Ten Can't-Miss Hip-Hop Shows This Summer

With Memorial Day in the rearview and lots of daylight on the horizon, Nonstop Sound looks at the 10 biggest hip-hop concerts of the summer, in chronological order.

June 5: Hot 97 SummerJam 2011 at New Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Now in its fourth year — the second at New Meadowlands — the festival boasts a lineup featuring legitimate superstars Lil Wayne, Drake, Rick Ross, Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa, plus a colorful supporting cast highlighted by Queens native Waka Flocka Flame and Wayne’s Young Money cohort, Birdman. Past years have included a number of special guests not included in the published lineup — T. Pain and North Carolina emcee J. Cole among them — so a high-profile surprise is not out of the question.
June 6: Curren$y at Irving Plaza
Curren$y, a New Orleans rapper originally signed Master P’s No Limit Records and formerly of Lil Wayne’s Young Money label, has bounced all over the hip-hop realm in the past decade. But his latest iteration — as an effortlessly clever underground lyricist with a prolific marijuana habit — is undoubtedly his best, exemplified by last year’s sublimely smooth Pilot Talk I and II. Next week he’ll hit Irving Plaza in the Flatiron District as part of his own Jet Life imprint’s tour, with labelmates Trademark, Roddy and Street Wiz along for the ride. Also: Check out Curren$y’s recently released free mixtape Covert Coup over at www.currensyspitta.com.
June 16: Theophilus London at Music Hall of Williamsburg
R&B-leaning Brooklyn MC and noted Morrissey acolyte Theophilus London has been making considerable-sized waves in 2011, both for an impeccable fashion sense (profiled in the December 2010 issue of GQ) and for his debut EP Lovers Holiday. That mixtape included some intra-borough synergy in the form of TV on the Radio member Dave Sitek’s production of “Wine and Chocolate,” casting London as a sort of ironically soulful hip-hop Tunde Adebimpe, and drew comparisons to forward-thinking contemporaries Drake and Kid Cudi. He’ll perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg as part of a stacked Northside Festival lineup that also features ‘90s indie rock icons Guided by Voices and maximally punk stoners Wavves.
June 18: Big Boi @ Governors Ball
Big Boi transcended his self-description as “one half of the Outkast” in 2010 with Sir Lucious Left Foot, a trunk-rattling instant classic that left anyone with an ounce of appreciation for Southern rap clamoring for his solo follow-up Daddy Fat Sax, due out later this year. In the meanwhile, he’ll hit Governors Island for the inaugural Governors Ball Music Festival alongside headliners Girl Talk, Neon Indian, and Pretty Lights. NB: If you’re on Governors Island on the 18th, you might as well take advantage of the no-overlapping-sets schedule for two more noteworthy sets: whip-smart snark dispensers Das Racist, who claim they’re “complex, like Cournot’s duopoly quantities," and internet sensation Mac Miller, who looks sorta like a guy I went to high school with.
June 20: Flying Lotus at Bowery Ballroom (also June 22 at Music Hall of Williamsburg)
FlyLo’s an outlier on this list, but the L.A. producer, nee Stephen Ellison, is nonetheless a must-see performer: like the prodigal child of J. Dilla, Burial, and John Coltrane (in fact, the two are related: Coltrane’s second wife, jazz pianist Alice, was Ellison’s aunt), FlyLo’s trademark is an elaborate, dense composite of IDM, post-dub, avant-garde jazz and hip-hop. 2010 epic Cosmogramma bisected the frontiers of these genres and solidified Ellison as one of electronic music’s most exciting talents. NB: In case you miss him at Bowery Ballroom, FlyLo will perform another set on June 22 at Music Hall of Williamsburg.
June 21: Talib Kweli at Red Hook Park
Kweli’s self-designated role as protector of all rap music good and pure may be wearing a little thin, but that hardly obscures an illustrious career that includes highlights as half of Blackstar and Reflection Eternal — nor the homecoming vibe of an artist of Kweli’s stature performing about ten minutes away from his childhood home in Park Slope. And the opportunity-cost-conscious can hardly resist: Kweli’s performance, part of the Central Park Summerstage series, is free to attend.
July 9: Raekwon at Prospect Park Bandshell
Another legendary NYC rapper performing free of charge: this time, it’s Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, coming off a veritable renaissance that included the long-awaited, highly-acclaimed sequel to his classic Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx and his 2011 follow-up, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, performing at Prospect Park as part of BRIC Arts’ Celebrate Brooklyn! festival. Like Kweli, Rae’s output has an unmistakable sense of geography; unlike Kweli, Rae’s never had any qualms about spinning tales of rags to riches.
July 15: Waka Flocka Flame at Paradise Theater
A minor mixtape legend whose productivity borders on fiendish, Atlanta native and 1017 Brick Squad member Waka Flocka Flame goes in on the Paradise Theater in the Bronx as part of a hilariously incongruous bill that includes former B2K lead singer Omarion and fellow Atlanta rapper Roscoe Dash. But while his selection of tourmates may be surprising, Waka’s appeal — based less on lyrical prowess (a trait which he is lacking) than on pure, energetic aggression (which he has, in abundance) — lends itself well to a live performance.
July 25: Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean & Chevy Woods at Summerstage
The man behind that curtain of green smoke on one of the best-selling rap albums of the year, Rolling Papers, Wiz has hit it even bigger than fellow mixtape vets and tour companions Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T. He’s done so, in large part, by appealing to the masses with the sort of club-ready beats like “Black & Yellow” and “Roll Up” that readily lend themselves to festival performances or, say, a headlining gig at Central Park’s main stage. But Wiz is no sellout, and the occasionally PG-rated production belies an efficient — if not dazzling — flow. He’ll be joined by Kanye protégé and fellow XXL Freshman alum Big Sean and Taylor Gang sidekick Chevy Woods.
August 11: Nas & Damian Marley at Summerstage
One more legendary New York native rounds out our list: Nas, whose Distant Relatives collaboration with reggae artist Damian Marley saw him shifting his focus from Queensbridge to Africa. The venerable MC recently confirmed the title of an upcoming 2011 album — and the involvement of longtime associate and fellow Queens native Mobb Deep as Life Is Good. Nas will take the main stage at Central Park on August 11 with Marley to conclude their joint transatlantic tour.
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