As hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, all eyes were on the 2023 edition of Hot 97’s Summer Jam to see how New York City’s first all-hip-hop station would commemorate the occasion. The legendary festival has gifted hip-hop countless priceless moments across nearly three decades, from Jay-Z bringing out Michael Jackson and debuting “Takeover” in 2001 to Remy Ma’s ruthless “Shether” performance in 2017.
After several years at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, Summer Jam finally returned to New York at UBS Arena in Long Island on Sunday (June 4). This year, the 29th iteration of Summer Jam celebrated the contemporary dominance of women in rap. Cardi B reigned as the night’s headliner, and the rest of the lineup featured performers including Ice Spice, Coi Leray, French Montana, Fivio Foreign, Lil Tjay and Lola Brooke. While the lineup prioritized rap’s new school, legendary Yonkers rap group The LOX held it down for the genre’s elder statesmen. Before the main show, Defiant Records and Warner Records also collaborated to host a festival stage that featured performances from rising rappers such as Scar Lip, Kenzo B, 2Rare, Connie Diamond, Sha EK, and McVertt.
This year’s Summer Jam also celebrated the breadth and diversity of hip-hop’s birthplace. On the festival stage, reggaetón and Afrobeats reigned alongside Bronx drill and Jersey club, and the main show, whether through era-traversing DJ sets or high-energy performances, had something for every kind of hip-hop fan.
Stacked with surprise performances and some of the first live renditions of several Song of the Summer contenders, Summer Jam’s homecoming was nothing short of a triumph. From Cardi B’s explosive headlining set to The LOX’s real-time documentation of hip-hop’s evolution, here are the best moment’s from this year’s Summer Jam.
DaBaby Delivers Surprise “Shake Sumn” Performance
After stunting his momentum with a string of controversies, DaBaby has a rising hit on his hands with his TikTok-conquering “Shake Sumn.” The “Bop” rapper surprised the Summer Jam crowd with a performance of “Shake Sumn” featuring a fan enthusiastically twerking beside him. DaBaby also performed a bit of his breakthrough hit “Suge” before doing “Shake Sumn” one more time and thanking the audience for allowing him to take the stage.
Connie Diamond Heats Up Festival Stage
Before Hot 97 unleashed the main show inside UBS Arena, the festivities began outside the venue at the Defiant X Warner Records festival stage. With her signature blue hair, Connie Diamond whizzed through a medley of her hits including “Pose,” “Run It Up,” and “Move.” Her backup dancers brought the energy of classic B-girl attitude with matching airbrushed shirts, blue wigs and intense choreography. Trying to win over a festival crowd is no easy feat — especially in New York — but by the end of her set, Connie absolutely rapped her way into the audience’s hearts.
French Montana Spreads the Wealth
French Montana leaned into the collaborative nature of Summer Jam by sharing his stage with a slew of younger talent. After screening the trailer for his forthcoming For Khadija documentary, the Grammy-nominated rapper performed hits of his own — including the Swae Lee-assisted “Unforgettable,” “Pop That” and “Shot Caller.” The Bronx rapper then brought out both Luh Tyler and NLE Choppa, who performed his latest hit, “Slut Me Out.” Remy Ma also joined the “Ain’t Worried About Nothin” rapper for a rendition of their New York classic “All the Way Up.”
Coi Leray Conquers the Main Stage
As documented in her Rap Caviar episode and the vulnerable introduction to last night’s set, Coi Leray has endured a seemingly insurmountable amount of hate and bullying as she navigated the first few years of her mainstream music career. Nonetheless, the “No More Parties” rapper fearlessly conquered the main stage with some of the night’s most intricate and impressive choreography. Whether she was flaunting her rap chops with “Bops” or incorporating both the original and Jersey remixes of her smash hit “Players,” Coi flew through her set with ease and confidence, easily delivering one of the night’s most well-put-together sets.
New York Turns Up for Lil Tjay
Although Lil Tjay made his return to the stage last September, the love and support for the Bronx rapper filled UBS Arena last night. While the “Calling My Phone” rapper did not have his own individual set, he did appear as a special guest for a pair of the night’s performers. He joined Ice Spice onstage for a flirtatious performance of “Gangsta Boo,” and he came out as Fivio Foreign’s guest for a rendition of “Zoo York.” Each time the rapper graced the stage, the arena erupted in cheers.
