They say music is like a time capsule. Some people may not remember all of 2009, but they can tell you exactly what they were doing the day Michael Jackson passed away. I remember waking up to MTV playing all of his hits and just knew in my spirit something was wrong. Usually when tributes are paid to artists in this manner, it means they have just passed. I turned the TV to CNN needing answers, and the King of Pop was pronounced dead. The sounds of the time are what give us the soundtrack to move, think, and feel. In this piece, we are going to have a discussion on how this summer can get back the old summer feel we all once felt.

In 1994, Hot 97 gave the world its first Summer Jam, the biggest hip-hop show of them all. It was a legendary lineup that included Wu-Tang Clan, Queen Latifa, Nas, SWV, and many other acts of the time that rocked a crowd inside a small venue that would eventually grow to fill stadiums. Imagine summer 1994 and your newest favorite New York MC, Nas comes out telling you, “The world is yours! The world is yours!” Maybe seeing Queen Latifa getting the ladies in formation screaming “U-N-I-T-Y!” It was festivals such as this that stamped the summer with incredible talent that let the hip-hop/R&B listeners know what their ears should be tuned towards. The summer inspires youth to take a load off from school, the working class to make time for fun, and artists to embrace new vibes and translate them through their art.

As a fella born in 1996, music is what helped me keep a record of my childhood memories. I can tell you about visiting grandma uptown in New Orleans, then heading back down I-10 East with the radio tuned to 93.3’s Q93 and hearing Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ” being blasted. After the Hot Boys broke up, my older sister let it be known that Wayne was ready to take over. His spot in the rap game and in our hearts was solidified as she turned the knob to raise the volume with everyone in the car chanting, “GO DJ! THAT’S MY DJ!”

That summer in the East was different. Made new friends in a new neighborhood. Went through an Allen Iverson phase playing basketball with a headband and my black Allen Iverson Sixers jersey, cornrows in my head of course, and I was so happy that I was done with first grade. Yeah, first grade, y’all.

The hits were flying out of Murda Inc. with Ja giving us great summer vibes like “Put It On Me” –– “Where would I be without my baby!” and that infectious Caribbean-style beat. Vita’s smooth, angelic approach in contrast with Ja Rule’s raspy thug melodies were the perfect synergy for the sound of summer 2001.

(Say all you want about Ja Rule––and I was a 50 Cent/G-Unit fanatic––but that man had a reign in the game. In part due to just simply making great music that you can run back to this day. I remember wearing a white bandana in the mirror mimicking Ja at this time. 50 Cent would later put a stop to this, but that’s a different story for another time.)

Another childhood hero of mine in my cornrow era was Ludacris. Luda doesn’t get talked about as much as he once did in the 2000s, but if you were of that time, seen 2 Fast 2 Furious, or had the Def Jam video game series, then you knew he was the man.

“Ah, you just came home from doin’ a bid
Tell me what you gon’ do? Act a fool!
Somebody broke in and cleaned out your crib boy what you gon’ do? Act a fool!”

I remember later in the summer in September my friend Kasey had the Def Jam: Fight for New York video game and he used to whoop my ass mercilessly with Ludacris. I was mad as hell with Xzibit that day. Summer 2004 was just different, man.

BET Uncut aired at a time when the kids are put to sleep and the adults stay up to see what cannot be shown on primetime. Ass was in the air, and pretty much if mama would have gotten up to grab a sip of water and seen you watching, your ass would have got lit up from a summer hot hand. Luckily for me, mom was working overnight.

I had the remote set to Disney Channel on the ‘last’ button just in case my sister was watching the video too and wanted to catch me in the act of being horny. I ain’t watching none of that sis, I’m on that new episode of That’s So Raven. The video is Nelly’s “Tip Drill.” I was still slightly unsatisfied with all the ass and boobs being blurred out, but one’s mind can imagine. “It must be ya ass ‘cause it ain’t yo face.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I noticed that the girls in my family were fond of the misogyny and crude lyrics to the song and when it came on the radio, did not hesitate to dance to it. They needed their hot girl anthem for that summer and Nelly did exactly what needed to be done to make it happen.

Where are the new “Go DJ’s?” “Tip Drills?”

Did the pandemic give us a shortage of jams for the summer along with the chicken and backwoods? Y’all heard about the Hennessy shortage? I don’t even wanna talk about gas…

There has been good music that has come out. Lil Durk is on track to being one of the most consistent artists putting out quality material along with Lil Baby, Polo G, Rod Wave, and so many others. J. Cole just released a killer project that some folks are considering to be the album of the year (I’m some folks). However, where is the music that makes you want to celebrate, make love, make the women shake a ‘lil something?! You could say they exist, sure, but it just does not hit the same.

Violence has been rampant since mandates have been lifted and people are back outside. Instead of an artist giving us a new “Act A Fool” they are just outside actin’ a damn fool. Carjackings here, double homicide there, and the music is just not doing any justice. Most of what you may think to be a summer hit has a lot to do with trying to “up the score on the opps,” or should I say kids in the street killing other kids.

We all love that gangsta gangsta shit, but can we get something with a beat that sounds like you can move and groove to it? I love Pooh Shiesty’s “Back In Blood” like most other listeners do, we just need more of a balance in the sound. More light, exuberant beats, instead of the darker sounds that are all the rage.

A good example of this is Foolio’s “Whip Bump” which was a response to Shawn Cotton’s request to make a song not centered on spinning the block and killing enemies. The challenge sparked from his viral “When I See You Remix” remixing a Fantasia classic being sighted at a dead rival’s grave taunting a victory he and his team share of the rival’s demise. “Whip Bump” has a light beat, kinda has a Caribbean-esque sound like the early 2000s summer hits. Good shit, Foolio.

Music has to evolve and flow along with the times. I think we as listeners should demand more from our artists and let them know we want that old thing back. We want to feel like we are not just listening to a playlist, but listening to the signature songs of the season. Those classic summer jams that when the DJ spins them in 2019 you are immediately struck with a visceral image/feeling/mood of 2021. Thank you to the artists that are working on bringing it back. It’s necessary.