The first annual J.A.M. Awards took the Hammerstein Ballroom by storm on a cold Thursday night in NYC. The event not only paid tribute to legendary Run DMC DJ Jam Master Jay in spirit, it also served as a benefit for the Jam Master Jay Foundation for Music which supports arts education in public schools. Three awards were presented that night; the Justice award went to Check D, The Art Award to graffiti artist LEE Quinones, and the Music Award to Wyclef Jean. Quinones was the only award winner present to accept his award. The variety pack of performances highlighted some of the most awesome and very least awesome things about live hip hop shows in the 00’s.
The Awards were meant to start at 8 pm, but not until after 9:30 did any action take place on the stage. There wasn’t even a DJ to get the crowd riled up; the sound system just yawned out The Meters’ golden greats at mid-volume. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with The Meters, but listening to them at low volume doesn’t particularly get me excited about staring at an empty stage for one and a half hours. Not Awesome.
Kid Capri, he of the impossibly loud Muppet voice, was the first performer to take the stage and he definitely woke the crowd out of its stupor with a mélange of straight BANGERS from the 80s and 90s by artists like ODB, Onyx, Naughty by Nature and Das EFX. Next up, Long Island’s finest–De La Soul–rode the high energy with a brief, and may I say jolly set, which included “Oooh” and “Stakes Is High”. Awesome.
Mobb Deep was next and they were kind enough to bring along about 7,000 of their friends, each of them wearing and/or throwing “Free P” t-shirts into the crowd. The shirts were an homage to Prodigy’s recent run-in with the law for unlawful gun possession. Though I really could have done without the extremo-posse, Prodigy and Havoc managed to stand out from the sea of homies on stage by giving a powerful performance of the unfuckwithable “Shook Ones.” Simultaneously Not Awesome and Awesome.
“We’re EPMD, for all you young motherfuckers that don’t know.” Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith may both be pushing 40, but they proved they could still rock the crowd with classics like “You Gots to Chill” and “So Wat Cha Sayin'” The crowd totally lost their collective shit when LL Cool J tore onto the stage and performed “Rampage” with the duo. His stage presence was electric and almost as soon as he hit the stage, he was out, leaving the ladies breathless… or maybe that was just me. EPMD’s DJ Scratch remained on stage to showcase some of his tricks, like taking off his shirt while scratching. Jam Master Jay actually introduced Scratch to Erick and Parrish, so this was a very fitting addition to the tribute. Awesome.
The peak of the show kept peaking with the always cool, calm, and collected Snoop Dogg giving a hell of a performance. Clad in an Adidas warm-up jacket and a dookie gold chain and carrying a blinged-out microphone that looked like it belonged around Ghostface’s neck, he cranked out jams like “187”, Nothin’ but a G Thing”, “The Next Episode”, and “Drop it Like it’s Hot”. DMC joined Snoop for a show-stealing performance of “Sucker MCs”. M.O.P. took things in a wilder, darker direction and were all over the stage barking out street anthems “Cold as Ice”, “Ante Up”, and “U Don’t Know”. I was hoping for a Jay-Z cameo, but alas, no. Still – Awesome.
Now is when the show…started….to….drag. Everlast took the stage with a guitar and seemed to spend more time defending his music as hip hop than actually performing it, and he didn’t exactly perform a short set. He covered Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story”, Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain”, and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, for which he said “Johnny Cash is the original gangster of rap”. Hmm, Johnny Cash deserves all the respect in the world, but I don’t think I would credit him with giving birth to hip hop. I mean, really, Everlast. He was wearing some pretty nice kicks, however. Not awesome!!
Dead Prez rolled up and busted into a strong rendition of “Hip Hop”, and then promptly left the stage leaving the audience bewildered and a little grumbly. Up next was Papoose who along with his little posse were the Sesame Street of this show; they all wore bright colors, seemed very eager to please and even did a little trick where they held up letters of the alphabet and Papoose “freestyled” using just the letter that was displayed. I thought it was cute until I realized they were going to use ALL 26 LETTERS. Potential for awesome existed, but unfortunately this was also not awesome.
Jim Jones of Dipset fame graced the stage next with a half-hearted performance which the guy next to me assured everyone he could have done in his living room. I tend to agree. He made a bigger show out of putting on Run DMC-style attire than he did of actually performing. Juelz Santana showed up and without him and his smarmy charisma, I would have fallen asleep. The weird part about this portion of the show was that these two huge bodyguards took the stage during Jim and Juelz’s performance, so while they were acting goofy, there was definitely an ominous feeling in the air. Juelz was awesome, but the rest of that performance was not,
With the final slot of the night, Raekwon was up and if I though Mobb Deep had a lot of unnecessary people on stage, Raekwon had an entire voting district’s worth. Good lord, that was a lot of people. Drunk people. High people. PEOPLE DOING NOTHING! Why were they all there?! Raekwon, as much as I love you and your Cuban Linx and even your alleged Cuban Linx 2, I can’t take all those people on stage with you. I felt like I showed up at a party sober when everyone else was on their 10th shot of Jameson. That’s not awesome. When a drunk dude fell off the stage inches from where I stood, I knew that it was time to call it a night and from the looks of the thinning crowd, I was not alone.