What's the Future of Hot 97's Summer Jam After the Mayhem?

Tyson Trish/The Record of Bergen County via AP

State Police respond to disturbances outside the MetLife Stadium where Summer Jam Hot 97 concert was held in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday, June 7, 2015. Crowds on Sunday night became upset when the gates were closed and blocked off by police in riot gear.

It was billed as "the hottest hip-hop event of the year." But as the tear gas cleared outside MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on the night of June 7, Hot 97's 2015 Summer Jam was sparking headlines of a different kind: "61 Arrested; 11 State Troopers Injured."

While a reported 50,000 fans inside the stadium cheered on a lineup that included Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj and Big Sean, outside, New Jersey state police in riot gear were quelling what superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes described as a "brief and volatile situation." He said in a statement, "A small group of highly disruptive people ruined this concert for many others. Our troopers took the appropriate steps to restore order."

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By most accounts, the melee began after a number of ticketless patrons for the sold-out concert scaled the fence or pushed through the gates behind legitimate ticket-holders to gain entry. The gates were subsequently closed, shutting out many ticket-holders who had traveled from all over the country for the concert. Some crowd members threw bottles at police, who responded with tear gas and pepper spray; armored vehicles were deployed to control the crowd. This was not the first time violence has marred Hot 97's annual rite of summer: In 2014, 51 attendees were arrested; in 1999, ticketless fans threw bottles and CDs after being denied entry; in 2000, state police pepper-sprayed fans attempting to use bolt cutters to get inside. But none of those incidents involved tear gas or armored vehicles.

"If people try to jump the gate and rush police, yes I'm shutting it down," Hot 97 personality Ebro Darden wrote on Instagram after the incident. "We don't know if those people have weapons or their intentions." (Representatives for Hot 97 owner Emmis Communications, New Jersey State Police, MetLife Stadium and Summer Jam producer Trevanna Entertainment declined Billboard's requests for comment.)

Darden blamed the violence on "a few idiots." But Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, says, "This had a context: Coming in the middle of a recent cascade of police violence, Summer Jam was a place for those frustrations to be played out."

Insiders say there's little doubt the festival will return, albeit with heightened security and organization. Whether all the sponsors -- which in 2015 included Pepsi, McDonald's, Ciroc and Nutrament -- remain onboard is another matter. "Pepsi has been a longtime partner of Hot 97 and sponsor of the Summer Jam event," the company said in a statement to Billboard. "Like all partnerships, we continually evaluate to ensure we meet ROI and brand objectives." A festival producer with extensive sponsorship experience warns, "A lot of factors go into this, and sponsors need to be aware of who's producing an event before they sign on."

Summer Jam Chaos Prompts Several Arrests Outside N.J. Concert

At any such event, "In-house security should be prevalent at the gates -- not the police," says Chang Weisberg, CEO of Guerilla Union, which produces the Rock the Bells festival. "Any time you allow law enforcement to be your ambassadors, it heightens the possibility that there will be a different type of interaction."

Additional reporting by Jem Aswad and Hillary Coker Crosley.

This story originally appeared in the June 20 issue of Billboard.


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