Yesterday’s Hot 97 Summer Jam started with an unusual occurrence that doesn’t happen very often — it didn’t rain. Often joked about by attendees and even staff over the years, gloomy skies parted as thousands descended onto MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey to see their favorite acts take the iconic Summer Jam stage. A staple in East Coast music, Hot 97’s concert line-up for this year stuck to a formula it knows best: hip hop and R&B’s latest hitmakers, as well as surprise guests who steal the show (but are hardly considered “surprises”), all under one roof for a curated experience. Despite the routine marquee and buildup for the show, this year’s Summer Jam proved that, when applied correctly, the formula Hot 97 knows best can be a success.
With the main stage not opening until 6 PM, crowds of adoring fans surrounded the parking lots filled with food trucks and tailgate-styled BBQ, as the aroma of marijuana could be smelt in the air. Running just about on time, the Festival Stage called showtime around 3:30 PM starting with “Who’s Next?” a 20 minute lineup of up-and-coming artists generally from the NY/NJ area. Unfortunately, it’s usually a set that is overlooked (aside from the few teens and young adults who are eager to bask in the holy rap glory of the day). After that was Girl Codee, a duo from New York whose freestyle over the Busta Rhymes classic “Put Ya Hands Where My Eyes Can See” went viral a few summers ago.
Baby Face Ray and NLE Choppa later took to the stage with slightly forgettable performances, while Drewski and Friends’ first half of their set had the festival crowd energized partly thanks to rising East Orange rapper Lady London, who performed crowd favorite “Lisa’s Story.” Of all the next-up acts to touch the stage, Lady London and Nardo Wick (who also performed alongside Lil Dark for his hit record “Who Want Smoke??”) took the win for potential show openers for next year’s main stage. For the remainder of their set, Drewski and Friends went full drill, amping the crowd up for the surprise appearance of Cardi B with Dougie B and B-Lovee to perform “Shake It.” Following that was a late Saucy Santana who was allotted five minutes to perform for his new single “Booty” and fan-favorite “Walk.” By the time Cordae hit the Summer Jam Festival Stage with a proclamation that he’ll be headlining the Main Stage in the next five years, folks were already departing through security to settle in for the main event.
Over the course of the next five-hour musical display, Summer Jam’s mission was simple: promote the idea of Protecting Black Art and stick to the blueprint that — for the last 25 years — has maintained its status as the summer rap event of the East Coast. Here are five of the most memorable moments from Summer Jam 2022.
JT and Yung Miami prove that the ladies in rap are the heavy-hitters
With the response to Cardi B and Saucy Santana, the representation of women and the LGBTQ community in rap was evident. However, nothing displayed this more than the power of the City Girls. Introduced by Ebro, Peter Rosenberg, and Laura Stylez, JT and Yung Miami set the Summer Jam stage ablaze with hit after hit. “Act Up,” “Twerkulator,” “Jobs,” and “Where The Bag At” were just some of the songs in their hit-filled setlist that kept the ladies standing on their chairs, mimicking choreography, and knowing each and every word of JT and Yung Miami’s verses. The City Girls’ performance was a testament to their increased work ethic and being undeniable superstars.
Hip-hop’s stance on “Protecting Black Art”
From the beginning of the day, Hot 97 took full responsibility with addressing the elephant in the room in the recent arrests of Young Thug, Gunna, and multiple members of YSL. Signs and shirts in green text that read “Protect Black Art” could be seen from the parking lot to inside the arena and backstage. Throughout the night, many acts took to the stage to proclaim “Free YSL”; even a video featuring Kevin Liles, Post Malone, London on Da Track, Nav, and G Herbo speaking on the use of Rap lyrics in policing hip-hop artists by the government was shown. The video’s direct addressing of the issues at hand silenced the crowd before Young Thug’s voice echoed throughout the packed stadium, bringing legions of fans to yell “Free YSL.” In the short audio, Thug thanked his friends, family, and fans for their support, and urged them to sign the petition to Protect Black Art. Following Thug’s short but impassioned message, Meek Mill also took to the stage to address the matter, stating that rappers should be allowed to express their experiences without being persecuted by the law.
The Drama King was in the building
In a touching tribute to the legendary producer DJ Kay Slay, The Lox, Dipset (consisting of Jim Jones and Juelz Santana), Busta Rhymes and more took to the stage to pay homage to the man who played an integral part in their success and evolution in music. Busta began the set with the monster hit “Touch It” before being joined by Papoose and Remy Ma, who ran through their verses from “Touch It” and “Ante Up,” respectively. Fat Joe also came out for “Lean Back” — a mega-hit that never fails at Summer Jam — but it was Jadakiss’ rendition of his Verzuz freestyle to “Who Shot Ya?” and Jim Jones’ classic “We Fly High” that spoke volumes to the sobering loss and presence of Slay, as phones lit the stadium in honor of the late veteran.
Lil Durk remains the voice of the people
When Durk’s DJ yelled out to the crowd that “the voice” was here, he never lied. Lil Durk’s presence never appeared larger than it did yesterday at Summer Jam. Despite having Meek Mill, French Montana and Nardo Wick as surprise guests, it was Durk’s musical catalog that kept the audience in high demand for more. Running through hits “Hellcats & Trackhawks,” “Still Runnin,” “Home Body,” “Who Want Smoke??” and “What Happened To Virgil,” Durk’s set proved just why he remains the voice of the people.
Fivio Foreign crowns himself King of New York
Alicia Keys’ voice rang throughout the stadium from speakers blaring “City of Gods” as Fivio emerged on the stage with a crown and cape that read “King of New York.” The only entrance that possibly could have rivaled that was last year’s performance by A Boogie, who wanted to drop down from a helicopter onto the Summer Jam stage (but the weather didn’t permit it). For the last two years since Pop Smoke’s untimely passing, it seems that the various rap kings of NY are willing to duke it out for the title — or at least claim it themselves — and Fivio’s message as the headliner was clear.
Fivio’s declaration was backed by the thousands of fans who didn’t miss a verse or ad-lib by the Brooklyn rapper. Every “grrt” and “bow” was hit to sonic perfection as Fivio glided through his radio domineering hits: “Demons,” “What’s My Name,” and “Wetty” to name a few. With appearances from Coi Leray, Rowdy Rebel for “Computers,” and Chloe Bailey for “Hello,” the “Big Drip” rapper left Summer Jam on an unforgettable note.
On-scene reporting by Anthony Cosme
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