Lyrical Lemonade’s Summer Smash music festival, founded by Chicago native Cole Bennett, brought boundless hip-hop energy to Bridgeview, Illinois June 23-25.
‘I Wanna Stay All Night’: Summer Smash’s Fifth Year Brings Hip-Hop and Rap to SeatGeek Stadium
The fifth annual Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash music festival took place from June 23-25, bringing hip-hop and rap from around the world to Bridgeview, Illinois’ SeatGeek Stadium. From Friday’s blistering heat to Sunday’s pop-up storms, the festival offered a dynamic weekend packed full of some of hip-hop’s biggest names.
Friday June 23
The festival’s first day kicked off with a series of energetic performances, including DC The Don’s set on the festival’s main stage, the Lyrical Lemonade Starry Stage. After jumping off the stage to engage with fans, the Milwaukee-born rapper cemented his set as a strong start to the weekend.
Inside the stadium, Sexyy Red took to the Culture Kings Stage for a brief performance of hits like “Pound Town” and “Born By the River.” Monotonous movements and a lacking stage presence were disguised by vulgar lyricism which kept the audience fixated on her set.
After swiftly hurdling a barricade onstage, NLE Choppa’s introduction to the same stage brought cheerful roars from festivalgoers. Fans continuously poured into the stadium as he began with his October single “DO IT AGAIN.”
“Pack your bags and leave my keys / I’ma forget about you when you leave,” he rapped as the crowd jumped in unison.
After NLE Choppa concluded, Freddie Gibbs and his son walked on stage holding hands in matching Chicago Blackhawks jerseys. Between impressively rapid verses, Gibbs shared anecdotes about the intersection between raising his son and making music.
Fans swarmed the main stage for a performance by a “special guest,” taking the place of Ice Spice, who dropped out of the lineup due to scheduling conflicts. At 7 p.m., Lil Yachty surprised fans and was met with sonorous cheering. “Yacht Club” was his introductory track.
Friday’s pre-planned special guest $uicideboy$ brought their punk-rap sound to the Starry Stage for an hour-long set. The Louisiana-born cousins entertained the crowd but lacked onstage chemistry.
Beyond her onstage dancers and hype man of a DJ, GloRilla charmed Seatgeek Stadium with illustrious confidence. “Don’t Know” and “Tomorrow” exuded contagious electric energy throughout the venue.
“Ain’t fucked up ‘bout no credit score, I might be rich as fuck tomorrow / Every day the sun won’t shine, but that’s why I love tomorrows,” GloRilla rapped to her bouncing crowd.
Vince Staples’ comparatively mellow sound paired well with palpable confidence and passion during his 8:55 p.m. performance slot on the Culture Kings Stage. Early in his set, Staples’ recognized longtime listeners by having a fan take the lead singing his 2017 song “Big Fish.”
Blinding spotlights and a catchy synth ushered in Kid Cudi’s arrival to Summer Smash’s main stage. His June 2 single “PORSCHE TOPLESS” was the inaugural tune of his set, one of the more bouncy songs on his roster for the night.
Cudi’s mellowness contrasted other high-energy performances. While this created static moments, it also allowed for the artist to display his melodious talents and charm.
“This is dedicated to all the awesome kids like me,” Cudi said just before performing “Mr. Rager” from his 2010 sophomore album.
Hit songs like “The Prayer” and “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)” capped off day one with optimism and excitement.
Saturday June 24
Under the blistering heat of Saturday’s early afternoon sun, Cdot Honcho rallied festivalgoers at the Starry Stage for an amped-up set. A notable highlight included an inflatable orange raft brought into the crowd by his team which Cdot jumped into from the stage.
At the Lenny Zig Zag Tent, Danny Towers’ short set consisted of hit songs like “How You Feel?” and “E-ER,” which created a lively crowd.
Luh Tyler brought his youthful magnetism to the Starry Stage for a late afternoon performance. Despite being one of the festival’s youngest performers, the 17-year-old rapper’s impressive stage presence mirrored that of seasoned artists.
In the confines of the Culture Kings Stage, fans surged into what would be an unforgettably rambunctious set by 29-year-old trap artist Tee Grizzley. After performing his first song “From The D To The A,” Tee Grizzley’s introductory words were drowned out by cheers. He continued to perform hits like “Gorgeous” and “First Day Out.”
Juicy J’s appearance on the Starry Stage displayed his maturity as an established rapper. The Three 6 Mafia member maintained his demeanor as an animated artist, providing thought-provoking performance aspects — being strapped into a straitjacket and muzzle-like mask with a pair of exceedingly bejeweled sunglasses completing his complex outfit.
While Juicy J’s fully-clothed performance sparked intrigue about the significance of his outfit, Famous Dex took a different approach to his fashion choices on the Culture Kings Stage.
After arriving onstage about 17 minutes past his scheduled time, the rapper nonchalantly appeared, jogging out to a bass-heavy rendition of his hit track “Hoes Mad.” He quickly ditched his bright orange shorts — instead wearing only his underwear and iconic facial expressions.
