Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, and J. Cole Turn Up at KMEL Summer Jam, 6/9/13
Better than: Listening to the radio.
Kendrick Lamar's closing set at KMEL's Summer Jam was fascinating to watch. Artists had whipped the crowd up to deafening levels of cheering all night, and the L.A. rapper, clad in a Frankenstein T-shirt, was pushing it to 11 with party-fueling offerings like "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe." But there were also moments where he held the room in a quiet thrall that others didn't, punctuating the spare beats on "Poetic Justice" and "Money Trees" with sharp hand movements and easy smiles. With the growth of this artist has come markedly more charisma, and he was a smart choice of a headliner.
The artists also have to compete with Summer Jam's most interesting element: The lively crowd, which is always a people-watching tour de force of too-small tops, too-tall heels, and admittedly infectious excitement. Lots of party pockets constantly building and being broken down by security. Some might call it ratchet these days.
KMEL Kendrick Lamar and Frankenstein take the stage.
It only happens once a year, and we love it.
Richmond rapper IamSU! made a quick cameo to perform his recent song "100 Grand" with cohort Kool John (he had earlier joined R&B singer Jonn Hart for his verse on "Who Booty"). It would have been great to see an extended set from the HBK crew. There were also big reactions when DJ Mind Motion played snippets of songs by D-Lo, an Oakland pimp who has been embraced as a rapper.
2 Chainz's set had a karaoke element to it, what with key lyrics flashing across the big screen (in multiple languages in the case of "I'm Different"), but people didn't really need the pointers as they shouted along. The Atlanta rapper teased out snippets of his most well-known cuts like "Spend It," "I'm Different," and "No Lie," as well as guest verses from other people's songs, like A$AP Rocky's "Problems," Juicy J's "Bandz a Make Her Dance," and Young Jeezy's "R.I.P."
J. Cole, a rapper and producer from North Carolina, seemingly had most of the female population in the room on lock, and his set was largely a sing-along affair, with the ladies leading the way on the hooks of songs like "Nobody's Perfect" (the recording a duet with Missy Elliott) and "Power Trip" (normally done with LA singer Miguel).
KMEL J. Cole leads a "Power Trip" through his hits.
Cole appeared relaxed and looked like he enjoyed the moment, which he expressed with gratitude. "I'm standing on stage and I see some niggas that been fucking with me since day one," he said, "and that shit is crazy to me."
Cole is dropping his new album Born Sinner next week; he moved his release date up in order to compete with Kanye West's Yeezus, and he'll certainly give West a run for his money.
During Wale's performance, a lady was fast asleep in her seat in the next aisle, which was incredibly impressive given the volume in the venue. It was sad that she missed the DC rapper's classy product placement -- a girl on stage held up a picture of his new album cover like she was announcing a round in a boxing ring for the entire set.
Atlanta's Trinidad James has given interviews where he tries to distance himself from Ecstasy, but his short set repeated his big catchphrase from "All Gold Everything" over and over; it says, "Popped a Molly, I'm sweatin', woo!" He has trapped himself into one song, but it's still an achievement for someone who admits that he hasn't been rapping for very long.
We arrived 20 minutes before showtime and got stuck in a scary, bottle-necked line for the better part of the hour, which forced us to miss sets by Jonn Hart (the only advertised local performer) and RaVaughn (the only female). This was unfortunate, especially since posts on Vine seemed to show that they both played good sets. But luckily, Summer Jam is mostly about the show on and off stage.
Personal bias: I wasn't too thrilled when Wale became the first and only artist in my 20-year career to hang up on me during an interview a few years ago. I had asked him to tell me about his upcoming album, which the press hadn't been allowed to hear yet, and he apparently disconnected in disgust.
Random detail: Purple and blue were hot toenail colors at the show, and coochie cutters are making a comeback.
By the way: 2 Chainz was robbed in the Mission before the show.