If I were a rapper and somehow I managed to land a coveted spot on the main stage of SummerJam one day, I’d take more pointers from Nicki Minaj’s performance this year than I would, say, 50 Cent’s set.
Whereas the 2013 incarnation of Hot 97’s annual festival was marred by poor microphones, set times that went over their allotted time (which lead to French Montana having his own performance cut short after roughly 15 minutes) and torrential thunderstorms, the 2014 version was highlighted by Action Bronson literally interacting with the audience by nimbly hopping into the crowd to perform “Strictly For My Jeeps” (while barefoot, natch), an unofficial tribute to Chris Brown via half of the headliners performing several of his tracks throughout the show (ironically he would be freed from prison the day after the concert), and 50 Cent, well, being 50 Cent.
Last year I sat within the stage, crammed in between glut of stale weed smoke, too-expensive and extra-unhealthy stadium food and, of course, random acts of violence between concertgoers. Good times actually, up until the moment where we all got doused by a thunderstorm and stampeded toward the exits. This year I was perched in a press box (quite possibly the only time I’ll ever be in one of those rooms in MetLife Stadium), safely above the crowd watching all of the anarchy happen. While the earlier parts of SummerJam – which included Troy Ave bringing out T.I. during his performance of “Your Style” (he is slated to be on the remix, which should drop sooner than later), Wiz Khalifa delivering a rockstar-esque performance while guests Snoop Dogg and Ty Dolla $ign helped him out, The Roots taking us on an award tour of vintage live hip-hop, some random fan so slumped over in seat asleep during Trey Songz’ set that he actually slid out of his chair and had to be hoisted back up by his friends, and Nas performing Illmatic before bringing out Meek Mill and French Montana – went rather smoothly, it wasn’t until the stage was handed over to 50 Cent was that, to paraphrase the immortal Jim Ross, business picked up.
Curtis came with his usual assortment of friends, hangers-on, security and goons to perform tracks both new and old, but it wasn’t until Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and Young Buck – the original G-Unit – joined him onstage to perform various mixtape tracks and album cuts, marking the first time in years that they’ve all performed together. What should have been a celebratory moment quickly turned, unfortunately, into a random act of violence. Look, I don’t know what really happened, and I don’t personally know any of the parties involved. I just know that the whirling dervish that went down behind 50 disrupted the debut of Fabolous’ “Cuffin’ Season” remix with Curtis, and subsequently sapped the energy out of what what supposed to be a momentous occasion.
After the stage cleared and noise quieted down, Nicki Minaj took the stage two years removed from yet another SummerJam fiasco and – in a stark contrast to 50’s set – largely alone, save for her DJ and cameos from Lil Herb, Young Thug, Soulja Boy, Drake and Lil Wayne, the entire time having the crowd in the palm of her hand. All aspiring rappers should have watched her set and take notes on how to properly control a crowd.
Unfortunately, after the YMCMB takeover a good chunk of the crowd headed for the exits (also known as the “Beat The Traffic Crowd”), ultimately missing a great set by DJ Mustard, YG, Kid Ink, A$AP Ferg, Ty Dolla $ign (again) and Young Jeezy.
At this point not much will really surprise you at a SummerJam concert, so when something unexpected does happen it’s actually quite refreshing. The biggest surprise for me? It didn’t rain at all, and I ran into an old friend who was gracious enough to give me a ride back into New York City. Now that’s a flourish.
* Special thanks to Hot 97, as well as Fasho, for providing the pictures.