Chicago native G Herbo took to the Starry Stage for what was scheduled as a 30-minute set, but saw a prolonged pause due to safety issues at the front of the crowd. After crew members urged barricaded festivalgoers to take five steps back, G Herbo returned from backstage, red Solo cup in hand. He’d later brought out two surprise guests: Mello Buckzz for their collaboration “Outside” and Nardo Wick for “Who Want Smoke??”
Lil Uzi Vert, Saturday’s special guest, delivered a high-voltage, hour-long set at the main stage — a typical feat for the rap icon. Accompanied by intense pyrotechnics and fireworks, no heat could amount to the energy brought by performances like “Money Longer” and “Just Wanna Rock.”
Early on in their set, Lil Uzi Vert somersaulted into the crowd during “POP,” marking one of many highlights.
Ski Mask The Slump God curated a rollercoaster of vibes during his show at the Culture Kings Stage, which featured heartfelt tributes and a surprise appearance from popular music journalist Nardwuar the Human Serviette. After introducing himself, Ski dedicated his performance to two deceased hip-hop artists — a routine for every show since their deaths.
“I’m here on behalf of my brothers XXXTENTACION and Juice WRLD,” the Florida rapper said, later playing their hit songs “SAD!” and “Legends” as festivalgoers waved flashlights and lighters.
Two-time Grammy-award winning artist Future closed off the night with a nostalgic set at the Starry Stage. Donning an all-white tracksuit and his signature sunglasses, the mumble-rap icon spent the hour flowing through the best of his discography.
During “Jumpman” sans Drake, the crowd’s boisterous antics caught Future’s attention as they bounced to their 2015 hit song.
“I’m really fucking with the fans right now,” he said to the sardined, sweaty sea of bodies.
From hits like “Wicked” to “Drankin n Smokin,” Future’s headlining set was an oasis for fans of the rapper. Attendees unfamiliar with his work may have noticed the invariability of Future’s stage presence, as he relied on his revered discography to compensate for his low energy.
Despite lacking in performance dynamics, the crowd cemented itself as one of the most lively of the weekend — a signal of Future’s undeniable success and a spirited end to Summer Smash’s penultimate night.
Sunday June 25
After a delayed opening due to high winds, DJ Zack Bia brought his stationary set to the Starry Stage on Sunday afternoon. The crowd bounced a blue trash bin overhead as Bia played remixes of hits like Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”
To BabyTron, the Starry Stage was just another intimate concert. His effortless, conversational rap style made for an amusing show.
Those looking for a less casual set could find Rico Nasty on the Culture Kings Stage, putting her quintessential growling vocals on display during her 30-minute slot. Effortlessly intersecting punk-rock screaming with hip-hop melodies, the rapper danced around the stage to some of her most popular tracks, including “OHFR?” and “Smack A Bitch.”
Rico Nasty’s performance was the last of few by women on the Summer Smash lineup. In its five years, none have headlined the festival.
Under a gloomy sky, Central Cee dished a taste of London drill rap at the Starry Stage. More of a laid-back performer, the 25-year-old artist ended his set with an extended version of his viral hit “Doja.”
Shortly after Central Cee gave the crowd a sample of his West London sound, Trippie Redd fans flooded the grass surrounding the Starry Stage for the rapper’s appearance. The crowd chanted along, signaling satisfaction in the Ohio-born artist’s setlist.
During one of the most intimate and heartfelt moments of the festival, Trippie Redd performed “Fuck Love” — a collaboration by him and XXXTENTACION, who died in 2018. The rapper went silent during XXXTENTACION’s verse, allowing the crowd to sing the lyrics in his place.
“Lost it, riots / Gunfire inside my head, I’ve / Lost it, riots / Gunfire inside my head,” fans chanted.
Lil Durk returned to his home city with an animated show at the Culture Kings stage. After security delayed the show’s start because the crowd was throwing items, “Hanging With Wolves” was the artist’s choice opener for his set, setting the bar high for an energetic and mosh pit-filled show.
“Rockstar Made” is a gross understatement for the weekend’s final headliner, Playboi Carti.
Aesthetically and sonically vampire-inspired, Carti’s performance saturated the audience in a surreal, palpable intensity. He opened with a more sinister version of “R.I.P” as eerie lighting flashed over him onstage.
While the rapper’s more recent artistry is rooted in horror, the scariest part of the show wasn’t the performance — it was the crowd. While many performers stopped their shows due to medical needs throughout the weekend, Carti’s set hosted the most intense mosh pits, prompting medics to pull several injured fans over the barricade, eventually stopping the show completely.
His set eventually continued with songs like “On That Time” and “Shoota.” The audience bounced around as the rapper encouraged safety between verses.
Concluding with hits like “Teen X,” “New N3on” and “Vamp Anthem,” Carti’s set proved to be the most artistically complex and energetic performance of the three days — fittingly closing out the intense and dynamic weekend.
“Chicago, I love you, but I have to go,” Carti said to the exhausted but resilient crowd as he left the stage. “I wanna stay all night.”
This story was written by Ella Govrik and Angela Ramírez. Photos by Ella Govrik / The Phoenix.