Hot 97 Summer Jam:
Nicki Minaj, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, J. Cole, Wale, Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, Waka Flocka, Trey Songz, Maino, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, French Montana, Mavado, Tyga, Slaughterhouse (and Nas and Lauryn Hill)
Sunday, June 3
Better than: Seeing a Nicki Minaj concert.
In an era of increasing separation and ever-tinier attention spans, it’s almost quaint to celebrate a tradition like Hot 97’s Summer Jam with 60,000 of your closest friends.
Each year, Summer Jam means a sunny early afternoon heading over to the Meadowlands, the constant threat of rain during the afternoon hours, a few rap songs here and there with rappers featuring other rappers, walking into a chilly night leaving the show, and general ratchetness in the parking lot before, during, and after the concert.
Oh, and drama! Plenty of drama—which, in the years since Jay-Z vs. Nas evaporated, has turned into yawn vs. shrug.
The 2012 version, held last night at MetLife Stadium, promised nothing but radio-ready anthems from the biggest rappers around, from French Montana to Waka Flocka, from J.Cole to Wale to the headliner, Nicki Minaj! As usual, the audience was alive with predictions of who would grace the stage as surprise guests. But frankly, if one was looking for a fight, the best hope would be for Rick Ross and Young Jeezy’s extended families’ families to run into each other in the parking lot.
And things started out according to plan! The last real New York rapper, Maino, ran around the stage like a fire was chasing him, performing “Hi Hater,” “All the Above,” and “A Million Bucks”; he brought out M.O.P. for their ode to robbery “Ante Up,” as well as super-producer Swizz Beatz and the young people’s champ, A$AP Rocky.
The powerhouse collective Slaughterhouse ran through both solo efforts (Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up”; Joell Ortiz’s “Nissan, Honda, Chevy”) and songs off their upcoming full-length, Welcome to Our House, masterfully, and with many syllables, backing up a hoarse Budden’s boasts of being “four of the best rappers in the universe.”
In a totally different universe, yet on the same stage, Young Money team member Tyga was just beginning his set when word started to spread that dark clouds were in fact hovering the stadium, and it was about to rain drama: Nicki Minaj and the rest of her Young Money family had left the building for good. (Save Tyga, who stayed in the building for not-so-good.)
Nicki and her immediate boss, Lil Wayne, had apparently taken great offense to Peter Rosenberg, one-third of Hot 97’s morning show, taking a dig at Nicki’s most recent venture into pop music on the Summer Jam festival stage earlier in the afternoon. Word got back to Nicki, Wayne pulled the plug, and Rosenberg’s name immediately became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.
So while Waka Flocka joyfully jumped into general admission and J. Cole was polished and triumphant in his return to New York City, Minaj was on Twitter, leading a charge against Rosenberg for referring to her song “Spaceships” as not-quite-rap specifically, and speaking his mind generally. She said that she was following orders from Wayne, and that no one from their camp would support Summer Jam. Worse still, Young Money yes man Jae Millz chimed in on Twitter, chiding Rosenberg for not being black and hinting that the Summer Jam situation would cost Rosenberg his job.
Back on stage, Young Jeezy and Big Sean each stole the show. Jeezy, who literally skipped out to the microphone stand, showed more personality than ever before and dominated his set as if he had a chip on his shoulder. In total control, Jeezy interacted with the crowd and spit his classics, none bigger than the 2 Chainz-assisted “Supafreak.” Throughout his set, Jeezy prowled the stage with so much swag, he brought the word “swag” back to life.
Big Sean ingratiated himself to the Summer Jam crowd by performing “Ass,” “My Last,” and “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay.” He even introduced his proud mother to New York City, but that couldn’t top the reaction to Sean, 2 Chainz, and Pusha T rapping to “Mercy,” off the upcoming G.O.O.D. Music album.
With Nicki Minaj’s performance slot fast approaching, and no clear answer from the Twitter gods on what exactly would happen, the patriarch of the Hot 97 family, Funkmaster Flex, took over the turntables and microphone and reassured everyone paying attention whose side of the Rosenberg vs. Nicki Minaj drama, Hot 97 would lend their support to.
“We don’t give a fuck about you if you’re commercial and pop and afraid to touch down in Jersey,” Flex growled. He continued, “We ain’t fucking with commercial rappers no more. You don’t go gold, it’s all your fault. I’m dedicated to tearing you down. I’m gonna show you, Ma Ma. You think you didn’t sell any records, this time…”
Hot 97, and by extension Summer Jam, is the House That Flex Built, and in Nicki’s haste to leave the house, she forgot the most important thing: her show.
So the amazing surprises that Nicki had in store for her set still happened, just without her set, and the Summer Jam crowd got something they didn’t even think they’d be paying for: a full performance by New York legend Nas, with the reclusive genius and former Fugee Lauryn Hill guesting.
Seeing Nasty Nas saunter the stage to “Made You Look” and “Hate Me Now” and Lauryn rapping “Lost Ones,” and singing “Ready or Not,” and together teaming up for “If I Ruled the World,” all with former Hot 97 DJ Green Lantern spinning the records, brought an intense sense of nostalgia, as well as true pride in the music that made Hot 97 what it is today.
And hearing Nas say through a huge smile, “Things turn around and we’re back on this stage like we never left,” should have reminded everyone that in 2002 he was in Minaj’s shoes; that year, he chose to boycott Summer Jam and run to the competition.
But the fact is, last night, while Nas and Lauryn Hill were basking in the glow of New York City’s clear skies and unconditional love, not very many people in the stadium cared about why Nas left in 2002, Lauryn’s ability to hit notes, or where Nicki was.
Critical bias: I’m a friend of Peter Rosenberg, his brother, his fiance, and his dog, and as a hip-hop sketch comedian myself, I wholeheartedly think that comedians and personalities should be able to freely speak their minds.
Overheard: “If you love New York City, put a middle finger in the air!” – DJ Bobby Trends, getting the audience involved.
Random notebook dump: Normally, Summer Jam is all about who might show up, instead of who might not show up.
Random notebook dump II: NICKI LOSES.