Lyrical Lemonade’s Summer Smash Festival: RECAP

The premier hip hop music festival in the Midwest returned on June 17 to Chicago’s Douglas Park with over 75 artists, three stages, and more installations and vendors than ever before. Lyrical Lemonade’s Summer Smash Festival is hosted by Cole Bennet, a business entrepreneur and owner of the Lyrical Lemonade brand. He is also a top-level music video producer and the founder of Summer Smash, now in its fifth year and one of the largest showcases for hip hop.

Cole Bennet. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

Located on the west side of Chicago, there were hometown performances from 20 Chicago acts including Polo G, G Herbo, Lucki, Famous Dex, and Tink Femodot, along with special guest appearances from Quavo, Takeoff, Cordae, Cochise, Queen Key, and NFL star Antonio Brown. Thousands flocked to the grounds this weekend for the festival. Lines around the block. Traffic everywhere. It was my first year at the event, but it was clear that Summer Smash had built a following similar to RollingLoud (a massive global hip hop festival in Miami). The festival hosted 90,000 guests overall.

Antonio Brown. Summer Smash Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu
Main Stage. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

On day 1, Friday, June 17, arriving at the festival was a bit chaotic. The lines to pick up tickets were long, it was 90 degrees, and people were a bit frustrated. Summer Smash event coordinators told people to arrive early, then told people to arrive later, then had people still waiting on allowing people in because they were not ready. This was due to unpredictable circumstances. On  June 13th the city of Chicago was hit with a supercell thunderstorm with winds un to 85mph. The Summer Smash site sustained significant damage, art installations got destroyed, and the festival was ready to cancel and send out the bad news. But the Summer Smash team came together and worked around the clock to rebuild.  This is something that might have set the tone for the weekend. Fortunately, it did not; it was just a minor setback to an incredible weekend. The organizers, including Cole, admitted that they were a bit behind and things were not quite ready yet due to “uncontrollable” circumstances, which was the storm that almost destroyed the festival. They made a formal apology, and no musicians or guests were disrupted or not put together in any way.

 

The festival had three stages, all featuring some of the biggest rap, hip hop, and R&B artists to date. On the side of the festival were bars and food stands as well as Cole Bennet’s Lyrical Lemonade stand. Cole started this festival in 2017 as a side project to his already successful lemonade brand and music video-making business. It was no surprise that each artist who performed gave a shoutout to Cole, and back stage they were all hug, respect, and appreciation for the man’s vision.

The first show I attended on Friday was Sheck Wes, the rapper who came out with “Mo Mamba” a few years ago, which went #1 on the charts. Since then he has been on a few feature songs with the well known, now semi-controversial rapper Travis Scott. He opened with “Gang Gang,” a well known track from the Jack Boys album. The crowd was very receptive, but it was an interesting position to see Wes, normally headlining festivals just a few years ago, playing a 4:30 slot at Summer Smash.

Stage 2. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

 

Next up was Yung Bans, who had played the festival last year and agreeably did well enough to be invited back again. He lit up the stage and opened with his famous single “Blow Her Back Out.” Bans’ career is still young and very promising. He also treated the crowd by hopping off stage and jumping in as security tried to balance him while also protecting him from pulling fans.

Yung Bans. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu
Stage 2. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

From there we traveled across the hot grassy field to Stage 1, where Rico Nasty and her unique style of rap took the stage by storm, and from there we rushed again across the field to catch the Lil Skies‘ set. Skies also put on a hell of show and hopped onto the front speakers on multiple occasions. The Atlantic-based Roc Nationrepped rapper is only 23 but has had a presence on the scene since 2010 when he was only 12. He came out on the second biggest stage at 6:30 and was a forced to be recognized and did not disappoint.

The lineup also featured Trippie Redd, whom many were looking forward to. Redd walked out on the big stage with smoke rising behind him, and it was as if Juice Wrld has risen from the ashes. Not to compare the two, even though many do, but all to say that it was a huge deal. The crowd went crazy, and he had his whole entourage behind him. This guy is bigger than life, and his presence is superstar status.

