EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Fans living in the New York tristate area might as well swallow that sour pill and face facts. We probably will never see a Summer Jam concert with Jay-Z and 50 Cent both on the bill.
50 Cent is banned from Giants Stadium due to that infamous, onstage chair- (or shall we say chair-aaaairs?) throwing incident with Bang 'Em Smurf and some rivals from his neighborhood a few years back. Other than a brief cameo during Kanye West's set several years ago, Young Hov hasn't performed at SJ since he brought Michael Jackson out and dissed Nas and Mobb Deep way back in 2001.
That void is always going to be felt. You could hear it last night, as 40,000-plus were yelling "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa" in unison when one of the stations threw on G-Unit's "Rider Part 2." Everyone was singing 50's lines as if to say, "We want the Unit!" C'mon, somebody get Michael Strahan to work something out.
That's not to say Hot 97 couldn't pull off a quality show with a lineup that boasted hip-hop's MVP and the man just named the Hottest MC in the Game. Lil Wayne and Kanye West headed up the roster that also included T-Pain, Ray J and Yung Berg, D-Block, Alicia Keys and, surprisingly, Public Enemy.
The most energetic Summer Jam moments came in the first half of the show. If you were fashionably late, you missed out. Alicia Keys was onstage at 7:05 p.m., just 35 minutes after the official showtime and third in the lineup behind Ray J and The-Dream.
Keys started off with the reggae-tinged "Ghetto Story" and had the whole stadium going "Rah! Rah! Rah!" "Teenage Love Affair" followed, and then she started paying homage to Mary J. Blige, singing "Be Happy" a cappella. The beat for the remix to "Be Happy" kicked in, and out came Brooklyn's Maino. His current street thumper "Hi Hater" shamelessly jacks the beat from the Queen of R&B soul's classic.
Thousands waved their arms side to side with open palms. Imaginary foes were greeted with sarcastic adoration, "Hi, hata! Hi, hata. You see me. Hi, hata." Ms. Keys then pulled out her trump card with one of her favorite groups, the Wu-Tang Clan. First, Raekwon the Chef came out for "Incarcerated Scarfaces." Method Man and Ghostface Killah appeared a couple of minutes later and helped Rae on "Ice Cream." Method Man jumped in the crowd during "Method Man." Keys' set was showered with applause as she set the standard for the night early on.
If you weren't familiar with hip-hop, you would think D-Block had sold twice as many records as Keys in their career. They are just that big in New York. They always get that Diamond Awards-winning reception at Summer Jam. Styles P, Sheek Louch and DJ Kid Capri started out with a medley of their concreted embedded smashes, such as "F--- You" and "Wild Out." Jadakiss finally joined his troupe during the "Paper Touchin' " remix. D-Block brought out Red Cafe, Fabolous and Fat Joe, who all perform on Jadakiss' record. It was absolutely an SJ snapshot to go on the bulletin board of fame. The mics were dripping with NYC pride. The LOX threw it way back to 1998 next. They brought out former Firm member Nature and the always-wild N.O.R.E. for "Banned From TV." The show-stealer of the Lox's set, though, was LL Cool J. Uncle was a major surprise, coming out to "Rock the Bells" and murdering the night with "Headsprung."
"A lot of people been sleepin'. Y'all gonna wake up this year," Cool J declared about his new projects before he walked off.
T-Pain's show was full of plain-old tomfoolery, action and more guest spots. T-Pain started off doing more dancing than singing, popping and locking and doing the two-step with his two hypemen. Pain's first guest was Shawty Lo, who did "Dey Know." Almost immediately, the crowd started mimicking L.O.'s running-in-place dance. "Bankhead, still been pulling capers!" they all shouted during his song. Miami's DJ Khaled and Rick Ross came out for "I'm So Hood." Ross appeared wearing nothing but his tattoos from the waist up, but the Southern Don had so much swagger, you would think he was as chiseled as 50 Cent when he strolled on. Pain ended triumphantly with Akon, Ross and Fat Joe for "We Takin' Over."
When one of the station's DJs asked the crowd who they came to see, Lil Wayne got the loudest cheers. He kicked his set off with "A Milli," an agitated gumbo of metaphors and Weezy's raw-dog presence. Wayne's set held the guests to a minimum. Playaz Circle's Tity Boi came out for the well-received "Duffle Bag Boy," and Kanye helped him close out on the remix to "Lollipop," a rousing Wayne highlight. The Birdman Jr. once again performed his naughty ode to oral sex, "Pu--- Monster."
When was the last time you heard Kanye West concede his show wasn't the best? Ever? Kanye got that coveted 9 p.m. Summer Jam spot, and he did bring a spectacle like we'd never seen on a stage with explosive lights, pyrotechnics and a multi-piece band. It felt like we were at a Kanye concert instead of a hodgepodge of who's hot and their random guests.
West started with "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," "Champion," "Get 'Em High" and "Jesus Walks."
"It took me a long time to get to this stage, to be able to close this," Kanye said. He shared recollections of seeing Jay-Z tear the show down years before. "I keep trying harder to raise this sh-- up a notch and do what I gotta do to be the best artist in the world. ... Y'all gonna see why I'm the number one f---in' artist in the world right now. Let's do our show."
"Homecoming" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" with Consequence followed, but it seemed to mellow out the crowd. "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Flashing Lights" brought the energy back up. Young Jeezy was Kanyeezy's big cameo. They did their new collaboration "Put On." "I put on for my city," Jeezy rapped, wearing a T-shirt that read "F--- Bush."
But the overall reaction to his set seemed to fall short of Kanye's expectations.
"I'll take this one on the chin," he said. "I seen n---as catch it before closing out. I'll take this one on the chin."
He pledged to go in the studio and make new hits. Even after "Good Life," when everyone was singing "Throw your hands up in the sky," West was disappointed with his Summer Jam showing.
"NYC, thank y'all for this," he said. "I'm about to go back to the muthaf---in lab. [I'll] take it like a man."
Public Enemy brought knowledge, wisdom and understanding with them on the set. Even though most of the younger audience members seemed indifferent to PE classics such as "Welcome to the Terrordome" and "Can't Trust It," Flavor Flav and Chuck D left them with food for thought, speaking on racial injustice and the presidential race.
Though Rihanna had been advertised on the bill for weeks, she chose instead to attend the MTV Movie Awards with Chris Brown. Hot 97 failed to explain why she wasn't at the show, but they did have a fill-in: New York cult heroes, the Diplomats. Minus Cam'ron, Jim Jones and the crew ended the night with their underground breakthroughs like "Santana's Town" and "We Fly High."