It made sense that Summer Jam 2015 took place at MetLife Stadium this year. At its peak, it was kind of like the Giants. Even though their home is New Jersey, they’re all New York.
That’s an aspect that’s been a crutch for Hot 97. The station’s best on-air personalities (Angie Martinez, Mister Cee, Star & Buc Wild, etc.) have left, and its current prestige has fallen in favor of Power 105’s Most Dangerous Morning Show. But Hot 97 is still Hot 97 because Summer Jam is still a major draw. Plus, it will always be New York’s hip-hop station, which permanently places it within the city’s respectable lineage.
That said, it’s a special thing that Fabolous surprisingly had this year’s best set. Very few saw “Fabolous & Friends” and thought that it would be more memorable than whatever Kendrick Lamar and Meek Mill had in store. You see that and think maybe you’ll hear “Breathe” and Tamia might start trending because “Into You.”
And that would’ve been cool: people still like “Into You.” But we didn’t get “Into You,” or “Breathe” or “Make Me Better.” Fabolous came out in all white — with a Knicks jersey, too, because he’s from New York — and busted out “Lituation” before bringing out Black Rob to do “Whoa.” The words “Woo hah” appeared on the Summer Jam screen and Busta Rhymes — also in all white, but with more girth underneath — strolled on to the stage and performed a piece of “Woo Hah!!! (Got You All in Check).” What followed was something better than “Breathe.”
Fabolous let late ’90s New York take the stage: Raekwon, Method Man, Redman, Remy Ma, Fat Joe, The LOX and others came through for the raucous thousands in attendance. A criticism with New York hip-hop is the illusionary idea that back-in-the-day raps are the standard. This set could’ve been wide open to that criticism if it had not been creative. It had the momentum and fluidity of a relay race with bars and jewelry instead of spikes and jerseys. Busta Rhymes did “Ante Up,” which segued into a Remy Ma’s appearance, to which MetLife rioted. Remy Ma flipped it to “Lean Back,” which brought Fat Joe into the mix. Even more impressive: Mobb Deep (featuring Prodigy in a fedora and jorts) did “Shook Ones II” before flipping it to the “Quiet Storm (Remix)” for Lil Kim to shimmy into the stage, “Get Money” moved to “Money Power Respect” for The LOX to swing through, Styles P and Jadakiss’ “We Gonna Make It” was still triumphant, but it didn’t distract from the faint Bad Boy connection that allowed Ma$e to swing through in his anachronistic, black-and-white suit.
This was great for obvious reasons: look at who performed and what they performed. But what made this even more impressive was that sense of familial connection that threaded through it all. Lil Kim was jeered during her set at last year’s The Source 360 appearance (but she did shoot herself in the foot by coming out with a Nicki Minaj diss). Here, she had a place just like everyone on that stage.
Meek Mill, the headliner, was a couple of notches down, but he was electrifying. The come-up narrative — both his own and other African-Americans in the struggle — is an operative piece of his anthems and persona. With that in mind, you have to marvel a bit about how much of a star Meek Mill has become. Nicki Minaj and Big Sean were mere add-ons; the crowd was Meek’s throughout most of the performance. “House Party” and “Levels” have ran their courses in the clubs long ago, but somehow Meek Mill used them to will the crowd into a frenzy. Future wasn’t a necessary surprise guest, but definitely a welcome one: “S**t” was an immediate turn-up, “Trap N***as” is clearly (and very audibly) welcomed in New York and “Commas” was what you ought to expect. There was a point to it all, though. As the crowd respectfully put their lighted screens in the air before “March Madness,” they were reminded this is also for the folks who didn’t make to that particular moment. And it’s also for those who were there, watching a Philly kid with cornrows grow to watch his greatest song go a cappella and still get chanted by thousands.
The other two rap acts—Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean— were just half past decent. They got an OK response, but you get the sense that rappers of their caliber should be more charismatic. Lamar performed a few joints from To Pimp A Butterfly, but the set as a whole wasn’t as sharp as the song that opened it — “The Blacker The Berry.” It was staid, whether he was rolling through “Poetic Justice” or interrupting SZA‘s vocals on “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” “Alright” worked as a closer, though. It was fun enough to even bring Ab-Soul out of hiding (Welvin Da Great and E-40 made appearances, too).
Big Sean was a bit more of slog partly because he kept throwing on songs that he was merely guest on. “All Me” worked, but no one checks for him on the “I Don’t Like” remix or “Clique.” The smoothness of “Play No Games” was blown by the overloud instrumentals. Both Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar were average, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort— they were spitting those bars, and they were hype. That was kind of their undoing, too— being simply happy to be here.
R&B has been boring in 2015. It didn’t come to life at Summer Jam. The crowd’s cheers during Jhene Aiko‘s “Post To Be” verse made it clear she was the star of Omarion‘s set— and Jhene Aiko wasn’t even there. Ty Dolla $ign was pretty much Summer Jam 2014, sans DJ Mustard plus a grinning Wiz Khalifa. Chris Brown got so much love at last year’s Summer Jam, when he was incarcerated. So it’s weird that his set was so forgettable. He brought out 50 Cent and G-Unit, who performed “What Up Gangsta?,” an instant adrenaline boost. But G-Unit was already a surprise last year. French Montana came out and did his French Montana shtick. But everything about that set felt obligatory, from “Ayo!” to bringing out the New York-repping cats.
Trey Songz was cool, but perhaps too measured. Backed by a live band and sensual dancers, he performed his usual hits: “Na Na,” “Slow Motion” and “Dive In.” He knew what the crowd wanted and was a professional about it. And the set was predictable. You could be blind and probably be able to tell the exact moment when Songz inevitably took his shirt off thanks to the ladies in the audience. He even gave a parting smile. It’s the Trey Songz you pay for. Nothing more, nothing less.
Meek Mill should’ve closed the concert, but it looked like some disorganization took place. As a result, Troy Ave and Fetty Wap closed the show by sharing time in a 10-minute epilogue set. Camera shutters silenced and cell phone lights dimmed during Troy Ave’s minutes-long appearance.
Fetty Wap, noticeably annoyed by whatever led to his paltry set time (although he did perform on the Festival Stage), capped Summer Jam. They cut him off before he got to do “Trap Queen.” But there are better things in store for him. He opened with “My Way,” and you’d think it’s a ubiquitous hit by the way everyone was shouting back the hook. He’s a star in a making in a concert that showed the older ones still burned.
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