“If you remember anything from tonight, remember this one thing: I ain’t s— without you,” proclaimed Lil Wayne at the Hip Hop 50 Live concert on Friday (Aug. 11). As tens of thousands of fans descended upon Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the most important and influential art forms in the world, Wayne’s message was proven correct.
Hip Hop 50 Live, which featured headliners Run-D.M.C. in their final show, was a celebration of the genre’s roots and evolution as much as it was a celebration of the fans and community that have kept pushing the culture forward for 50 years and counting. Featuring a crowd as diverse as New York City itself, the concert placed a heavy emphasis on honoring the genre’s pillars such as The Sugarhill Gang and Melle Mel. From undisputed icons like Roxanne Shante to new-school innovators like A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Friday night’s concert was the physical embodiment of the cross-generational impact of hip-hop.
Assembling a lineup that effectively conveys the cultural, regional, sexual, and generational diversity of a genre as multilayered as hip-hop is no easy task. While the show was notably lacking in contemporary stars, the concert’s lineup was more than capable of captivating the massive stadium. Performances included sets from Nas, Lil Wayne, Ice Cube, Wiz Khalifa, Ghostface Killah, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Cam’Ron, T.I., Lil’ Kim, Trina, Remy Ma, Fat Joe, Slick Rick, EPMD, Snoop Dogg and more.
Hip Hop 50 Live specifically commemorated a legendary party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue hosted by Cindy Campbell and DJed by DJ Kool Herc — a party that birthed hip-hop. As such, the celebration took things all the way back to the beginning. The Sugarhill Gang delighted the audience with a rousing rendition of “Rapper’s Delight,” which is widely regarded as the first commercially released hip-hop song, and rap pioneer Grandmaster Caz rocked the house with performances of “It’s Us,” among other Cold Crush Brothers selections.
Of course, hip-hop is about more than just the rappers. DJs also got their due at Friday’s concert, with legendary DJs like Marley Marl and Mannie Fresh keeping the energy flowing with sets that frequently highlighted the sub-genres and sounds of hip-hop not present on the official bill.
As the night transitioned into lengthier sets, both Lil Wayne (one of Billboard’s2023 Hip-Hop Hall of Fame inductees) and T.I. reminded attendees that both have an endless stream of hits across eras and genres. T.I. held it down for the South and 20 years of Trap Muzik with a set that included such hits as “Swagga Like Us,” “Whatever You Like,” and “Live Your Life.” Lil Wayne, who masterfully tore through countless anthems, pulled out hits like “A Milli,” “Uproar,” “I’m Goin’ In,” and a cruel tease of “Back That Azz Up,” that left the crowd hanging.
Hip Hop 50 Live was co-produced by Mass Appeal, Live Nation, and the New York Yankees. Emmy Award-winner BASSic Black Entertainment CEO Adam Blackstone and producer and keyboardist Omar Edwards served as the concert’s creative music directors.
Here are the 8 best moments of Hip Hop 50 Live:
Doug E. Fresh Transforms Into ‘Human Beat Box’
The pioneer of beatboxing as we know it, Doug E. Fresh, reminded the world why he is nicknamed the “Human Beat Box.” During Snoop Dogg’s set, Doug E. Fresh sauntered toward the middle of the stage and proceeded to deliver nearly five minutes of uninterrupted beatboxing. Oozing with intensity and clearly operating in a space of otherworldly talent, he captivated Yankee Stadium unlike any other act at Hip-Hop 50. Throughout his solo showcase, rows of people continued to rise to their feet, simply hooked at the raw talent and verve on display.
A Boogie Wit da Hoodie Reps the New School
Highbridge-bred rapper A Boogie Wit da Hoodie held down many a New York summer during the 2010s, and he got a much-deserved chance to bask in his success and impact at Friday night’s concert. From “Look Back At It” and “Drowning” to “Jungle” and “My S—,” A Boogie represented contemporary hip-hop amidst a setlist that skewed heavily towards the old school. Watching him perform at the legendary Yankee Stadium just a few blocks down from where he grew up was one of the night’s most touching moments. A Boogie also received a proclamation from the Hood Caucus courtesy of Bronx Councilman Kevin Riley, another testament to the impact of his voice.
Ghostface Killah Hosts Wu-Tang Clan Mini-Reunion
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Hip Hop 50 Live was just how lethal the old heads still are when it comes to rapping live. Forgotten lyrics and heavy backing tracks tend to muddy some contemporary hip-hop performances, but giants of the genre like Ghostface Killah — who hilariously donned a Red Sox cap at Yankee Stadium — don’t fall victim to those things. Given the intensely collaborative nature of Wu-Tang Clan’s solo endeavors, it was only right that Ghostface brought out Method Man, Cappadonna, and Inspectah Deck. The Wu-Tang Clan members performed classics such as “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F— Wit,” “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” and “Ice Cream.” Their set also provided some great moments of camaraderie between the members — specifically Ghost and Meth.
Snoop Dogg Bridges Generations & Reps the West Coast
At Hip Hop 50 Live, Snoop Dogg delivered one of the most beloved sets of the night. From “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to “Gin and Juice,” Snoop Doggy Dog kept the hits flowing, but, in true hip-hop fashion, his performance was about his own legacy just as much as it was about honoring rap’s pioneers and highlighting where the genre is headed. Snoop brought out hip-hop pillars EPMD, “Blow the Whistle” rapper Too $hort, and the legendary Slick Rick, who came decked out in his trademark eyepatch and a dramatically tilted fedora, and allowed each act to take up space with their individual sounds and classic records. The West Coast rap icon also showed some love to new school stars Flo Milli and Scar Lip, who delivered a characteristically fiery performance of her rousing “This Is New York.”
