Home / Music & Arts / Despite trouble outside, Summer Jam 2015 was a hit

Despite trouble outside, Summer Jam 2015 was a hit

Nicki Minaj at Hot 97's Summer Jam on Sunday. Minaj made an appearance during her fiance Meek Mill's set.Hannah Mattix for New York Daily News

Nicki Minaj at Hot 97’s Summer Jam on Sunday. Minaj made an appearance during her fiance Meek Mill’s set.

50 Cent at the concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.Hannah Mattix for New York Daily News

50 Cent at the concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Bustah Rhymes performed during Fabolous' set.Hannah Mattix for New York Daily News

Bustah Rhymes performed during Fabolous’ set.

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Trouble may have reigned outside MetLife Stadium at this year’s Summer Jam, as police in riot gear dispensed tear gas at some rowdy folks who tried to enter the venue illegally.

But barely any of the 60,000 fans inside the stadium on Sunday would have had a clue anything untoward went on at all.

If anything, Hot 97’s annual genuflection to hip-hop and R&B maintained a nearly unbroken tone of ease and joy.

In most every way, 2015’s Summer Jam lived up to its reputation for mixing sweet nostalgia with modern innovation.

The most serious it got – via a stellar, but too short set by Kendrick Lamar – struck that tone not through anything ugly but through its art.

Key parts of the marathon event – which lasted nearly 10 hours, including time for the newbie acts performing on the Festival Stage – devoted itself to stoking the memories of long time hip-hop aficionados.

Summer Jam has always made a fetish of featuring special guests on its stage, often plucked from the past.

Big Sean, one of the show's final performers. His deep timbre blended well with the rich bass tones in his music. Hannah Mattix for New York Daily News

Big Sean, one of the show’s final performers. His deep timbre blended well with the rich bass tones in his music. 

This year’s installment hardly disappointed on that score. While surprise artists were sprinkled throughout the event, a dizzying windfall came during Fabolous’ set.

In rapid succession came verses from French Montana, Black Rob, Busta Rhymes, Remy Ma, Fat Joe (with a stadium shaking “Lean Back”), Method Man, Redman, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, Lil Kim, Lil Cease, Mase and more.

The result suggested either a who’s who of rap hit-makers, or an episode of “I Love The ’90s,” rap-style.

Such focus gives Summer Jam a distinction from most every other music festival out there. While the grand majority of them survey a host of genres – from rock to EDM to country – Hot 97’s fest hones in entirely on rap and hip-hop-informed R&B.

As if to further delineate their brand, the organizers chose to pile all the R&B vocal acts together, followed by the verbalists.

Omarion opened the show with a brief and perfunctory set that, nonetheless, set the tone of randy sex for some of the later singers.

Ty Dolla Sign followed, displaying a style that blurred the lines between rapping and vocalizing. While his approach has the cadence of hip-hop, he holds the notes the long enough to qualify as a singer.

He featured a promising guest, Dej Loaf, a Detroit-based rapper who’s been getting a lot of national attention of late. He also brought out someone far more famous – Wiz Khalifah, who offered his smash “We Dem Boyz.”

Two stars who have lately toured together – Trey Songz and Chris Brown – played separate sets here.

Their styles, in both sound and presentation, made for an interesting contrast.

Songz brought along a full live band (the only star at the event to do so). Brown performed with a DJ. The former singer used female backup dancers, the latter males. Songz took off much of his clothing during his set. Brown kept everything on.

The message was clear: Songz plays the ladies’ man, while Brown prefers to present himself as a man’s man.

Chris Brown performed with a DJ and a group of male backup dancers.Hannah Mattix for New York Daily News

Chris Brown performed with a DJ and a group of male backup dancers.

Even so, the introduction of the latter artist by Hot 97 DJ Nessa made sure to mention to the crowd that “he’s single now.”

Musically, Songz has the more circumscribed sound. He sticks with pure post-R. Kelly R&B. Brown expands on that template to include everything from pop to elements of EDM. He also featured guests like 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks. While Brown may have had the more varied set, Songz sang with greater athleticism and scored points for using those live players.

Oddly, Hot 97 didn’t place the hottest, and smartest, star of the night, Lamar, at the end. He preceded sets from artists like Big Sean and Meek Mill.

Those stars did have their appeal. Sean hewed to the pop-side of hip-hop in songs like the new “Blessings.” His deep timbre blended especially well with the rich bass tones in his music.

Mill, who performed with a live drummer as well as a DJ, has the more guttural style. He used it to his advantage in his aggressive set.

But he also gave over a key part to Future, a Georgia-based emcee so musical in his rhythm, he seems to be singing even when he’s speaking.

Mill had an even starrier guest up his sleeve. He brought out Nicki Minaj, who offered some verses from her irresistible “Truffle Butter.”

Even so, Lamar had no trouble stealing the event. His set had a seriousness no one else could tap.

Though Lamar also performed at Summer Jam last year, this time the organizers plucked him at a fresh peak.

He recently released one of the best albums so far this year, “To Pimp A Butterfly.” But the music on it presented a potential problem for the artist.

It sounds little like Lamar’s breakthrough album, “good kid m. A.A. d city.” While the earlier work floats, the new one drives, offering a funkier and broader sound. How could Lamar possibly reconcile the two styles?

He did so by finding a live sound not quite like either.

Lamar’s set, featuring just his voice and a DJ, had its own tone. When performing a song from “good kid,” like “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” he upped the energy, giving it a fresh inflection. When offering a new song, like the super-funky “King Kunta,” he varied the beat and switched up the arrangement. Throughout his set, his flow stunned with its intensity and confidence.

More than any Summer Jam star, Lamar epitomized both hip-hop’s currency and its artistry. Hopefully, fans will remember that, not the sideline troubles that seized the first headlines.

jfarber@nydailynews.com

Tags:
music ,
nicki minaj ,
kendrick lamar ,
french montana ,
fat joe ,
wiz khalifa ,
chris brown ,
big sean ,
50 cent

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