Inside MetLife Stadium, it was hard to tell that chaos was brewing outside between angry crowds and police trying to restore order last night. Fabolous had fans screaming, “Brooklyn!,” jumping on the rails, and repping old New York proudly with his display of '90s excellence. “Fabolous & Friends,” as billed on this year’s Summer Jam line-up, was his chance to spoil us. He started slow with Black Rob’s surprise return with “Whoa” and Busta Rhymes. Then it got a little crazy.
Busta’s performance of “Ante Up (Remix)” got even better with Remy Ma rapping her searing verse. She let that turn into a Terror Squad reunion with Fat Joe as they performed “Lean Back.” Out of nowhere, Method Man and Redman’s “Da Rockwilder” received a big pop from the crowd, but they couldn’t grace the Summer Jam stage without Raekwon for “C.R.E.A.M.” Fab wasn’t done, either. Mobb Deep! Lil Kim for the “Quiet Storm” remix! The LOX! And then Fab’s final hurrah: a dapper Ma$e killing it with “Feel So Good” and “Been Around the World.”
Summer Jam is, essentially, two extremes working against each other. Throughout its history, the annual show has been known as much for its drama as its legendary performances. This year’s controversial moment was an agitated crowd that couldn’t get into their seats in time to see the show, so they climbed fences and pushed their way in with force. This resulted in police squads donned in riot gear shooting tear gas outside the stadium to disperse crowds. Helicopters flew above. Armored trucks were on the scene. Glass was thrown at police at one point. The remains littered the ground.
“We are not going to allow a few people to jump fences or be aggressive with the state police and allow the doors to remain open,” Ebro said this morning about the incident. “I think the people that got caught outside, if they don’t know, weren’t aware that the doors got shut for safety reasons. There was tens of thousands of people inside, and we didn’t want what was going on inside to be disrupted by a few people acting crazy outside.”
Summer Jam’s list of performers still went on as planned; the younger generation of artists confidently led hip-hop last night. Omarion’s summer-ready single “Post to Be” had the whole crowd yelling Jhené Aiko’s “Eat the booty like groceries” line. Ty Dolla $ign played his smash hits “You and Your Friends” and “Toot It and Boot It,” but was overshadowed by his guest, DeJ Loaf, for “Try Me” and Wiz Khalifa. When Wiz performed “We Dem Boyz,” Ty was left with “Or Nah” and “Paranoid” to recapture the audience’s attention again.
Trey Songz and Chris Brown held it down for R&B fans. Songz destroyed his set, and Brown made his way back to the main bill after spending 2014 battling legal troubles. In this environment, Breezy was more focused on his rap leanings than his R&B side though, spitting hits like “Ayo” and bringing out G-Unit for their second appearance at Summer Jam. Unlike last year’s headline-making reunion, G-Unit’s run in 2015 has lost its luster a bit, using the name as a push for 50 Cent to be relevant again. Still, you can’t deny the power of his classics: “What Up Gangsta” and “Many Men” had the crowd echoing every one of Fif’s rhymes.
But the biggest talking point wasn’t French Montana’s unwavering support for a locked up Bobby Shmurda or the noticeable absence of Childish Gambino. It was Kendrick Lamar. In 2013, K. Dot’s appearance was based on the success of good kid, m.A.A.d city, and he delivered hit after hit with Black Hippy and the A$AP Mob. Two years later, Kendrick’s celebrity has risen immensely since dropping To Pimp a Butterfly, and it showed in the shrieking crowd as he graced the stage earlier than his proposed headlining spot. Kendrick emerged with all smiles for “The Blacker the Berry” and “Hood Politics,” as well as his more known hit “Swimming Pools (Drank).” On “Collard Greens,” he brought out ScHoolboy Q, who stayed on to perform his Oxymoron favorite “Studio.” SZA came out for “Poetic Justice,” before Kendrick took the spotlight again to defiantly rapped “King Kunta”—partly on beat and completely owning it a capella, too. And in the best moment of the night, he ended his set with “Alright,” showing much love to his people with E-40, Ab-Soul, and Welven Da Great on stage. “We come all the way from Compton, California, and we appreciate the love every time we touchdown,” he said.
The big question remained throughout the night: Who will close out Summer Jam? The answer was Big Sean and Meek Mill, who seem to have outgrown their mentors Kanye West and Rick Ross, sharing the headlining spot with back-to-back performances. Sean opted to have no special guests for his spot—some fans weren't pleased with the lack of Drake, ‘Ye, or even 40 Water for “IDFWU.” However, Sean ran through his singles without hesitation, getting the most reception for playing his throwback cut “My Last” and wrapping up his set with a solo rendition of “IDFWU.”
On the other hand, Meek preferred to share the spotlight with some friends. The Philly rapper looked comfortable holding it down as the headliner for Summer Jam, marking his contention as the top MC in the game right now. “Burn” went off thanks to the help of Sean. And when Future emerged for his string of hits—“Sh!t,” “Trap Niggas,” “March Madness,” and “Fuck Up Some Commas”—the audience was possessed by the turn up gods.
Plus, Nicki Minaj came out with a fierce vengeance, rapping with her pink diamond-encrusted mic hits like “Only” and “Truffle Butter.” She spent a few minutes empowering women in the audience (“Stay your ass in school!”), and then exchanged “I love yous” with Meek that made the crowd gush. To wrap up the night, Meek couldn’t leave MetLife without bodying “Dreams and Nightmares.”
But maybe it wasn’t over yet. Although droves of people were making their way toward the exit, Troy Ave came on to play singles off his current album, Major Without a Deal. It was an awkward set, considering that more than half the venue was empty. Even more perplexing was letting Fetty Wap go on stage after holding him until the end for possibly the biggest moment of his career. “They had me stay backstage for this shit,” he said angrily. “Fuck all that. This is my fucking birthday. Are you ready to see Fetty Wap?” Disgruntled but still grateful, the New Jersey native still performed “My Way” and “679” to dedicated fans who decided to stay and see their hometown hero.
Interestingly enough, Fetty Wap didn’t leave us with “Trap Queen.” But the move kind of made sense for Summer Jam, where you might think you know what’s coming but are always met with a few surprises.
Eric Diep is a writer living in New York. Follow him @E_Diep.