If the unofficial slogan of Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam concert is “expect the unexpected,” then this year’s concert may be remembered by hip-hop fans as one of the most shocking editions of the mega show’s history, because it went almost exactly according to plan. Summer Jam’s memorable past has spoiled fans, who now expect to be astonished by surprise guest appearances and iconic moments. Yet last night’s (June 6) show at New Jersey’s New Meadowlands Stadium felt incomplete when it ended without a signature “Oh, my God” occurrence.
Absent from the lineup were heavy hitters like Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Summer Jam king Jay-Z, as hip-hop relinquished the limelight to R&B for the night—specifically headliner Usher. Despite a lineup that included Dirty South veteran Ludacris and NYC favorites Fabolous and Juelz Santana, hip-hop took a backseat to Mr. Raymond and fellow crooner Trey Songz, whose sensual showmanship arguably upstaged frequent collaborator Drake.
Ignoring the buzz surrounding the leak of his debut album, Thank Me Later, Drizzy chose to stick with his originally scheduled program (which included hits “Forever” and “Over”), and performing no new material from the highly anticipated disc which will officially release on June 15. The Toronto MC did however provide an update on the status of his currently incarcerated Young Money boss Lil Wayne, who is serving a one-year term for gun possession on New York’s Rikers Island.
“I finally got a chance to talk to my brother,” he told the crowd as they exploded at the mere mention of their jailed hero. “I looked in his eyes, and he misses y’all.” As a token of their love, the May XXL cover boy requested that the crowd join him in reciting Weezy’s verse from the mixtape hit “I’m Goin’ In” loud enough that the caged lion could hear them from his cell across the river.
Although his tribute to Wayne combined with the appearances of Cash Money CEO Baby (“4 My Town,” “Money to Blow”) and hip-hop’s current first lady Nicki Minaj (”Bedrock,” and an a capella rendition of her verse from Thank Me Later’s “Up All Night”) made the newcomer’s first solo Summer Jam performance memorable.
The most exhilarating moment of the night, however, came as Ludacris’ set was winding down and Miami’s DJ Khaled took over, parading out a who’s who of past collaborators.
The Def Jam South president was joined by everyone from Fat Joe—who performed his street smash “Ha Ha (Slow Down),” sans the noticeably absent trap star Jeezy—to the ageless Busta Rhymes, who spit a verse from the Swizz Beatz-produced “Stop the Party” that put to rest any doubts that he still had it.
Stealing the show, amidst the chaos, was Dade County’s own Rick Ross. Donning a Florida Gators cap and a wife-beater, The Boss belted out the enormous “MC Hammer” off of his latest mixtape, The Albert Anastasia EP, and his verse from Dirty Money’s “Angels (Remix),” before soaring solo into his latest single, “Super High.”
Khaled’s takeover continued as he asked the 60,000 plus in attendance, “You think I’m done?” prompting them to emphatically decline. “Is Harlem in this muthafucka?” he screamed, as Uptown’s own Cam’ron emerged front and center alongside apprentice Vado. But Killa’s performance of the Dipset classic “I Really Mean It” felt all too brief and only served to tease fans who were hoping to see him reunite with former partners Jim Jones and Juelz Santana on the Tri-State’s biggest stage.
After Cam appeared in Atlanta at last month’s Converse Band of Ballers Tournament to support his Diplomat co-founder’s team, many felt that it was only right that the two make their reconciliation official on the Summer Jam stage. Others speculated that Kanye West, who released “Power,” the first single from his as-yet-untitled fifth album in the days leading up to Summer Jam, would do as mentor Jay-Z did last year when he blessed the audience with a premier performance of “D.O.A.” just days after it leaked to the ‘Net.
But those who were disappointed by the lack of a jaw-dropping moments could hardly claim to not be satisfied by the impressive showings from the earlier performers.
After Hot 97’s legendary DJ Mister Cee warmed up the crowd with everything from Mobb Deep’s infamous “Shook One’s Part II” to the Fast Life Yungstaz’s intoxicating “Swag Surfin’,” opening act Gucci Mane hit the stage in a lemonade yellow T-shirt as the fans were still pouring into their seats. Flanked by protégé Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci ran through fan favorites “Wasted” and “Freaky Gurl” before passing the mic to Flocka for an electric rendition of his breakout hit “O Let’s Do It.”
Harlem spitter Juelz Santana followed the 1017 Brick Squad members with a solid set that included brief appearances by Maino and Lloyd Banks, who performed the duo’s club hit, “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley.” Brooklyn got its chance to shine when Fabolous followed fellow BK MC Talib Kweli and Cincinnati producer DJ Hi-Tek’s performance with cuts from his recently released mixtape There is No Competition 2: The Funeral Service as well as past hits like “Make Me Better” and “Breathe.
Summer Jam 2010 will not become a part of New York music lore like the legendary performances of Jay-Z’s early millennium heyday or even Kanye and Swizzy’s classic 2007 beat battle, but those who showed up to Giants stadium on Sunday hoping for a surprise can take solace in the afternoon’s one unanticipated event— at least it didn’t rain. —Calvin Stovall