Hot 97's annual Summer Jam is the New York hip-hop mainstay's way of planting its flag, taking over a stadium for a workday's worth of sets by the biggest names -- some of whom are announced in advance, some aren't. The announced bill for Sunday night's 20th installment of the festival split the difference between hip-hop legends (the also-turning-20 Staten Island collective Wu-Tang Clan; the Brooklyn-born Summer Jam mainstay Fabolous) and new faces (the Compton-born critical darling Kendrick Lamar; the Harlem-hailing A$AP Rocky), with a smattering of R&B.
The results were mixed; the show -- at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. -- was at times choppy, with acts seemingly exiting the stage on the turn of a dime, and some of the classic cuts dropped by Hot 97's DJs receiving a lustier response than the live performances. Summer Jam has a lot of moving parts -- the main stage had 10 announced acts, not to mention the promise of special guests upping the boldfaced-name quotient. This makes momentum tough to keep up, and the fact that the show was in a cavernous football stadium didn't help -- not only were the more intricate beats and rhymes swallowed up by the venue at times, a football field is a long way for charisma to travel, and acts were variously up to and not quite ready for that task.
The R&B enigma Miguel's pre-dusk set captivated the still-streaming-in-crowd, with a jagged version of one particular track off his breakthrough “Kaleidoscope Dream” -- the title isn't quite fit for family-newspaper consumption -- ringing out in the stadium to glorious effect. The Philadelphia MC Meek Mill showed up on stage twice, and both times he had the audience in the palm of his hand, reflecting their adulation. On the flip side, Chris Brown seemed to be in another world between songs, and the crowd's tidal wave of enthusiasm for Busta Rhymes' tongue-twisting combination to his spaced-out "Look At Me Now" was torpedoed by Busta's set being piped in and accompanied by a breakdancer. (A talented, flippy breakdancer, but still.)
The problems of a stadium show (in any genre, really) were highlighted during the Wu-Tang Clan's set; at one point, Method Man lectured the crowd on how a performance was actually a relationship and hinting that the audience needed to bring up its energy. But things picked up once 2 Chainz (sporting a pith helmet) arrived for a particularly giddy set punctuated by the rumbling new single "Feds Watching" and the raucous "I'm Different." He handed things off to A$AP Rocky, a Harlem-born MC who seemed absolutely humbled by sharing the stage with Wu-Tang and who brought out his crew for a celebratory run through "Problems." Lamar followed, and his taut style of storytelling kept people watching, even as buckets of rain fell from the sky.
A good chunk of Summer Jam's promise lies in its surprise guests, some of whom are announced, many of whom are rumored. The rise of social media only fueled the in-show speculation, with rumors bubbling up on Twitter and filtering through the crowd. At various points throughout the evening, Summer Jam titan Jay-Z (who was backstage with his wife Beyoncé) was rumored to be coming out to perform his verse on Lamar's "---- Don't Kill My Vibe"; one hip-hop publication posted a photo of set times as proof that the mopey Canadian Drake would get a full 15 minutes to show off new material. Neither of those panned out, but Mariah Carey's hints that she'd perform the slinky "Beautiful" with Miguel did; her fellow “American Idol” alum Nicki Minaj, who last year bailed on her headlining slot after getting wind that Hot 97 morning-show host Peter Rosenberg had taken her to task for being too pop, accompanied 2 Chainz on "I Love Dem Strippers" and threw down a bit of her own "Beez In The Trap."
By far, though, the biggest surprise guest was New York’s Papoose, a Brooklyn-born MC best known in the past few years for snagging a pricey major-label deal. (He released his debut “The Nacirema Dream” in March.) After Lamar left the stage, he appeared, performed the confrontational "Get At Me," and left the stage in a blink. This morning on Hot 97, Rosenberg revealed that he knew about Papoose's cameo, and that it was Lamar's idea, inspired by a relationship the two MCs had forged years ago.
After Papoose's exit, French Montana closed the show with an extremely brief set; according to tweets from Hot 97 program director Ebro Darden, the New Jersey State Police and MetLife Stadium officials shut the show down about 20 minutes before its scheduled end time because of electrical storms. Rain began to fall near the end of Rocky's set, and lightning had been striking in the distance while Lamar was on stage, heightening the drama of his stripped-down performance. Despite only spending about nine minutes on stage, though, Montana managed to bring out Ace Hood and DJ Khaled for the thunderous "Bugatti" and, in the performance that closed out the evening, was joined by Miami kingpin Rick Ross and a hyperactive Lil Wayne for "Pop That." Confetti fell as the boldfaced names converged on stage, signaling the end of the five-hour show.
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