Summer Jam 2001 is one of the biggest concerts in hip hop history.
That year, the lineup featured artists such as Destiny’s Child, Ludacris, Eve, OutKast, Nelly, plus more, and Jay Z was the headliner. Hov surprised the sold-out Nassau Coliseum crowd and brought Michael Jackson on stage. “The King of Pop” didn’t perform however, his presence still shocked the sold out crowd and help cap off a performance that is being talked about 20 years later.
Hov also had Beanie Sigel, Missy Elliott, Memphis Bleek, violinist Miri Benari – who is featured on Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity” featuring Kanye West. Soon after, the Brookyn rapper months before the release of his classic album The Blueprint which he teased throughout the night, stunned the crowd even more and further ignited one of the most historic diss in hip hop culture.
Two years ago, popular Instagram page @AintNoJigga shares a detailed, full story behind the historic Summer Jam performance, along with unique insight on Jay-Z’s relationship with Michael Jackson, and letting the crowd hear “Takeover” for the very first time.
“Towards the beginning of his set, after opening with his verse from Mya’s ‘Best of Me, Part II,’ he had told the crowd that ‘there’s a lot of shit going on in rap music. A lot of cats yappin’ [but] y’all know what I do—your boy handles his business;’ before launching into the first-ever performance of the Kanye West-produced “Takeover” and posting up contestants on the Summer Jam screen.
The 15,000-strong crowd was mostly silent during his performance, taking in every single unheard bar and saving their voices for the hardest-hitting lines. However, when Jay dropped the second verse acapella so the crowd could hear very clearly his Prodigy diss lines as they put a 1988 picture of the Queensbridge rapper dressed up for his Grandmother’s dance school recital on the big screen the crowd went crazy.
The rumor is that it was Ashanti who gave Jay the photograph, as she had also been a student at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center. Knowing he had a very-public chance to drive home the point that he wasn’t about to relinquish his hip-hop crown anytime soon, Jay had devised a plan to make his Thursday headlining performance one that would never be forgotten, with his “Takeover” diss just the beginning.
With DJ Scratch on the decks and Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek acting as hypemen, the rest of the Roc-A-Fella Records family lined the back of the stage and danced around with bottles of Cristal in their hands, taking a rhythm lead from the label’s co-founder Dame Dash. As with all of his shows, Jay was like a drill sergeant with the performance—at one point even scolding Bleek on mic because he missed a cue (‘Bleek, you’re not focused’).”
Shaheem Reid wrote about the classic moment on MTV.com as they recapped the concert.
Jay then started to freestyle, shooting back at everyone who’s been dissing him lately. Hardest hit was Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Not only did Jay make fun of P’s small frame by saying, “We got money stacks bigger than you,” but Jigga poked fun at the Queens rapper’s past, saying, “You’s a ballerina, I seen ya,” and showing photos of an adolescent Prodigy at his grandmother’s dancing school. The photos, displayed on four huge screens that hung over the stage, showed Prodigy in leotards and a sparkling jacket.
The legend of Jay-Z’s 2001 Summer Jam performance doesn’t stop at “Takeover” though. The classic performance continued afterwards.
“VA legend Missy Elliott popped up to first perform “Is That Your Bitch?” with Bleek and Hov, and then her hit single “Get Ur Freak On.”
Fellow Summer Jam performer Ja Rule stayed around so he could join Jigga for “Can I Get A…,” but he missed his cue because he was distracted backstage—instead of running the beat back and starting over, Jay told the crowd to “give it up for Ja Rule” and directed him to move off the stage (note: this is when Ja was huge).
The famous violin player Miri Ben-Ari (who happens to have the same birthday as Jay-Z) was brought out to add some stringed flavor during “Big Pimpin’.
If that wasn’t enough to satisfy the fans, legendary duo EPMD (Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith) came out to perform their 1989 single “So Wat Cha Sayin'”—which Beanie and Bleek had updated (their version being “So What You Saying”) on Beans’ second studio album The Reason, which had released two days earlier. During rehearsals for the show, Jay had bet Erick Sermon (who also performed his hit single “Music” during EPMD’s appearance) $1,000 that the crowd would sing along with his fifth verse line “Luther Vandross says, yo I am, ‘Soooo amazing, and I’ve been waiting’.”
Erick didn’t believe they would, but he had to pay up when the crowd yelled the lines at him. He handed Jay a stack of bills on stage, and Jay threw the $1,000 into the front row (“y’all can keep that”).
