You know those new subway ads with drawings of Hot 97 DJs standing next to rappers? Those drawings are really bad.
Last year’s Summer Jam was my first, and I’m pretty sure it was also the first Summer Jam in recent memory that didn’t result in any big stories. It used to be that every major rap beef would stop or start or evolve to the next level at Summer Jam; the Jay/Nas and Game/G-Unit stories both had their defining moments there. Before last year’s show, there were all sorts of rumors that Cam’ron would be launching some huge broadside against Jay-Z, but it never happened. The Diplomats closed out the show with a chaotic and disinterested set, and most people in the crowd was already on their way to the parking lot before Cam even stepped onstage. Summer Jam is also notorious for surprise collaborations, famous artists bringing more famous artists onstage with them. Last year was also pretty weak for that; the two most famous guests were Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, and neither one of them even sang; they just walked onstage and sort of waved at everyone during Jermaine Dupri’s set. The biggest moment probably came when Busta Rhymes brought out a dazzling succession of New York legends (Wu-Tang, Rakim, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Q-Tip) and then had someone crown him King of New York. It was pretty ridiculous at the time, and it’s even more so a year later, now that Busta’s just the King of Getting Arrested for Really Stupid Reasons in New York. I had a lot of fun at the show last year, but it wasn’t quite the world-altering event I was hoping for. I don’t know whether last year was an aberration or whether the show has changed for good. I’m still totally excited to go see this year’s show on Sunday, but the potential for major drama is pretty low. Most of rap’s current headline-grabbers (G-Unit, Dipset, Kanye, Jay-Z) aren’t even on the bill, and the actual performers don’t look all that likely to pull any massive stunts. Still, I thought it would be fun to take a look at this year’s lineup and make some halfassed predictions and observations.
Ludacris. As far as I know, this is the first high-profile show Luda’s done since he officially made the leap to mainstream fame and credibility: cutting his hair, showing up in prestige-heavy movies, that sort of thing. In a way, then, his mere presence on this bill is almost enough of a publicity stunt, sort of like how Jamie Foxx did his first-ever New York show at last year’s Summer Jam. I guess there’s some chance that he’ll decide to advance his long-simmering beef with T.I., but that just seems really unlikely; he’s working too hard to make soccer-moms like him to jeopardize all that with a trifling rap beef. I guess there’s some minor intrigue in Chingy recently renouncing his beef with Ludacris and returning to the DTP record label, but no one gives a fuck about Chingy anymore. I’m guessing Mary J. Blige will show up for “Runaway Love,” but that won’t be much of a surprise. It’s worth noting that T.I., the biggest rapper on last year’s bill, didn’t do anything much notable; he didn’t even get to do “What You Know” before the soundman cut him off. Instead, he just put on a really good show. I’ve never seen Luda live before, and I’m kind of hoping he does the same thing.
Akon. This guy has been absolutely dominating virtually every radio format lately, so it makes sense that the station would’ve asked him to do the show. Still, it’s hard to imagine a more anonymous and unassuming superstar; you can be good and certain that Akon won’t be launching any beefs or humping any (more) 14-year-olds. And judging by his TV appearances, Akon really isn’t much of a live singer. Still, it’ll be fun to hear a whole stadium full of kids singing along with “Don’t Matter.”
Chris Brown with Lil Wayne and Birdman. This is just weird. Lil Wayne is the hottest rapper in the known universe right now, and he still only gets to do Summer Jam as the guest of a kiddie-pop R&B singer? And he has to share space with useless-ass Birdman? It doesn’t make sense. I know he’s showed up on a couple of remixes, but beyond that, what does Wayne even have to do with Chris Brown? Admittedly, kids absolutely love Chris Brown, and he put on one of the more polished performances at last year’s show. And maybe the Hot 97 staff doesn’t want to give Wayne too much stage-time for fear that he’ll start pulling out mixtape freestyles or advocating peyote use or something. I’m still expecting something of a trainwreck here.
Diddy with Keyshia Cole and Elephant Man. Speaking of trainwrecks! Actually, this should be fun. Elephant Man puts on a really, really entertaining show, and I’m half-expecting Diddy to just do “Last Night” and then get out of the way. There’s also some chance that this’ll just turn into a Bad Boy showcase, which I’m not sure anyone wants to see; Yung Joc and Cassie both have their places, but neither one of them is really bursting with stadium-rocking potential. I’d be pretty amped if this somehow led to Young Jeezy reuniting with Boyz N Da Hood for a song or two, but that is so not going to happen.
Ne-Yo. I like this guy, but he’s sort of trapped between Chris Brown/Scream Tour teenybopper territory and grown-up loverman R&B, and his set last year didn’t really find a comfortable medium. His new album implies that he’s leaning more toward the grown-up stuff, but that stuff doesn’t really play at Summer Jam unless you’re Mary J. Blige, so I hope he’s been working on his dance moves. Of the acts on the bill, he’s also most likely to bring out Jay-Z, and I can’t see Jay going two years without showing up at Summer Jam.
Ciara. Ciara definitely has at least a half-hour’s worth of big hits, and most of those hits are also good songs, which is a bonus. But her voice is a thin little chirp, the sort of thing that has to be camouflaged for it to work. On a big stage like this, it’ll probably get lost. Also, there’s a very real possibility that she’ll bring out Jazze Pha, which is just scary. I’m more excited about the prospect of Ciara and Lil Wayne being in the same building; do you think she’s heard his “Promise” freestyle yet?
Young Jeezy. Anyone who’s been reading this blog regularly knows that I love Jeezy, but his set at last year’s show was an absolute mess: a bunch of dudes yelling incoherently over familiar beats, no charisma, no chemistry, no commitment. Since then, though, he’s headlined an actual arena tour, so maybe he’s gotten better onstage. I’m also hoping he doesn’t give up too much stage-time to Slick Pulla and Bloodraw. I guess R. Kelly could show up here, too, but that’s a longshot.
Mims. Uh, what? This guy has one song! I can’t even remember the title to his second single! It’ll be fun to hear “This Is Why I’m Hot,” but there’s no way Mims deserves a spot on this bill. The only way this set will be any good is if he brings out the Shop Boyz and Lil Mama and turns it into a sort of summit-meeting of kiddie-rappers with only one hit. (I like Lil Mama and the Shop Boyz; I’m just saying.)
Swizz Beatz. I read some interview where Swizz said that he wouldn’t be bringing out any guests. I hope he’s bluffing; otherwise, the best we could hope for is Swizz doing “It’s Me, Bitches” five times in a row and then leaving.
Rich Boy. Rich Boy’s album is really good! He still only has two hits. I’m thinking that this will be the set that starts at like 5 p.m., when people are still finding their seats; that’s how I ended up missing Three 6 Mafia last year.
T-Pain. T-Pain might bring out Yung Joc or Mike Jones, but the most intriguing subplot here is what the fuck he’s going to do onstage by himself. Will he sing in his actual voice, or will he bring a vocoder onstage? Between Akon, Ciara, and T-Pain, this is going to be a robot-voice hall of fame; it’s a shame Roger Troutman didn’t live to see this day.