Part of Snoop’s set merged with Wiz Khalifa’s. The two performed “Young, Wild & Free” before launching into “See You Again,” which served as the soundtrack for the second in-memoriam-esque segment of the night — a reminder that celebrating 50 years of hip-hop also means remembering the staggering number of artists we have lost over the past few decades.
Queens of Hip-Hop Reign Supreme
For a culture that continues to grapple with so much misogyny and misogynoir, it is nothing short of poetic that Black women are currently some of the genre’s most powerful voices. It’s also no surprise that Black women delivered some of the best all-around performances of Hip Hop 50 Live.
Bronx rapper Remy Ma delivered a set that flaunted her commanding stage presence and solo hits like “Conceited.” Trina reminded the stadium why she is the blueprint for an entire subgenre of Southern female rap with a scintillating set featuring renditions of “Da Baddest B—-” and “Here We Go.” Breakout Brooklyn-bred rapper Lola Brooke also popped out for a brief performance of her signature hit “Don’t Play With It.”
Nonetheless, it was Lil’ Kim who delivered the most fully-realized set of the Queens of Hip-Hop segment. Introduced by a royal court setup complete with flags emblazoned with her iconic album covers, Lil Kim emerged from the bottom of the stage and treated fans to performances of “All About the Benjamins” and “Big Momma Thang.” Kim spent the majority of her set interacting with the crowd, truly taking in just how enormous Yankee Stadium is — and what it means for hip-hop to occupy such an iconic venue.
Fat Joe Brings Big Boricua Energy to the Stage
More than any other performer’s, Fat Joe’s set truly highlighted the diversity and breadth of hip-hop culture. Preceded by a brief performance by Crazy Legs of Rock Steady Crew and famed bboy Gravity, Fat Joe entered the stage with giant Puerto Rican flags waving in front of him. The rapper, who was visibly overcome with a deep reverence for the moment, ran through hits like “What’s Luv” and “All the Way Up,” bringing out Ashanti, Terror Squad, and paying tribute to Big Pun in the process.
Notorious for his wider frame, Fat Joe flaunted his slimmer body once he took off his shirt and performed the second half of his set completely topless. Simultaneously, a genuine celebration of the Latinx influence on hip-hop’s creation and a testament to the sprawling influence of Terror Squad, Fat Joe’s set was one of the best moments of Hip-Hop 50 Live.
Run-D.M.C. Rock Yankee Stadium With Final Show
Just before 1:30 a.m. EST, Kings of Rock Run-D.M.C. finally took the stage at Hip Hop 50 Live. Although the show had been running for around eight hours before the legendary hip-hop duo graced the stage, fans remained glued to their seats for the chance to bask in the final performance from one of the most important musical acts of the last fifty years.
For their final show, Run and DMC performed with the same vigor and spunk that helped them become one of the most important names in hip-hop history. The two rappers ran up and down the stage as they performed seminal hits like “It’s Tricky” and “Walk This Way.” As hip-hop and capitalism have become increasingly married throughout the genre’s evolution, it was interesting to watch Run-D.M.C. flaunt their innovative Adidas partnership with entire sections of the crowd holding up the three-striped shoe in honor of the group. At multiple points during the night, Run requested that all the stage lights be cut, casting the stadium in darkness until the first few notes of their biggest hits blasted through the speakers. Run-D.M.C. may have been doing this since ’83, but they still know how to put on a damn good show.
Nas Honors Hip-Hop’s Forefathers & Delivers Powerful Career-Spanning Performance
For Nas, who recently released his fifth Hit-Boy-produced album in just three years, the phrase “slowing down” is not in his vocabulary. One of Billboard’s2023 Hip-Hop Hall of Fame inductees, Nas is celebrating his 50th birthday this year, alongside both hip-hop and the Timberland boot, two intrinsic components of his art and persona. The Queens rapper celebrated the momentous occasion with a captivating set that paid a heartfelt tribute to hip-hop’s pioneers, held space for Ms. Lauryn Hill and Fugees, and centered what makes him so beloved — the conviction of both his lyrics and his delivery of them.
In addition to bringing out hip-hop giant Kool G Rap, Nas also brought out DJ Kool Herc, Cindy Campbell, and their mother Nettie Campbell. Watching Nas, a legend in his own right, humbly thank DJ Kool Herc and Cindy Campbell for their seismic contributions to art and culture was the single defining moment of Hip-Hop 50 Live. An unparalleled level of genuine admiration and reverence filled the stadium, especially once Nas kissed the hand of Ms. Nettie Campbell. The “N.Y. State of Mind” rapper also brought out Ms. Lauryn Hill, who wowed fans with a surprise medley of classics like “Ready or Not,” “Doo Wop (That Thing),” and “Fu-Gee-La,” while donning a hot pink tutu ensemble with towering black stilettos.
It was Nas’ rendition of “One Mic,” however, that truly elevated his set above the rest of the concert. From the brooding crescendoes of the song’s live arrangement to the timeless lyrics that glorify the microphone — arguably the primary tool for transposing the power and necessity of hip-hop’s fearless truth-telling to the world — “One Mic” shone as the crown jewel of Nas’ set. Rapping with a peerless conviction for the sanctity of the culture, Nas delivered an unforgettable performance to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop.