In practically any other year, the most important item to come from the 2014 102 JAMZ SuperJam would undoubtedly be that Rick Ross’s experience there ended exactly how his 2012 one began — in the temporary custody of Greensboro law enforcement. Sure, his post-show arrest for flouting a scheduled court appearance to answer for his pre-SuperJam 2012 marijuana citation had Greensboro back in TMZ’s lede. Most of the last dozen SuperJams have served as a barometer for which rap cuts will bang from the most trunks tuned to 102 JAMZ for approximately the next three months, and that kind of secondary drama is perfect fodder to fill about 30 minutes of its most glib morning show in the Piedmont.
To 102 JAMZ’s custodial ends, they have been extremely effective in no small part to their role as marshal for the summertime rap playlist. Their burden is to not put the best and brightest hip-hop talent on a stage before a coliseum full of discerning hip-hop lovers, but to work both sides of a causality and engage the widest audience possible: these are the rappers that get the most airplay, therefore these are the rappers who people most want to see. But what if the SuperJam bookings primarily consisted of rappers that hip-hop fans should most want to see? It didn’t make TMZ headlines, but for once, SuperJam’s burden of catching promotional lightning in a bottle was also actually a coup in the artistic sense.
Indeed, this year’s lineup — and it’s never a lineup until it actually happens; see A$AP Rocky’s last-second cancellation last year — was free of the walking ringtones that stacked the lineups of the late 2000s. There were no Fast Life Yungstaz, Party Boyz or Yung Chris like recent years; rappers whose brief stints in relevancy almost seemed like a favor to someone in hindsight. Ca$h Out made an unannounced return as the opening artist — probably as a favor to Yo Gotti — in the same spot he occupied two years earlier. It probably could have been more wisely used as a way to feature a local artist. Greensboro rapper JK the Reaper lamented Greensboro’s preference for big-name rappers in a recent interview in which he also suggested that he was soon to no longer be a Greensboro rapper because of it. Instead, there was the biggest rapper who has yet to transcend these events in Rick Ross and the usual, if imperfect robustness of Yo Gotti at the top, along with genuinely impassioned affairs from Kid Ink and K Camp at the bottom. The middle tier of YG and Young Thug, however, was 40 minutes of unalloyed intrigue.
Maybe the most interesting part of following SuperJam is the pre-lineup speculation that transpires on social media in the run-up. If there’s any doubt that it’s indeed an important cultural event, one only need to check the frequency with which Ty Dolla Sign, Rich Homie Quan or Lil Boosie were speculated to be on the bill on Twitter. Compton upstart YG (or Bompton, if you prefer his pro-Blood vernacular) was among the commonly requested, simply because his outstanding debut My Krazy Life is still just a few months old. Despite having one of the best support networks in hip-hop (including DJ Mustard, whose beats were a part of almost every SuperJam artists’ sets), and rapping about it on “My Hitta”, he cleared his stage almost entirely. He was a rapper throwing it back to the glory days of West Coast hiphop on the East Coast, covering Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” amidst reminding everyone that he has more party hits on the radio than anyone right now.
Rarely would you see anyone rooting for a Young thug set, however. And it’s not because the weirdo Atlanta product isn’t beloved to a unreasonable degree; it’s because he just doesn’t fit the SuperJam “type”, which is to say that in reality he doesn’t fit any type. He is sui generis, a rapper who goes against every putative truth in the ultramasculine, testosterone-fueled hip-hop world.
102 morning show co-host B-Daht’s recent self-inflicted grievance over the Winston- Salem State homecoming king candidate’s choice to run in drag looks especially daft in hindsight, because no one with any sense is making hay out of the gender identity matters accompanying Young Thug. The name, as generic as it sounds, is almost meant to be construed as a send-up of rap names, a la Pimp Trick Gangsta Clique on OutKast’s “Return of the G” skit. He paints his nails, calls his best guy friends “love” and wears dresses just because. In the case, the impossibly gangly Young Thug came on stage wearing one of the oddest pant creations in rap, a Day-Glo calico concept as left-field as the man wearing them.
It was a shame that he was relegated to a 15-minute slot, because there’s no more hypnotic presence in hip-hop, or any genre, right now. He has, in the words of rap critic David Drake, that “mysterious quality commonly referred to as it”; and what “it” was in this instance was the ability to transcend the feral vocal tactility heard on his heavily post-processed records, offer up a more human-sounding presentation of songs like the darkly mesmerizing “Danny Glover” or the silly, but insanely clever Picacho and still turn a crowd on its head. He brought along his close associate and favorite producer London On the Track to serve as a hype man, but he wasn’t needed; it was impossible to avert ones eyes from this strange creature.
At the lower rungs, performances by K Camp and Kid Ink were impassioned affairs with more than one big-time track at their centers. DJ Ern spun K Camp’s neo-snap hit “Cut Her Off” as pre-show house music just minutes before the Atlanta-based rapper was to go on as if by reflex, and the audience’s reaction was still enormous when the emcee dropped the genuine article off of his two-month-old debut EP. His set wasn’t without a bit of humor, either. He asked anyone who had more than twenty dollars in their pockets to make some noise, an unconscious throwback to the days of lower bars at SuperJam The conscious reminder, however, was a surprise appearance by Lil Cousin Terio, the morbidly obese, dancing seven-year-old of Internet “Ooh Kill ‘Em” fame, still being exploited by his disgusting family and ethically-unburdened club and tour promoters, and being set on an irreversible path down the gutter. The charm of his early Vine videos wore off long ago, and as sad as it is to say, his life will never be better than it is right now because of the decisions made by others. Ice JJ Fish, another ridiculous novelty of Internet fame, was scheduled to appear off the books, but didn’t show.
Before Ross was scooped by police waiting off-stage, he didn't mind veering off script despite having a relatively fresh record to promote. There was surprising deference in his voice as he paid his respects to the recently departed Bobby Womack, dropping the beat and a verse from “Oil Money Gang”, a year-old track buoyed by the sweetness of Womack’s “That’s the Way I Feel About Ya”. A lot of the nearly 10,000 people in attendance likely not only learned of the passing of Bobby Womack earlier in the day from Rick Ross, but given the young-leaning audience that SuperJam has taken on, many likely learned who Bobby Womack was, period. It was a small victory, but not the only one. !