MANSFIELD — Rick Ross just can’t stop hustlin’. The Miami rapper who built his persona around stories of endless cash, cocaine, and clout turned his headlining set Saturday at Summer Jam 2012 into a 30-minute plug for his Maybach Music Group and upcoming albums.
Ross definitely seemed a step behind the festival’s younger performers who have drained the cartoon gangsta images and endless self-hype from their rap games. B.o.B, Tyga, Big Sean, and Wale did not sound harmless and polite, but in each of their sets you could see where freaky hipster is overtaking hulking thug in terms of style. Maybe it’s just the Kanye effect.
And Nicki Minaj, who played the festival’s longest set at 40 minutes, brought a style all her own, mashing up boasts, coos, and craziness.
Presented by radio station Jam’n 94.5, Summer Jam is part ritual, part survey of trends in mainstream hip-hop and R&B. Aside from an early appearance by Wale, the first half of the 5-plus-hour concert showcased rising talent starting with Boston rapper Millyz, who held his own on the big stage.
Wale, part of Ross’s Maybach posse, was a lure for early attendance and delivered with a breezy set punctuated by “Ambition” and “Slight Work.”
From there it was a jumpy display from Kid Ink, Kirko Bangz, and Diggy Simmons, young acts jockeying for footing. Bangz had the best set of the bunch, especially when pushing the grimy, slow flow of “Play Me.” Kid Ink also went for the slow closer with “Time of Your Life,” but just wasn’t as charismatic as Bangz
Diggy Simmons, the teenage son of Run-DMC’s Rev Run, represents a bad case of hip-hop nepotism. With generic delivery and material, there’s no reason other than his connections to explain his arrival.
B.o.B. was the show’s most entertaining performer, balancing hits and new material in a charismatic display. The new “Strange Clouds” perfectly captured hip-hop’s current attitude; it’s OK to puff a little, but let’s not go around shooting everyone, OK?
B.oB. leveled a knockout combination of “Nothing on You” and “Airplanes” in the middle of his set, which helped him slip in the new “Both of Us” (a bit of pop crossover recorded with Taylor Swift) and “Strange Clouds.”
Big Sean and Tyga positioned themselves as hot rappers of the moment. Sean’s “My Last” gave his set a strong start, and he sustained his momentum across 30 minutes. Tyga had more of ebb and flow, threading his hit “Rack City” into the middle and end of his set.
Minaj and Ross are both very good character actors but not necessarily lead material. The colorful Minaj inevitably steals the scenes when she is popping up on someone else’s track (no way was she getting off the stage without spitting her lines from Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up”). Minaj struggles, though, to be commanding for a whole set, both in terms of vocal style and original material. But she clearly has fun doing what she does — shaking her rump with Big Sean one moment, being her possessed Roman character the next — and that becomes infectious.
Ross closed the night with a rumble of raps about blowing big bucks as the boss. As far as gangsta goes, Ross does bring a chilling edge with “If I Die Today” and true swagger with “9 Piece.”
Scott McLennan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Scott