Honest question: How many of y’all knew that Hot 97’s Summer Jam was last weekend? If you asked hip-hop fans which annual music event happened last weekend, they probably would have mentioned Governors Ball first.
Twenty years ago, Summer Jam was a moment. It was a rite of passage for hip-hop’s superstars. Here was the 1999 lineup:
Aaliyah, Jay Z, Nas, Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Kim, Cash Money team, Foxy Brown, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Busta Rhymes, Ja Rule, Ruff Ryders, The Lox, Lady Saw & Lil’ Vicious
That’s a stacked roster full of supermax contracts right there. In comparison, here was last weekend’s lineup:
Cardi B, Meek Mill, Casanova 2X, A Boogie, Migos, Tory Lanez, City Girls, Kash Doll, Rich The Kid, Davido, Megan Thee Stallion, Melii, Lil’ Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus
The lineup has gotten some hate, but it’s stronger than year’s past. The big name drop-off is not surprising. It’s the same change I wrote about in my February article, Why New York Hip-Hop Couldn’t Stay on Top Forever:
In the 80s and 90s, radio stations, distributors, and artists had tremendous control over the songs we listened to. Rappers from New York and Los Angeles were better positioned than artists in other cities because of their proximity to gatekeepers. The relationships built and influence used (and abused) made it easier to ensure that a particular artist dominated airwaves.
The internet has since democratized artists and fans ability to reach each other directly. As a result, consumers took power away from radio stations and other once-powerful outlets. There was a natural gravitation to shift attention to sub-genres and regions that were once overlooked.
This applies to Summer Jam too. The annual concert thrived on the agglomeration economy of New York hip-hop. Over the years, critics have questioned the event’s relevance.
Despite the critiques, the 50,000-capacity concert sells out each year. Cheapest tickets were $39 on Ticketmaster, and the average resale value was nearly $175. If the average ticket price was $100, that’s $5 million in revenue from ticket sales alone (not including concession or sponsorship). Based on conservative estimates, it probably cost $2 million to rent a venue like MetLife Stadium. Even if it cost another $3 million to book talent for Summer Jam, it’s still a good business model for the radio station.
Keep in mind, the Summer Jam concerts of the 90s were held at the Meadowlands Arena parking lot–a much smaller venue than the MetLife Stadium where the New York Giants and Jets play. I couldn’t find precise numbers, but I predict that the revenue and net income from the most recent Summer Jams are higher than those in the 90s–even after adjusting for inflation.
In today’s social media environment, it’s easy to conflate cultural relevance with revenue generation. Likes and retweets are not the same as commas in the bank account.
Summer Jam might not be the cultural beacon it once was. But it’s still a cash cow. And honestly, Hot 97 probably saves money by not getting the biggest names on its grand stage.