I forgot why I originally signed up for email updates Mass Appeal, but on June 9, 2023, that decision paid off. The email informed me of an all-star line-up for a massive concert at Yankee Stadium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip hop, specifically 50 years to the day and in the same borough as DJ Herc’s back-to-school block party on August 11, often cited as the genesis of the genre. Seats were quickly disappearing off of the online ticket site, so I impulsively bought four and would figure out the details later. Two months and two days later, I was in New York on the subway going to the Bronx with my sister, sister-in-law, and one of their friends for the show!
The concert started at 6PM, an early start time for a Friday, and we were hoping the actual music would start later on. However, due to the giant setlist, the music was well underway by the time we arrived at Yankee Stadium around 7PM. There was a sea of people waiting to get in, and after some misinformation on which line to be in, we got to our seats 45 minutes later. Sadly, we missed the legends and DJ sets at the start of the bill: DJ Kool Herc, Kurtis Blow, Roxanne Shante, Melle Mel, The Sugarhill Gang, and many more. This concert was very intentional to give props to the founders and to emphasize the Bronx as the birthplace, which we genuinely appreciated. On the other hand, there was certainly a lack of emphasis on the women in hip hop and hip hop artists outside of New York, with no international acts outside of Slick Rick. While notable, that did not put a damper on the dozens of performers all gathered for a one-night only birthday extravaganza!
By the time we got to our seats, we caught “The Light” at the end of Common’s set, which was a good way to start the evening. The next part of the show was the “Queens of Hip Hop” set, which despite what you may have read sadly did not include Eve. Trina kicked off the set, and was just fine as a live performer. Remy Ma was next and put on a good show, with my highlight being her verse on “Ante Up.” Lil’ Kim closed that set and was its star. She entered using a trap door to pop up on stage (the only artist we saw use that), and the energy kept going from there! There was a huge fanbase for her in the crowd, and the women seated behind us knew all of the words every time she put her mic towards the crowd. She played seven songs, and “It’s All About the Benjamins,” “Get Money,” and “Money, Power & Respect” were strong highlights.
The next set was a solid set of non-headlining MC’s. Havoc of Mobb Deep was the first of that group, and “Shook Ones, Part II” certainly stood out. T.I. was next, and personally one of the people I was most excited to see having never seen him live (incredibly, I had seen many on the bill at least once before). His set started out flat since he barely rapped and was just mostly playing sections of his hits. With limited performing time, I can understand trying to play as many songs as you can, but coming at the expense of him actually rapping was disappointing. He closed stronger by actually performing his last four songs: “Bring ‘Em Out,” “Swagga Like Us,” “Live Your Life,” and “What You Know.” It’d be great to see him put on a real show where he was able to showcase his ability more. Ghostface Killah came on after T.I. and had a great set. He’s an excellent performer and did not disappoint by bringing out other members of the Wu-Tang Clan as special guests: Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and Cappadonna. They all performed solo and Wu-Tang songs, and it is always fun to have a hip hop group perform and showcase the group rhyming dynamic. Cam’ron closed this set and put on a rousing show; he is a great performer live, and his hits “Hey Ma” and “Oh Boy” were highlights.
The following set featured Bronx performers, with DJ Kid Capri kicking it off with a very fun hip hop dance set that spanned the decades. At the end, he also brought out Yankee legend Derek Jeter, and the crowd went wild. A Boogie wit da Hoodie followed, notably the only “current” artist included on the entire bill (versus coming on as a special guest), and his hits “Look Back At It” and “Drowning” were enjoyable. The show also featured him receiving a proclamation from city hall, which literally no one cared about. Fat Joe closed the Bronx set and put on a surprisingly entertaining show. He brought out Ashanti as a special guest for “What’s Luv” and Remy Ma back out for her verse on “All the Way Up” – the ability to hear songs with the features all live was an underrated part of the show knowing I may not see it live ever again. KRS-One also came out as a special guest, and was another great old school act and killed it on “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over.”
There were absolutely no lulls on the headliner set. Lil Wayne kicked that off, and although personally I am not the biggest fan, he put on a fantastic show; multiple times throughout the set, he gave appreciation to the audience which was thoughtful and unexpected. He happened to end with three of my favorite three songs of his: his verse on “Pop That,” “6 Foot 7 Foot,” and “A Milli” (and walked off the stage to Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” to boot!). Ice Cube was impressively crisp, especially considering his music career is mostly behind him. He was a pro and played his hits along with two N.W.A. songs. Continuing the West Coast vibes, Snoop followed and had one the best sets of the night. Not only did he seamlessly perform his hits, but he graciously used his set to bring on a ton of special guests: Wiz Khalifa, Too $hort, DJ Hollywood (an early MC inspiration who I was not familiar with), Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Lola Brooke (a new artist I enjoyed and did not know), and many more than that! Doug E. Fresh stole the show with his extended beatboxing set – I’m talking minutes of straight beatboxing! – and performing “The Show” live with Slick Rick was incredible to witness. Nas was the last headliner prior to Run DMC, unsurprising in that he put on this show with Mass Appeal. Nas is obviously a gifted MC and performed as well as expected. He too brought out special guests which really enhanced his set, his mentor Kool G Rap but even more exciting was Lauryn Hill. I’ve seen Lauryn twice before, with one time great and the other lacking, but she really delivered on this night. She performed two her duets with Nas, “Nobody” and “If I Ruled the World,” and then performed two of her songs and then two from the The Fugees: “Ready or Not,” “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Killing Me Softly With Hiis Song,” and “Fu-Gee-La”. Lauryn stole the show from Nas, and everyone was on board!
Jermaine Dupri came on the stage to announce Run DMC… at 1:30AM! Though it was late, the legendary duo were not lacking energy at all. Particularly, Run’s energy was notably weird – aggressive, demanding, focused – but he and DMC were committed to putting on a show. There was, however, a lack of sentimentality considering that this was reportedly their last show ever; also, not overtly mentioning Jam Master Jay at all was an odd choice to say the least. Nevertheless, they cranked out hit after hit – including my favorites “It’s Like That,” “It’s Tricky,” and “Down With The King” – performing over a dozen songs to close the magical night at 2AM. Seeing them live was an incredible capstone on a full day’s worth of entertainment, and an appropriate party to celebrate the genre of hip hop!