Ralph McDaniels on 20 Years of Hot 97's Summer Jam and That Whole Nicki Minaj Thing

Categories: Summer Jam

Ralph McDaniels

This Sunday, MetLife stadium will hold the 2013 incarnation of what's become hip-hop's most reliably controversial night, the Hot 97 Summer Jam. The 20th annual Summer Jam, it's seen the genre's biggest stars perform and game-changing moments happen. One man whose seen just about every Summer Jam is New York's living legend "Video Music Box" host Ralph McDaniels. We spoke to "Uncle Ralph" about what the annual concert has meant to hip-hop and what he's looking forward to this weekend.

See also: Nicki Minaj Met Her Nemesis Live on Hot 97 This Morning

Prior to Summer Jam's inception in 1994, do you recall New York having any major annual summer hip-hop events?
There was the Budweiser Superfest, but that wasn't really a hip-hop show. There might have been some other acts on that.

Do you recall what made those early Summer Jams different than going to other hip-hop shows at the time?
Well, I think what Summer Jam brought was that it was a hip-hop audience. It wasn't an R&B audience or Pop audience with hip-hop included. It was hip-hop first. So, it just felt like a big party, which was different from concerts before that because it was presented as a hip-hop party. We had been doing big parties, but it was never a big thing like that.

Being it started in the mid-90s at the height of the east coast-west coast feud, do you recall any of those early shows reflect the New York hip-hop anti-outsider mentality?
I'm sure it did. There are certain artists that I feel always cross that barrier. Dre always crossed it, Snoop always crossed it. Eventually, OutKast did. I don't think they ever had a problem at Summer Jam. But it was definitely an East Coast kinda thing. There were enough artists here with enough presence on the charts to fill it up.

While every radio station in a major market has their big annual summer or holiday concert, Summer Jam's always felt like the one that gets talked about nationwide. Do you recall the first Summer Jam that felt like such a monumental event?
I think 2000 was pretty big. You had Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z on the same show. You also had Ca$h Money on the bill, who were getting really popular. I think the show was bigger, it was a lot of artists.

Yeah, that show was the charts. That and 2003 with 50 Cent, Nas, Eminem, Busta Rhymes and Nelly just seem colossal.
Well 2003 was a big year because that's when we moved to Giants Stadium. Prior to that it was at Nassau Colosseum, which was a big difference. Nassau was maybe 20,000, but Giants stadium was 50,000 and you realized this was huge. I can remember it was also when they were moving away from hip-hop to just rap. It was not quite what the old timers were used to and people felt left out. But times were changing, the audience was younger and into different sounds. Maybe guys you would see backstage at the other shows in the early 90s weren't there anymore because they didn't feel they were a part of that scene. You really see a changing of the artists.

What do you think gives the show such a different vibe?
You just kind of shared the stage with whoever the headliner was, and if they had any special guests, they would pop up. I remember, one year, Alicia Keys brought out some of the guys from Wu-Tang and, I think, the Lox because they had a remix [together]. People would do remixes just so the radio would start to play them and then they would do the remix at the concert just to include them at the show, which was pretty ill.

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