Even after all of this excitement, the set’s crème de la crème moment came towards the end of the show. After teasing a performance of his Jackson 5–sampling hit single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” at the end of his set, Hov announced he had to introduce a surprise guest first: the King of Pop.
‘I know Michael Jackson better come from behind that motherf***in’ curtain,’ Jay-Z declared to the amazed-but-hesitant crowd, who clapped and cheered as they waited in anticipation for MJ to emerge. Was the King of Pop really in attendance at the rap-heavy event?
After what must have been the longest 90 seconds of his life, Jay addressed the now-semi-doubtful crowd, saying ‘You want me to go back and get him myself? Okay, I’ma go get him.’
Moments later the two walked out to screams and rapturous applause unlike anything ever heard at Summer Jam before. ‘Michael Jackson ladies and gentlemen, make some noise!’ Hov yelled triumphantly. MJ stood next to Jay and struck a b-boy stance with his arms folded, with the superstar’s only words to the crowd being ‘I love you all’ before he exited the stage to the “Izzo” instrumental.
In a 2009 interview with Britain’s NME magazine, Jay reminisced on when MJ “walked out on stage the place went mental. Grown men were grabbing their hats and screaming.” Frequent Jigga collaborator DJ Premier was at the event with Freddie Foxxx and his crew, and he remembers when MJ walked onstage the whole crowd was chanting “Michael, Michael” as loud as he had ever heard. “We were like, ‘it’s really Michael!’ MJ can have that effect on you. You can be the hardest guy out, but when you see Michael it’s over. I told myself, ‘I ain’t coming to no more Summer Jam’s. I don’t care who performs, I’m good.”
According to Memphis Bleek, when Michael Jackson arrived his security cleared out the backstage area (as if the President was there) and ordered everyone unauthorized to meet him to stand with their face to the wall when he walked through to the stage. However, with Hov vouching for them, the whole Roc-A-Fella Records team was able to meet the King of Pop and pay their respects, with the Roc-A-Fella photographer Walik Goshorn snapping pictures of them with MJ. The singer had brought his children, Michael Jr. and Paris, with him to New York, and Jay recalls they were “running around backstage having a great time.” When asked by Vibe magazine in March 2002 what it felt like to join Jay-Z at Summer Jam MJ told the magazine “I just wanted to show up and give him a hug. There was a tumultuous explosion of applause and stomping; it was a lovely, lovely welcome. I was so happy about that. It was a great feeling, there was so much love.”
WNYE-TV’s “Video Music Box” host Ralph McDaniels was backstage after the show and asked the King of New York for an interview to discuss his thoughts on what had just transpired on the Summer Jam stage. Jay gathered his team, but as the interview was about to start he told McDaniels, “I don’t want to talk, let them talk.” Jigga stood back with a mean mug, silently signaling to Dame Dash, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway and Brownsville boxer Zab Judah to speak on his behalf—seemingly deciding to leave MJ’s legendary guest appearance as his last words for the day. “We the Champions!” Memphis Bleek yelled into the microphone.
“It turned out crazy, twenty thousand going wild!” “The King of Pop, the King of Rap: it’s the Roc, you bastards!” Dame Dash exclaimed. “We don’t do much,” Beanie joked, then boasted the events of Jigga’s set were “nothing to us.”
In an October 2003 interview with Sway Calloway for MTV News, Jay would name Mike Jackson’s appearance during his Summer Jam set as one of the biggest highlights of his career. “It was actually easier [to set-up] than what people would think,” a relaxed Hov told the host, “it wasn’t even difficult. I didn’t have to call a hundred times and babysit the situation.”
He explained that a week prior to the Summer Jam show he had made a call to Mike to help him clear the “Izzo” sample, and Jackson had begun the conversation by saying how much he had loved Jigga’s 1998 single “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” especially with how Jay’s rhymes were “so in the pocket,” and then he started rapping the first verse over the phone to the stunned rapper.
“I was looking at the phone like, ‘You know flow?!’ You forget that Michael Jackson’s no slouch, he’s nice with the music, he really understands it,” Jay told Sway, clearly still in awe. At that moment Hov went for it, telling MJ, “you know, I have this show next week, you should come” and Michael told him “I would love to come, I’ll be there.” During that phone conversation, MJ also asked Hov to deliver a verse for a Trackmasters remix of his upcoming single “You Rock My World.”