Last year, Lil Tjay suffered seven gunshot wounds as a result of a botched robbery attempt. The relationship between gun violence and the contemporary hip-hop scene has dominated much of the discourse around the genre in recent years, so a moment where the city can come together and uplift a survivor like Tjay is always necessary.
Lola Brooke Opens the Main Show
Brooklyn rapper Lola Brooke has had a breakthrough year with the success of “Don’t Play With It,” and her stage show has grown in tandem with her stardom. A few months ago, Lola’s tendency to sprint around onstage became the stuff of Twitter memes, but the “So Disrespectful” rapper has been carefully honing her performance style. Flanked by several backup dancers decked out in coordinated forest green outfits, Lola flaunted her rap skills and dancing ability throughout her enjoyable set. Outside of “Don’t Play With It,” “Just Relax” drew the strongest audience response, a potential Song of the Summer in the making.
Scar Lip’s Coronation
Scar Lip’s “This Is New York” has become the city’s latest new anthem — and if Summer Jam 2023 was anything, it was the coronation of Scar Lip as the city’s brightest new star. On the festival stage, the ferocious Bronx rapper ripped through “This Is New York,” drawing the liveliest and most passionate response from the crowd all day. With Funk Flex standing behind her beaming like a proud uncle, Scar Lip commanded the stage with a level of presence akin to an established live act. During the main show, The LOX brought out Scar Lip as the definitive representation of hip-hop’s new school, a stunning co-sign that bridged the gap between the multiple generations of hip-hop in the building last night.
Ice Spice Receives First Gold Plaque
One of the most anticipated performers of the night, Ice Spice delighted festivalgoers as she delivered a medley of her hits, including “Princess Diana,” “In Ha Mood,” and PinkPantheress duet “Boy’s A Liar, Pt. 2.” Right after the Bronx rapper finished performing her breakthrough single “Munch,” she was surprised with her very first Gold plaque. Awarded to her in commemoration of “Munch” selling over 500,000 units in the U.S. alone, the plaque reminded audiences how impressive Ice’s meteoric rise has been. In addition to that surprise, the “Bikini Bottom” rapper also brought out Lil Tjay for a “Gangsta Boo” performance, Kali and Kenzo B for an “Area Codes (718 Remix)” rendition, and Flo Milli for “Conceited.”
The LOX Bridges Generational Gaps
As hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, conversations and debates about the genre’s various evolutions and divides are as present as ever. With this year’s lineup almost exclusively featuring contemporary hip-hop’s biggest new names, The LOX was the de facto representation for the old heads. In what was easily one of the night’s most rapturous sets, The LOX ripped through performances of “Good Times,” “Mighty D-Block,” and “Kiss Your A– Goodbye.”
The iconic rap group also brought out two artists to represent those in the genre who have influenced them, and those who they feel are the best representation of the genre’s current era. Newcomer Scar Lip rocked the arena with a characteristically fiery rendition of “This Is New York,” but when Rakim took the stage as Jadakiss called him one of the “forefathers of hip-hop,” the arena knew they were in the presence of legends. Closing with Jadakiss rapping most of “We Gonna Make It” a cappella, The LOX’s set was one of the highest points of this year’s Summer Jam.
Predictably, Cardi B, the night’s headliner, delivered the single best set of the night. Beginning with an elaborate newspaper-themed set to kick off her performance with a rendition of “Press,” Cardi’s performance easily drew the biggest cheers from the main stage crowd. The Grammy-winning rapper ripped through her classics and more recent hits with a combination of explosive live mixes and eye-popping choreography. A group of kids got sturdy to “Shake It,” stripper poles were stationed on either side of the stage for “WAP,” a tease of Brazilian funk during “I Like It” injected the Hot 100-topping hit with new life. Like the majority of the night’s performers, Cardi brought her share of special guests. 21 Savage graced the stage for a rocking rendition of “Bartier Cardi,” GloRilla came out for “Tomorrow 2” (which included an adorable Annie-inspired anime intro), and Latto appeared for the live performance debut of the pair’s new “Put It on da Floor Again” team-up. With unmatched energy and a smart visual eye, Cardi dominated Summer Jam.