Cardi B, Meek Mill lead barrage of surprise stars at huge Summer Jam 2022: review

Why does Summer Jam even release a festival lineup?

Sure, there are probably logistical reasons. And yes, whoever tops the marquee tells us something about the state of hip-hop — with rap and R&B’s latest heavy hitters typically gracing the top billing.

But every frequenter of New Jersey’s enduring Super Bowl of hip-hop — organized by New York’s Hot97 rap radio station — knows the game: The lineup is merely a guide; surprise guests almost always steal the show.

On Sunday, some of the bigger names set to grace East Rutherford’s MetLife Stadium couldn’t be there for legal reasons (more on that below). Others who weren’t on the docket to begin with showed up and showed out across two stages for the more than five-hour one-day showcase.

Here are five of the most memorable moments from Summer Jam 2022:

Meek Mill, Cardi B surprise on both stages

Summer Jam 2022

Meek Mill performs during the Summer Jam concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Sunday, June 12, 2022John Jones | For NJ Advance Media

Unlike last year’s DaBaby “fiasco,” this year’s Summer Jam was mostly devoid of controversy.

As Englewood, Chicago rapper Lil Durk, among the top names set to perform, began to wrap up his set around 11 p.m., his collaboration with Meek Mill could be heard — entrance music for the beloved Philadelphia rapper himself. The crowd went ballistic. No, Meek didn’t ride out on an ATV like in 2019. But he didn’t have to.

The pair performed their 2021 collaboration “Sharing Locations” before Meek really fired up the 35,000 or so fans in attendance (my estimate, organizers didn’t provide ticket sales) with his classic album intro, “Dreams and Nightmares.” Meek also joined Lil Baby and Lil Durk to perform the same track in Newark last fall.

Summer Jam 2022

Attendees sing along and dance during the Summer Jam concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Sunday, June 12, 2022John Jones | For NJ Advance Media

Fans began to stream into the stadium parking lot as early as 2 p.m., some pitching tents, cooking up barbecue and smoking weed. Summer Jam’s 2020 cancelation due to the COVID-19 pandemic was in the rear view and so was, it seemed, the pandemic. Face masks were a rarity among concertgoers.

A few hours before Meek made his entrance, fellow 2019 headliner Cardi B joined Dougie B and B-Lovee on the outdoor festival stage in the parking lot to perform “Shake It.” She was right at home, performing just about an hour from the South Bronx neighborhood where she was raised.

However, as Cardi B’s performance took place just 15 minutes before the festival stage closed for the evening, most were already settled or making their way to the main stage inside the stadium and missed it.

‘Protect Black Art’

The elephant in the room throughout Sunday’s celebration was Young Thug and Gunna not being in attendance. The pair were originally listed at the top of the Summer Jam poster among headliners Fivio Foreign, Lil Durk and Lil Baby.

But both remain in custody, awaiting trial on RICO charges in Fulton County, Georgia, following an 88-page indictment that includes various allegations. As rap lyrics from Young Thug and Gunna have been used to bolster prosecutors’ case, supporters view this as putting hip-hop itself on trial.

“They’re trying to use our lyrics … in court and we cannot let that happy,” DJ Enuff said onstage at one point Sunday night. Fellow Hot97 DJ Megan Ryte encouraged fans to text in their support of the “Protect Black Art” movement.

Black and green signs with the phrase, as well as “Free Young Thug,” were handed out during the event, with “Free Gunna” being shouted out by various performers.

“I just want to say thank you to all my friends and my family for coming out and supporting us,” Young Thug said in a recorded message that was played on the main stage Sunday night. “Everybody please sign the ‘Protect Black Art’ petition and keep praying for us.”

Summer Jam 2022

Attendees sing along and dance during the Summer Jam concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Sunday, June 12, 2022John Jones | For NJ Advance Media

The Drama King is in the building

The latter half of the night was punctuated by a touching tribute to hip-hop legend DJ Kay Slay, who died April 17 at 55 due to COVID-19 complications.

Rocking a New York Yankees cap and framed by candles and doves, a photo of the hip-hop pioneer took up the screen as both The Lox and Dipset paid tribute.

New York rap group, The Lox — Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P — came out to classic, “Might D-Block!” Soon, “Dipset! Dipset! Dipset!” blared from overhead as Juelz Santana and Jim Jones of rap group Dipset (sans Cam’Ron) hit the stage. All got a huge reception, with none of these names included in the official festival lineup.

