Hip-Hop Celebrates Its Golden Anniversary at Yankee Stadium

There was a cipher going on outside the Hip-Hop 50 Live show at Yankee Stadium. One woman took the mic, intently closing her eyes while focusing on her next bar.  As I walked away, she rhymed an improvisational derivative of recuperate, before spitting “that’s not even a word, I just be sayin’ shit.” The line set an apropos tone for the day. Hip-hop was bore out of rule-shirking and boundless imagination — and it made its way to “the house that Ruth built” to celebrate its 50th anniversary. 

While Queens’ Rock The Bells had an overwhelming populace of 40+ fans the week before, it seemed like the Hip-Hop 50 Live crowd in the Bronx had a wider swathe of young adults, with fans of all ethnicities in the building. I noticed someone wearing a shirt with “Fuck dat commercial shit” on the back. Two women had matching “It’s like this and like that and uh” shirts. Some wore merch that they had already bought from the vendors outside the stadium (sorry Mass Appeal!). 

Unfortunately, I had plenty of time to ogle fashion choices because of the show’s chaotic entry process. It took almost two hours to get into the venue, and it seemed like only a dozen or so frustrated, undermanned staff had to contend with thousands of people who were all confused about what line to stand in. The line for field-level seats was so stagnant it compelled one concertgoer to exhort, “Fuck 50 years of hip-hop, this line’s felt like 50 years.” 

After a while, tensions rose with impatient attendees and it felt like the wrong attempt to cut the line could go left — with no security in sight. Eventually, NYPD officers — and a random guy standing outside the stadium — ended up having to do the show organizer’s job and give the crowd directives. Lil Wayne started his set, like all his sets, by twice telling his fans “I ain’t shit without you” — the people involved in putting Hip-Hop 50 Live together need to heed that.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 11: Lil’ Kim performs onstage during Hip Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium on August 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

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I missed most of the bottom half of the bill but walked into Lil Kim giving a spirited performance of her classic catalog, fully leaning into showmanship by giving the crowd her crouching “Hunting for you” dance. She brought out King Combs for “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” after “Crush On You.” You get the sense that he wanted to dance more than rap — life is limitless as Diddy’s son. 

It seemed like the night’s most exciting sets (that I saw) were buoyed by exhilarating guest appearances: T.I., A Boogie, Wayne, Ice Cube, Havoc, Cam’ron and others did solid jobs of commandeering their sets mostly solo, but unfortunately, Juelz Santana and Jim Jones didn’t come out with Cam’ron, and the late Prodigy could only hold Havoc down in spirit, with Big Noyd filling in for him.

Fat Joe brought out legendary breakdancer Crazy Legs, Ashanti, and Remy Ma (twice). He also had Peter Gunz come out and let the world know, “If it wasn’t for the Bronx, this rap shit probably would never be goin’ on.” A drippy Ghostface Killah had Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and Cappadonna join him on stage, frequently switching out classic Wu beats with other legendary breakbeats. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 11: Snoop Dogg, Doug E Fresh, and Slick Rick attend Hip Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium on August 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)


Nas and Snoop’s sets were also essentially “And friends” sets. Snoop Dogg brought out Wiz Khalifa, and Too $hort for “Blow The Whistle” (after a puzzling phone call skit sponsored by Google Pixel). The Bay Area legend brought out Flo Milli for “Flo The Whistle.” Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick, and Doug E. Fresh then fused their versions of “La Di Da Di” together for the first time ever, and the performance concluded with an astonishing Doug E. Fresh beatboxing session — it was one of the few moments where it felt like an aspect of hip-hop besides rap and DJing was centerstage. 

Nas highlighted the legendary DJ Kool Herc during his set, giving him a hug and lauding him as the “Godfather of Hip-Hop.” That said, his vocal acknowledgment of Cindy Campbell, Herc’s sister who organized the renowned back-to-school party, after an “oh yes” felt awkwardly exemplary of how women in rap are regarded. Nas also brought out Kool G Rap, and then his close friend Lauryn Hill. Their “If I Ruled The World” performance wasn’t as polished as it could have been, but it felt like the reverie of a Lauryn Hill sighting kept the crowd engaged. She then delved into “Fugee-La” and “Killing Me Softly,” keeping the crowd (and Nas) in a trance with her unforgettable harmonies. 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 11: Nas and Lauryn Hill perform onstage during Hip Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium on August 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

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It was after 1 a.m. by the end of Nas’ set, and many fans left after his conclusion. My seats were in front of a foot traffic throughway, and my view of Run-D.M.C.’s fiery, possibly final, performance was speckled by people leaving (even some in Run-D.M.C. shirts). The mass departure could have simply been because it was late. But it also felt sadly reflective of generational ties and the devaluation of our pioneers. How many of those people would have left before a Jay-Z, Nas, or Drake set?

Right before they were set to perform “My Adidas,” Run noted that one concertgoer didn’t have a shell-toe shoe to put in the air. There was a time when the crowd would be full of fans wearing the hip-hop staple in allegiance; Adidas was giving them out last night as souvenirs. The fans who understand them as more than novelty are no longer here in droves, or at least no longer able to stick it out into the middle of the night.


These moments are fleeting. Hip-Hop 50 is the first time in a long time that so many rap legends have gotten stadium shows and major platforms to amplify them. How do the entities who made millions off of Hip-Hop 50 plan to keep this energy up on January 1st when the 50th anniversary branding opportunities and money-grab are over? Will fans challenge them to?

Hip-hop’s genesis didn’t happen in medieval times. Our pioneers are still here to tell their stories. They’re still outperforming artists half their age. How much do we appreciate it besides merely acknowledging that it’s a cool dynamic? Last night was momentous, fun, and nostalgic, but the mass excursion during Run D.M.C.’s possible final set was a disappointment. Even still, they performed with vigor, giving the roughly 40% of capacity crowd their money’s worth. That’s what an MC does.

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 11: A general view during the Hip Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium on Friday, August 11, 2023 in New York, New York. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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