Superjam’s rocky road to 2 Chainz

by Ryan Snyder

If there isn’t a top-shelf cock-up or two, then it just can’t be a proper 102 JAMZ Superjam. Emcees pumping up the crowd with lines like, “Ladies, make some noise if you’re over 18, got good credit and ain’t got no diseases,” or onstage photogs shooting through their live view and walking out in front of performers, or one of the station’s DJs suggesting during the Monday morning wrapup that race played a part in getting pulled on High Point Road after the concert with his headlights off are just some of the aspects of the yearly, bush-league hip-hop soiree that make it so hard to really hate. As a few hours of dumb fun and Grade A people-watching, it’s been wildly effective in that regard for years, but that this year’s event was pretty shamelessly promoted through misdirection, however, puts the heat on its cachet.

Most of the nearly 13,000 attendees didn’t learn that A$AP Rocky, among the most white-hot rappers yet to attain full headliner status, had canceled and been replaced by French Montana, owner of one of the most poorly received debuts of the year, until a sign informing them of the lineup change greeted them at the doors of the Greensboro Coliseum. Montana had been on the initial lineup announcement, along with Rocky, Future, Trinidad James, Ace Hood and 2 Chainz, which was quickly rescinded in favor of a bill replacing him and James with D.C. rapper Wale. The only explanation given from the stage was that Rocky simply “couldn’t make it,” yet radio spots were already in place promoting Montana’s official Superjam after-party at Syn & Sky.

There was a rather unique advantage for Superjam to not tip its hand until it had to. Rocky’s inclusion was a signifier that the concert was continuing to skew further toward cosmopolitan appeal rather than a being symptom of the station’s rigid playlist at the time. Rocky was coming off of an outstanding set at the Bonnaroo Music Festival the weekend before, and Superjam headliner 2 Chainz had done the same a few months earlier at Coachella. Rocky and 2 Chainz injected the event with a kind of hipness that Montana and Future simply don’t have, and after Rocky sold out Greene Street Club last year while still a relative unknown, he was easily worth a few thousand $10 tickets following the No. 1 record he put out in January.

With one of the most quoted, misquoted and parodied single of the year, Ace Hood could have carried the same water, if only he were ever given the chance. He wielded a muscular, doubletime flow and the kind of snappy, focused lines that made 2011’s Blood, Sweat & Tears an under-the-radar success, and his forthcoming Trials & Tribulations might as well be penciled in for the No. 1 spot when it’s released next month, if mostly thanks to the ridiculously catchy track “Bugatti.” But he’s always the Superjam bridesmaid and never the bride, relegated once again to the early opening spot ahead of on-call patsy French Montana and the perennially overrated Wale, even if the singularly loudest Superjam moments came when it was time for the crowd to join in with Hood in exclaiming, “I woke up in a new Bugatti!” French Montana had little choice but to let the familiar samples that dominate his beats and his proclivity for favoring ad-libs over verse to juice his set. The lingering impressions left by long passages from Luniz’s instrumental track from “I Got 5 On It”, Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be with You” and “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, who sadly passed away a few days later, affirmed that Montana is still searching for a memorable hook.

Future, on the other hand, has more than he could ever fit into a condensed Superjam set. He’s forged a durable rap persona out of Drake-style sing-rap and the kind of ignorance found only in Atlanta strip-club Trap, set to ’70s Afro-futurist jazz samples. It’s sincerely confident, menacing and creative, which was what made his effort all that much more disappointing. Rather than cherry-pick the stand-out singles catalog that he’s stuffed in two short years with a steady flow of features and internet hits, he reduced them all to 30-45 second sound bites upon which it was obvious he was lip synching.

He tore through the big hits “Tony Montana” and “Same Damn Time” before anyone could muster a reaction, and gave an even shorter look at his feature verse on his coming-out party “Racks.” There were a few history lessons from his pre-Pluto mixtapes dusted amidst his recent stabs at mainstream R&B for those paying at tention.

Only dedicated hip-hop listeners (a rather rare animal at Superjam) might have recognized them, but Future more or less deprived others the opportunity to go out of their way to seek them out by investing so little in them. It was a lazy effort from someone at the edge of serious fame, but like one of the New Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, he embodies what made him. At the very least, Future is a cult act in the making, but cult acts rarely work in such wide-open spaces.

2 Chainz didn’t have that problem. Easily the oldest rapper on the bill thanks to his previous life as Tity Boi, an anonymous name in Ludacris’s Playaz Circle crew who was fighting to stand out from the likes of Chingy, the towering 2 Chainz has lowered the bar so much that Bushwick Bill could step over it. The former college basketball player is a gawky, non-threatening lunk with a bunch of juvenile, free-associative rhymes that drew intense acrimony from purist hip-hop corners that he would eventually win over. It’s hard not to love lines like “She got a big booty/ So I call her ‘big booty’” or, “I take your wife, I give her back/ Nine months after that, Similac!” He was the most complete performer by far at Superjam — Wale’s full songs and live band came close, but his current LL Cool J- softness is blowing the latitude he earned from A Mixtape About Nothing — and even when technical difficulties sought to undermine the celebratory atmosphere he brought with him.

“I’m killin this shit they tryin’ to sabotage that shit,” he said has his DJ’s deck went dead. He led the crowd in a “Get that shit straight” chant as crewman fiddled with wires, affirming, “They got the white dude out here, we fixin’ to get to the bottom of this shit.”

You knew the show was once again afloat not necessarily by the beats coming through the speakers, but by his elastic battle of his own name, a direct descendent of Lil Jon’s own “Yeayuh!” It was applied liberally, before he recited the remix of Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything” in its entirety, before his take on Juicy J’s “Bands Make Her Dance,” and before his explosive “RIP.” What he lacks in actual rapping skills, he makes up for in sheer effort. Not even Superjam can screw that up.