The Lox’s trounce over Dipset during a Verzuz battle last August might have been at the top of mind for fans at first but the rap cliques quickly made DJ Kay Slay the focal point.

Jadakiss woke everyone up with his smooth delivery of “Who Shot Ya?” followed by a short rendition of “We Fly High” by Jim Jones — which of course prompted fans to mimic tossing up a jump shot in unison.

“We love you Kay Slay. We love you to death,” Jadakiss said between performances.

The groups weren’t alone though.

Busta Rhymes made his presence felt with “Touch It,” joined by hip-hop couple Papoose and Remy Ma, who added a verse each. Fat Joe came out to perform his mega-hit “Lean Back,” a treat for the crowd aged mostly 25 and up. And Maino reminded everyone he still had it, rapping to “Slide” off his and Jim Jones’ latest album, “Lobby Boyz” and doing a small shimmy to get the fans going.

As the tribute wound down, phones lit up the stadium and red lights engulfed the entourage of hip-hop mainstays onstage. Papoose took the mic somberly.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here,” Papoose said, echoing dozens of others who spoke of DJ Kay Slay and what he meant for hip hop culture.

Summer Jam 2022

Maino performs during the Summer Jam concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Sunday, June 12, 2022John Jones | For NJ Advance Media

Turn up the volume

The fact that Pusha T’s cocaine raps immediately followed the DJ Kay Slay tribute was a bit tonally awkward on its own. That his mic sounded like it was turned all the way down was one of several sound issues permeating the night.

At the festival stage earlier, East Orange emcee Lady London’s performance of “Lisa’s Story” with rapper Dub Aura literally had to start from the top because the beat unexpectedly cut off. And I couldn’t hear half the words to Yung Bleu’s lady anthems “Beautiful Lies” and “You’re Mines Still” on the same stage shortly after.

Before Atlanta’s Lil Baby came on, Hot 97′s Funkmaster Flex hit the DJ booth to “drop bombs” and “turn this into a night club” but soon became upset. “Turn my (expletive) mic up now, what’s so hard about that!” he vented at one point.

But other artists persisted or simply lucked out.

When DJ Drewski brought out Nems for “Bing Bong” (shout out to the Knicks), dozens of phones were immediately whipped out to record the moment.

City Girls, based out of Miami, Florida, matched bedazzled black jackets with high heels while stunning on the gritty track, “Act Up.”

California rapper Roddy Ricch missed Governors Ball on Saturday after he was arrested on multiple gun charges. But once the charges were dismissed earlier Sunday, he walked out at Summer Jam and electrified the crowd, who bopped to radio smash, “The Box,” among others.

“(Expletive) NYPD,” Roddy Ricch said a few songs in. “I be trying to stay low key, trying to mind my business, make my money … I appreciate all my supporters.”

Among the best performances of the night was Lil Baby, who energized the crowd, coming out rapping his verse on rap megastar Drake’s “Wants and Needs.” Lil Baby bounced around the stage, joined only by four dancers (most Summer Jam performers had a DJ to help with vocals and that was it).

While rapping to “On Me,” Lil Baby drew his greatest reception. Houses appeared engulfed in flames on the screen behind the rap star as a young fan blurted out behind me, “Yo, I would marry him right now.”

Crowned the king?

No name appeared larger than the other on the Summer Jam 2022 poster, but in hindsight Fivio Foreign’s should’ve been.

The pseudo-headliner came out in a crown to Alicia Keys’ vocals to “City of Gods.” While he didn’t say it, Fivio’s message was clear: I’m the King of New York.

His feature on Drake’s “Demons” segued into “Wetty” before Hackensack singer/rapper Coi Leray came out to lend support with vocals on “What’s My Name” — flipping the Destiny’s Child single. A small drizzle began to set in, almost to signal the night was coming to an end.

But just then, Fivio was joined by Chlöe Bailey, who strutted out to perform “Hello.” Next, London-based rapper Jnr Choi switched up the vibe with “To the Moon (Remix)” before Rowdy Rebel made the stadium shake on “Computers.”

Fifteen minutes to midnight, Fivio’s 2019′s unforgettable “Big Drip” was the final track.

“Grrt (grrt), grrt, baow, baow, baow, baow, baow, baow (Expletive)”

Not a lyric or an ad lib was missed.

Not from Fivio. Or fans. Several security guards could be seen nodding and rapping, too.

Despite some technical hiccups and a little rain, MetLife turned into a house party and no one was ready for it to end.

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Steven Rodas may be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

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