Every year, Hot 97’s 2015 Summer Jam music festival showcases artists, veteran and new, who’ve created enough buzz to warrant endless fire flame emojis. But the one thing that historically makes Summer Jam legendary may be what’s crippling it: surprise performances.
The “& Friends” label that was tagged onto top billed artists of the evening hung over the beautiful 70-degree day like a cloud, sparking countless conversations about which of music’s Who’s Who would make a cameo and send fans into a social media frenzy. Expectations only grew after festival stage artists Teyana Taylor and Travi$ Scott kicked off the annual festival with pop-ups from 90’s girl group Total and Brooklyn’s own 2 Milly, respectively.
Omarion ushered in the performances inside New Jerseys’ MetLife Stadium to the sounds of Drake‘s “Legend” but made his presence known merely dancing to heavily rotated cuts like Rihanna‘s “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” “Milly Rock” and Rae Sremmurd‘s “No Type” before ringing off his current banger “Post To Be.” Naturally, Jhene Aiko‘s catchy “Post To Be” one-liner stirred the thin crowd, sans the singer, but most of Omarion’s set was met with the head scratching from fans as his new material debuted.
Fellow early acts Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign struggled to hold the crowd’s attention as well, only gaining a lively reaction when their guests arrived — or hit a decent ad-lib. DeJ Loaf and Wiz Khalifa assisted Ty’s set with infectious cuts like “Try Me” and “We Dem Boyz,” while 50 Cent and G-Unit helped Brown from flaming out with “What Up Gangsta?” and “Many Men.” Brown’s set, which included hits like “New Flame,” “Loyal” and fan-favorite “Poppin,” was by far the laziest of the evening. 50 Cent and G-Unit was reportedly heavily padded down when entering the stadium.
Introduced by Hot 97 Morning Show hosts Laura Stylez and Peter Rosenberg, Trey Songz offered the audience the first full-out performance of the evening to a respectable amount of people. He jumped his set off with “Na Na” before sliding into “Foreign,” “Say Aah” and “Bottoms Up” — all while backed by a band. As Songz single-handedly controlled the crowd, he gracefully hopped from Juvenile‘s “Slow Motion” into his same-titled R&B jam. Later, he ended his 30-minute set with “Touchin’ Lovin'” without Nicki Minaj.
Surprise only seemed to work greatly in one artist’s favor, really. Fabolous ignited an unprecedented roll-out of surprise guests mid-way through the night, playing off nostalgia. With the help of NYC’s most revered rap artists of the 90’s and early 2000’s (Raekwon, Black Rob, Busta Rhymes, Remy Ma, Fat Joe, Mobb Deep, Lil Kim, the Lox and Ma$e), Fabolous gifted concert-goers with colossal hip-hop records like “Get Money,” “Shook Ones,” “Lean Back,” “Been Around The World” and “Hands Where My Eyes Can See” that dominated the evening, practically making it impossible for the audience to find excitement in other artist’s solo efforts.
Taking a bit of the attention off the East coast, Kendrick Lamar — billed as the night’s headliner — headed to the stage early, spitting “Blacker The Berry” as word spread that a riot between ticket holders and cops was occurring just outside the stadium gates.
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The Compton native followed up with “Backseat Freestyle,” “Hood Politics” and “Swimming Pools” before inviting fellow Top Dawg Entertainment member ScHoolboy Q to join him for “Collard Greens.” But by the time Q wrapped up “Studio,” the audience seemed subdued, despite Internet star Welven Da Great doubling as Lamar’s hypeman for To Pimp A Butterfly gem, “Alright.”
An all-white-clad Big Sean performed a solo set filled to the brim with his best work. However, standing concert-goers stared back at Sean in anticipation of any surprise. While Detroit’s own put on a high-energy set — equipped with pyrotechnics and Dark Sky Paradise cuts like “Paradise,” “All Your Fault,” “Play No Games” (sans featured guests Ty Dolla $ign and Chris Brown, who performed earlier in the night) and “Blessings” — he came up short on cameos that might’ve given the crowd incentive to show more love.
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The night ended (or so many thought) on a high note, though, thanks to Future. In an expected performance thanks to leaks from Hot 97, Future came through during Meek Mill‘s set to perform “Commas,” “Real Sisters” and “Trap N—-s” to a finally roaring crowd. Nicki Minaj, who’s dating Meek Mill, took the stage prior to Future and performed “Truffle Butter” and “Only.” The couple softened the crowd when they told each other they loved each other on stage.
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Majority of those in attendance, under the impression that Future had closed the show, were on their way out when Hot 97 surprised with short sets by Troy Ave and New Jersey’s own Fetty Wap. The stadium lights were coming on as they continued to perform.
Does Hot 97’s unwritten Summer Jam rule for surprise guests heighten expectations to unattainable heights? Possibly. The memorable highlights of the evening may have been too scarce compared to fans’ expectations of what the night could’ve been. (Not to mention, the glaring absence of one of music’s hottest artists that was in New York on Friday for Governors Ball: Drake.)