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Make no mistake—headlining a multi-artist show like Summer Jam is no prize. Just ask the leathery Snoop Dogg, janitor for this year’s decidedly untheatrical proceedings, fighting the three-fourths of the crowd who up and left before he hit “Gin & Juice,” and the powers that be who cut him off before he could do “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”

Really, though, the show ended hours earlier, after frantic, unhinged, vibrant early sets from Dip Set and D-Block. With the rest of the bill from out of town, and the other hometown stars besieged, retired, or dead, the ragtag troupes from, respectively, Harlem and Yonkers had the locals’ hearts all to themselves. “We don’t usually get opportunities like this,” Cam’ron said—humbled, not at all indignant. Whoa.

Maybe he and guest Paul Wall were hitting the syrup backstage with Kanye West, also a click or three off his normal bombast. Or perhaps West realized that he was bound to get trumped by his guest—Jay-Z—so why even bother? Jigga’s five minutes were majestic, a lesson on tasteful arrogance to West and a benediction to a crowd thirsting for a time when their town mattered.

Oddly, though, the person who repped hardest for New York was the one who wasn’t quite sure he was welcome. Shielding himself with a David Wright jersey, his son (named Harlem), and the taken-in-vain name of Biggie Smalls, The Game quite eagerly tested the premise that a paying crowd will root for whoever is put onstage before it. “Sing that shit,” Game instructed during the 50 Cent-rapped chorus of “How We Do.” “That’s your man. Help that nigga out.”

Last year, Summer Jam was unkind to 50, between the chairs thrown onstage by his Queens foes and the deafening indifference offered up by the rest of the crowd. But is the spurned child any better than the deadbeat dad? In between “G-G-G-G-U-NOT!” taunts (with accompanying T-shirts), Game looked sad, hurt, lonely. By making sure the crowd hated him, he never had to stop long enough to figure out if he could be loved.