In a July 2009 interview with the BBC’s Tim Westwood, the rap mogul revisited the experience of working with MJ, speaking on how it was “an incredible moment. The fact that Michael Jackson was at a rap concert was mind-blowing to people. To this day I’ve never seen people react like that again for a person. Because, y’know, you don’t get to see Michael Jackson.”
Two days later Jay and MJ met at the Sony Music Studios in New York City and recorded the “You Rock My World” remix (“That’s a hidden gem right there. I made my Mama proud with that one. My Aunties love me!”).
They sent the record to Funkmaster Flex at Hot 97 so he could break it and drop bombs, with Hov once declaring “I think he broke the needles on that one! I think he brought the turntables out that day.” When asked by Vibe magazine in March 2002 why he had asked Jay-Z to contribute a verse to his single he told the magazine “he’s hip, the new thing, and he is loved by the kids today. They love his work. He is tapped into the nerve of popular culture. It just makes good sense.” He told the TV Guide in November 2001 that Jay was “just so sweet. [Anything negative] is so hard to believe. He is so kind, a perfect gentleman.”
During the studio session, Jay played the King of Pop a few tracks from The Blueprint so he could provide feedback on them; and MJ ended up recording [uncredited] background vocals for “Girls, Girls, Girls.” They had soon built a friendship based on a mutual love of music and its complexities. “I remember him calling me and him just talking about, you know, ‘syncopation’ and musician stuff like that,” Jay told NME in 2009. “The Michael Jackson I knew was just a musician who loved music.”
Hov had first met Michael Jackson in October 1999 while the two were both recordings at a studio in New York City. Quincy Jones was also present that day, and Jay asked him for advice on producing and structuring his fourth studio album Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter. Jigga listened to Thriller daily while recording Vol. 3 and he set himself a goal of having nine hot songs on the album that all had single potential, as Thriller did.
While Thriller was an album that heavily influenced Vol. 3, and Jay says it is “the best album ever made,” it is Off The Wall that Jay counts as his favorite project from the King of Pop. “Off The Wall was one of those albums that was timeless, that didn’t have a genre,” Jay told Rhapsody in 2009. “It was colorless. It was ageless, like me and my mom listen to it together all the time. It was one of those things that the whole family listened to. I think it was a perfect album … I think ‘Thriller’ although was the biggest album, you know had huge records, but these records that were on Off the Wall were so timeless and emotional.”
In his 2017 TIDAL-exclusive Rap Radar interview with Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller, Hov would say that “Vol. 2 is the Thriller to Blueprint’s Off The Wall.” 1998’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life is still his biggest selling album, and produced six popular singles. “I’m not talking about chronology, I’m talking about: what Thriller is to Michael is what Vol. 2 is to me. What Off The Wall is to him is what Blueprint [is for me]—the beloved album that everyone loves versus the one that was so big that you gotta call it [a classic].” He then named Reasonable Doubt, Vol. 2, The Blueprint, The Black Album, American Gangster and 4:44 as the six albums he believes deserves classic status.
Shawn Carter has said that telling his mother, Gloria Carter, that one of her favorite acts had co-signed her son and appeared onstage with him was one of the best feelings he has ever had. “It was fantastic. I could tell my Mama, ‘I’ve arrived.’ Mike liked my flow on ‘Hard Knock Life,’ nobody can tell me nothing. I’m good.” With Gloria Carter and Adnis Reeves being the couple in the neighborhood with the most coveted record collection, listening to The Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson’s solo efforts being played at house parties was a huge part of Shawn’s childhood.
When Michael Jackson passed away on June 25, 2009 Jay-Z was at the Rocawear offices in Midtown Manhattan and received a page from one of his close friends about the tragic news. He immediately turned on CNN and watched as the station confirmed the rumors. On the six-date “Jay-Z & Ciara Live” mini-tour, which began the week after MJ’s untimely death, Jay dedicated a portion of his nightly set to playing MJ classics and asking the crowd to “put your two’s in the air for Michael Jackson, the greatest entertainer of all-time. We don’t mourn death, we celebrate life. So don’t wait until someone is gone to tell them how much you appreciate them.”
Watch the full performance below thanks to Hip Hop VCR.
After the CRAZY Summer Jam incident, Nas responded to Hov by dropping two diss tracks, “Stillmatic” and Ether. Then Jay dropped “Super Ugly,” and some people say he took it too far when he insinuated he and Allen Iverson had slept with Nas’ baby mom, Carmen Bryan.
They eventually squashed the beef in 2005.