WHAT Hot 97 Summer Jam
WHEN | WHERE 6:30 p.m. Sunday, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
INFO $74-$250; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
For the past 24 years, Hot 97 Summer Jam has been synonymous with hip-hop. And this year will be no different.
What is different this year, though, is hip-hop. Last year, it became the most popular musical genre in America for the first time. Rapper Kanye West recently drew international headlines for calling President Donald Trump his “brother” and injecting himself into serious political debates. And last month, just hours before he took the stage at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper — and first popular-culture figure, really — to receive the Pulitzer Prize for music.
“That was a huge moment for hip-hop,” says Ebro Darden, host of Hot 97’s daily show “Ebro in the Morning.” “It’s just part of an amazing period in his career. But it shows that he has transcended culture. He has transcended art. He is being honored for his ability to think and communicate. He is being honored by the scholarly world. That is just amazing.”
And it speaks to the ongoing power of Hot 97 that the station could secure Lamar as the headliner for Summer Jam, even though he is in the middle of his own tour as part of Top Dawg Entertainment’s “Championship Tour.” Lil Wayne is also on this year’s bill, as are Swizz Beatz, A$AP Ferg and Remy Ma. Meek Mill will also make his set at Summer Jam one of his first shows following his release from prison for a probation violation. “He is part of the current conversation around mass incarceration,” says Darden. “But Summer Jam has always been part of the cultural conversation.”
The difference between now and when Summer Jam first started, though, is that more people are listening. When it launched in 1994, the station had trouble finding a New York City venue to host it because hip-hop concerts weren’t known for regularly drawing major crowds, so it held it at the then Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. By the time it reached its 10th anniversary, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Eminem and Snoop Dogg had already headlined the event and Summer Jam had grown so big it moved to then Giants Stadium. The practice of bringing on surprise guests — including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and entire crews — began to influence appearances at hip-hop awards shows.
Darden says he isn’t convinced that hip-hop became the most popular genre in America just last year.
“I think it’s a change in the way things are being measured,” he says. “They are looking at more true consumption, rather than just radio and album sales. . . . When you look at what is popular and pushing culture, it’s been hip-hop for a while.”
Part of what has made Summer Jam such an enduring part of hip-hop is the emphasis it has always put on developing stars.
“We are about cultivating the culture and really giving people opportunities,” says TT Torrez, Hot 97’s music director and curator of the “Who’s Next” stage at Summer Jam, the preshow festival stage where up-and-coming acts get to perform. “It’s a way to help people who have grinded to get to this point and then help them build their story.”
Lamar started on the “Who’s Next” stage, as did this year’s Summer Jam main-stage performer A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. And Torrez expects big things from this year’s “Who’s Next” stage performers, especially Jay Critch and Famous Dex.
“It’s amazing to see how hip-hop has evolved over the years,” Torrez says. “It makes me so proud. This started as a down-low music from the ghetto. Now, there are so many people paying respect to hip-hop. This is our celebration.”
Darden says celebration remains a major part of Summer Jam’s legacy.
“It has always been a party — a big party for the tristate and a big part of hip-hop,” he says. “Summer Jam is great for New York City, where hip-hop was created. That makes us different from the rest of the country. That’s really what we want to celebrate.”
Torrez says Summer Jam’s growth reflects what has happened to hip-hop.
“The music is undeniable music,” she says. “It’s there if you want to have fun. It’s there if you want to be intellectually challenged. It’s so accessible for everyone.”
SUMMER JAM HEAT
Hot 97’s Summer Jam has had so many memorable moments over the past 25 years that people argue about them the way they argue about Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James. There was Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy crew’s tribute in 1997 to the late Notorious B.I.G., who had his own powerful moment in 1995. There was Eminem smashing his award from The Source onstage in 2003 in the midst of his beef with the hip-hop magazine. And last year, Remy Ma brought together many of hip-hop’s greatest female rappers, including Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Cardi B and Monie Love, in a show of solidarity.
But one moment does seem to get mentioned more than most: That time The King of Pop joined Jay-Z at Nassau Coliseum.
WHAT Following his performance of “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” which samples The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” Jay-Z announced "I know Michael Jackson better come from behind that [expletive] curtain." The King of Pop didn’t perform, but he did tell the crowd, “I love you all.”
HOW They had secretly been working together, though that wasn’t known until years later. Jay-Z recorded a verse for the remix of Jackson’s “You Rock My World” and Jackson worked on Jay’s “Girls, Girls, Girls,” though he wanted his contribution to be uncredited.
THE REACTION Because this was before the smartphone era, there is no publicly available video of the event, and that has just added to its legend. However, those who lived it will not forget. “He got up and he walked out and the place went mental,” Jay-Z told the NME in 2009. “Guys were just grabbing their hats and throwing them like, ‘Aiiiiiiiiiieeeeee!’ ” — GLENN GAMBOA