project that impressively beat out The Weeknd’s Dawn FM for the top spot. Eighteen months later, Gunna delivered another top-3 album to the world with A Gift & A Curse as well as a summer hit with “Fukumean.” Keeping all this in mind, Gunna’s Barclays Center concert was a reminder of many things. The rapper is still one of music’s most beloved acts at the moment, as the arena of fans rapping his lyrics for nearly two hours proved. The rapper is an entertainer who knows how to captivate a crowd with both his music and his fashion sense. Lastly, Gunna is at the top of his game and it’s going to take a lot more than rumors and agendas to bring him down.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.