Summer Jam Concert Review: Nas And Lauryn Hill Perform In Lieu Of Nicki Minaj

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Nas and Lauryn Hill At Hot 97 Summer Jam

In a chain of events few would have expected, Hot 97 Summer Jam was as much about who was performing as it was about who wasn’t performing. By the time Tyga performed “Faded” and “Rack City” there was a dark cloud looming over the nearly 80,000 attendees, and that cloud had nothing to do with the weather. Tyga’s boss, Lil Wayne, had just abruptly pulled the plug on any of his artists performing, including the show’s headliner–Nicki Minaj.

Hot 97 DJ Peter Rosenberg, known for his loose (opinionated) lips introduced Kendrick Lamar during the pre-show and dropped a bombshell that set the tone for the rest of the night. “I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing “Starships” later. I’m not talking to y’all right now. F*ck that bulls*it,” he said to the crowd. “I’m here to talk about real hip-hop s*it.” The YMCMB president got whiff of the perceived diss and tweeted, “Young Money ain’t doing summer jam.” With that one tweet the boss had spoken. But the show did in fact go on. And in a major way.

Opening acts like Maino, Joe Budden and Joel Ortiz rattled through their old hits to a barely there crowd. That didn’t keep Budden from declaring  he and his crew were the “best rappers in the universe.” People started filling in once Waka Flocka hit the stage with the wild, crazy, party energy he seems to carry with him anywhere he goes. The signature Waka Flocka move–shaking his dreads from side to side–was in full effect during “Bustin At Em,” “It’s A Party,” “Hard In the Paint and “I Don’t Really Care.” “No Hands” served as a segue into Wale’s set as the two shared the stage. J. Cole proved he’s studied in the School of Jay-Z as he was the first to perform with a live band. No entourage needed, he commanded the stage with his mere talent.

As much as New York hip-hop fans ride or die for New York rappers, the level of engagement during Young Jeezy‘s set was evidence of the east coast’s love for the south. There wasn’t one Jeezy song that didn’t move the crowd. When the beat for “Supafreak” dropped the roar of the fans was thunderous, and the excitement only plateaued when 2 Chainz ran out. In one of the best sets of the night, Jeezy pulled from his catalog dating back to Trap or Die, Recession and his most recent project TM103. To say folks were amped when T.I. came out to represent Atlanta alongside Jeezy would be an understatement.

Young Jeezy at Summer Jam 2012

Big Sean “swerved” through his songs with the Detroit swag he owns. People wondered who would come out for “Mercy” when Sean began his verse.  He didn’t disappoint with Pusha-T and 2 Chainz cameos. Finally Nicki’s set had arrived and the curiosity of who would go on in her place filled the thick air. When Funkmaster Flex, who was committed to throwing shade at Nicki the rest of the night, announced that a legendary New York hip-hop artist was in the building, eyes pierced the stage in anticipation. In a flash a true emcee god, Nas, appeared on the stage flowing through his hit “Made You Look.” He was Nicki’s big surprise, which isn’t so shocking considering his guest appearance on “Champion” and his lead role in the “Right By My Side” video. One word to describe the reaction to seeing Nas on stage: bananas. He transitioned into “Hate Me Now” right before another timeless artist joined him sending nearly everyone in the stadium to their feet (if they weren’t standing already). Lauryn Hill came out rapping her verse to “Ready or Not” looking fresh faced and glowing with her short cropped ‘fro. She performed “Lost Ones” and closed the set with the “If I Ruled the World” duet with Nas that only those of us over the age of 25 could truly appreciate. In comparison to last year’s Rock the Bells performance and other scathing reviews of Hill’s shaky vocals, she sounded good, perhaps restoring the hope we all had of her coming back with a bang.

Before Maybach Music Group closed the night out, French Montana swagged out to popular songs “Everythings A Go” and “Slight Work.” Meek Mill was shown the type of love you’d expect from the rising star with one of the hottest mixtapes out. It wasn’t long before Rick Ross joined him for “I’m A Boss” making it a family affair resembling the mafia.

While the show continued on without Nicki she tweeted a photo of  her and Foxy Brown enjoying a night on the town having drinks. If Nicki’s presence was missed it wasn’t readily obvious. Many may have even been oblivious to the no-show stunt she pulled. And with surprise guests like Mase, Raekwon, Method Man, T.I., and of course Nas and Lauryn Hill, the crowd was preoccupied with enjoying music. Funkmaster Flex let it be known in a subtle, but not so subtle way that his allegiance was with Hot 97, “We ain’t f*cking 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…” Summer Jam sans Nicki may have been devoid of the biggest female rapper around, but what it wasn’t lacking was classic acts. She was right when she tweeted, “History will be made at Hot 97 Summer Jam tonight.” It was. Too bad she wasn’t there to witness.

Mase on Summer Jam 2012

[Photo: Getty Images and Lacey Seidman]