As if I didn’t need another reason to play her music more on the show…
As if I didn’t need another reason to play her music more on the show…
Don’t necessarily call it a homecoming to hip-hop, but for MTV News reporter Sway Calloway, it sure felt good to cover the America’s Most Wanted Music Festival’s first date in Scranton, PA.
“I’ve been on the road doing a lot of stuff with MTV,” explained Calloway – mentioning the Michael Jackson memorial as well as numerous political events. “I really wanted to come back to the core of how I got in this game, and that’s through rap, hip-hop music.”
Producers and MTV News beat reporter Shaheem Reid joined Calloway to cover the event. The team from MTV arrived on Sunday and caught Lil Wayne’s dress rehearsal. By all accounts, it seemed as if the crowd at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain would be in for a special show. But the event impressed Calloway on other levels as well.
“Especially in this time of economic crisis, people said you can’t put together a tour,” said Sway. “Young Money Records, Lil Wayne, stuck their neck out there and they got truly America’s most wanted.”
The lineup is something to marvel at – the front of the bill includes Jeremih (top 10 hit in “Birthday Sex”) and Pleasure P, formerly of Pretty Ricky. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em takes the stage next, followed by Young Jeezy and Wayne – who brings his entire Young Mula crew for the ride. At least for now, that will be sans Drake, who reinjured an already torn ACL on Friday in Camden, NJ. The R&B singer returned to his home of Toronto, where he will undergo surgery this week.
But with a tour this deep, almost any hit to the card is sustainable, especially when you have one of your opening acts tossing out thousands of dollars to the crowd.
“I’ve seen that gimmick over the years a thousand times,” Sway noted of Soulja’s parting act. While performing “Turn My Swag On,” the 19 year-old reached in to his pocket and began tossing out Ben Franklin’s to the crowd as if he was shooting free throws in a gym. “Soulja Boy is the first person I’ve personally witnessed to throw out real, $100 bills, continuously for at least six minutes.”
The MTV reporter estimated that Soulja gave “at least $5,000” to the fans.
“I talked to people who walked away with a couple hundred dollars,” he said. “(Soulja Boy) paid them, to come see him.”
Certainly no one needed any more incentive to show up. Over 12,000 people entered Montage Mountain for the event – a solid figure in an area that has generally struggled to support hip-hop and rhythmic shows. Again, just another testament to the lineup put forth by Wayne. The “maturity” of the acts also impressed Calloway. While we spoke, Young Jeezy performed behind us, backed by a 9-piece band.
“Music is a universal communicator,” said Sway. “You see people right now, partying together, to one beat… and it’s a great venue.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most tech-savvy artist of our generation is using all of his gadgets while on tour this summer to continue creating, producing, and finishing projects.
“I got the studio bus actually on the road, the whole tour,” explained Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em. “So I’m recording my third album, I was tellin’ ya about, The DeAndre Way, it drops in November. I’m recording my album while we’re on tour. So ya’ll can look out for the Soulja Boy/Drake collaboration.”
I sat down with Soulja during Lil Wayne’s set on the opening night of the America’s Most Wanted Music Festival. The summer long tour features Weezy and his Young Money crew, Young Jeezy, Soulja Boy and S.O.D.M.G., Drake, and Jeremih. Pleasure P, formerly of Pretty Ricky, also made it on to the bill.
Drake, who just signed a deal with Universal Records that affords him a $2 million advance, called Soulja, “the smartest artist of our generation, period,” on The Ralphie Radio Show in June. It seems the respect is mutual.
“Drake is a real dude. Most rappers, they don’t like to give the other rappers props,” Soulja Boy said. “He showed me my respect. Drake is a good artist.”
At least when it comes to artistry, it seems most of the rappers on the bill are taking cues from the headliner. Even after the first show, Soulja Boy already found himself inspired and pushed by Weezy.
“I just got through watching Wayne’s show. I’m about to go back to the drawing board,” revealed Soulja. “I feel like, my next show, I just gotta go back and critique everything a little bit, but we straight though.”
However, I’m sure one part of the performance that will not change is the end. The crowd inside Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain exploded when Soulja dropped “Turn My Swag On.” The first few rows of the venue near came to a boil soon after – when the 19 year-old began tossing out $100 bills in to the crowd. MTV News reporter Sway Calloway estimated that Soulja gave back atleast $5,000 to the crowd. But for the Chicago-born rapper, the money itself wasn’t much of a driving factor behind the move.
“I flash back in my head to when I was 15, 14 years -old, just wanted to become a rap star,” he said. “For me to make it, and to become a millionaire, and for my dreams to come true, all that just be flashing through my head.”
- It’s the first tour of any kind for newcomer Jeremih. The Chicago-native currently owns a Top 10 hit in “Birthday Sex.” Talk about being thrown in to the fire of a hectic schedule: while all of the other acts on the bill arrived in Scranton on Sunday, Jeremih touched down in Avoca around 4:30 on Monday. Less than two hours later, he kicked off the show with a quick set of songs from his self-titled, debut LP.
As per the suggestion of myself and Kidd Kraddick In The Morning producer Adam, he ended with the up-tempo version of “Birthday Sex.”
- National media descended again on Northeastern PA for the kickoff of Lil Wayne’s summer tour, and a familiar face showed up in the crowd. I had the pleasure of watching Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em’s set on stage left with not only Scranton’s DJ Woogie, but also MTV News reporter Sway Calloway. In March of 2008, I met Sway at Whistles in downtown Scranton, where he hosted an MTV Choose or Lose event with President Barack Obama.
In our interview, Calloway mentioned how impressed he was with the maturity of hip-hop (at the time, Young Jeezy performed behind us with a six piece band). He also acknowledged an on-stage stunt by Soulja Boy. Calloway has seen the “cash gimmick” many times (hip-hop artists throwing out money to the crowd), but he noted that usually the money is either dollar bills or fake. However, the “Crank That” rapper was tossing out genuine Benjamin Franklin’s in to the stands. Calloway estimated that in those short few minutes, Soulja easily tossed about $5,000 back to the fans.
- Speaking of Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, his night ended on a bit of a down note. Soulja joined Pleasure P (formerly of Pretty Ricky), Sway, Jeezy, and Jeremih on the VIP Deck at stage left to watch Lil Wayne’s performance. During the show, Arab – who is one of the rappers in Soulja Boy’s “S.O.D.M.G.” stable of artists, accidentally spilled a drink on Soulja’s white jeans. When I hopped on board his tour bus, Soulja’s entourage was trying to figure out how they could get to a washing machine: the rapper wanted to wear the jeans to Cancun, where he will be celebrating his 19th birthday.
Despite the misfortunate clothing accident, Soulja was more than happy to speak with me. 97 BHT played “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” more times than any other radio station in Northeastern PA. And apparently, the rapper is keeping tabs on me.
“Ralphie man, I see you blowin’ up, you grindin’ here in Scranton huh?” said Soulja Boy immediately when I walked on to the bus. “I see you on Twitter sendin’ out links and sh**. That’s what’s up man.”
Apparently you never know who is reading what you write on the Internet. But, this didn’t come as a complete shock – since we first met last February, Soulja Boy has uploaded two of my interviews to his YouTube channel – with cumulative views over 200,000.
Soulja is currently working on two new LPs, another solo project with a November release date, and a S.O.D.M.G. album that will drop in December. He’s traveling with a second tour bus that is equipped with a recording studio, so he can finish the projects on the road.
- How tight was security backstage at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain? I spoke with two venue employees, who each were there over 10 years. Both said that they’ve never seen the backstage area on lockdown as much as Monday night’s show.