Wiz Khalifa has such a big presence in the rap game, and many compare him to Snoop Dogg because of their similar styles and identities formed around marijuana. I was not sure what to expect with his set, but I think many were pleasantly surprised that he showed up with a live band and turned most of his classic hits like “Black and Yellow,” the song that made him famous, into more a punk rock vibe. By the end of the show he had stripped himself from his dress shirt and was dripping sweat which typically shows me someone is putting all their energy out there. We all appreciate that.

Day 1 ended with the amazing Lil Uzi Vert. We did not know this would be the show where he would reveal his full chest and back tattoos, said worth 100K. Uzi came out with massive ten-inch spiked black hair and designer clothes from head to toe. He said hello to the crowd and hopped right into the middle section between both crowds on his second song as green lasers shot out across the crowd. It was incredible to watch his control over the audience.

LIl Uzi Vert. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

 

 

By day 2 and 3 things had smoothed out. You could not have asked for better weather on Saturday and Sunday. The skies were blue, and the sunsets were pink, with many festival-goers lying on the grass of Douglas Park with their partners or friends.

Day 2 began with Atlanta-based wrapped Sid Shyne, who put on a huge show at stage 3 and was hopping all over the crowd. Behind stage you could see festival founder Cole Bennet thank him for coming out for the festival.

Sid Shyne. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

We stuck around after to watch SSGkobe, who lit up the crowd. He came out with his hit song featuring Trippie Redd called “Escape Your Love.” He was also going into the crowd and taking selfies with everyone, likely knowing that everyone would post these selfies and get him more attention but also giving love to the fans.

From there we went over to BIA or “BIA BIA” as she says in many of her songs. BIA just recently released a song titled “London” with well-known iconic rapper J.Cole, which she did play at the show. She walked out with four backup dancers and took on an excited crowd for the newly famed rapper.

BIA. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

We stayed for Ski Mask the Slump God, who is known for many things including sharing prison time with the late Xxxtentacion, who has grown a massive following both before and after his tragic death at the young age of 21. Ski Mask talked to the crowd about X as he played his set the same day that X passed away in 2018. He asked everyone to put up an X and played multiple songs by X, giving tribute to a friend he cared about a lot. It was emotional for many fans who have been touched by his music.

The night ended with the well known rapper-pop musician Post Malone. This was Malone’s first live performance post-new album release. Malone came out with his wellknown track “Better Now.” He was incredibly humble and smiling and seemed happy that everyone would come to see him. The stage setup was beautiful, and the lighting was near perfect for Post to do his set. He preformed a few tracks from his recent album for the first time live, and many walked away happy from Day 2.

Post Malone. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

 

 

Day 3 began with a comedic act from Oliver Tree who continued to try to hype up the crowd as he rocked one outfit on top of another. He also staged a fake fight.

Oliver Tree. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

From there we went to $NOT, who has also recently risen to fame, and he rocked a hoodie with a mesh front to cover his face, possibly influenced by Kanye, who in turn was influenced by Maison Margiela. This did not take away or add to his performance but was a style choice. He put on an incredible show.

Across the field we went to attend the Lil Yachty show and before Lil Yachty came Cordea, a surprise to everyone, who played songs from his first and latest projects and pledged to be headlining the festival in a few years.

After this Lil Yachty came out and put on incredibly hyped show as well as hopping into the crowd to get close the fans.

Shortly after his performance, Migos members Quavo and Takeoff came out and basically did a full set. It was incredible to watch the crowd respond to this, and we stayed the whole time. Midset Lil Yachty came out again, and they did a song together.

The festival wrapped up Sunday, June 19, with an amazing finish by Playboi Carti. He sat at the top of a 20-foot triangle and had all the photographers stand 100 feet back from the pit so they could see whole stage setup he had planned. The show began with smoke coming out from both sides of the stage and his guitarist playing a heavy metal solo. This is Playboi’s vibe. He mixes the punk metal sound scene with trap rap. Shortly after the solo, the heavy bass beat dropped. The crowd went absolutely crazy. Water was being thrown; mosh pits were formed. The photographer’s pit was like I had never scene it before. Photographers with short lenses that wanted to get closer trampling over each other to get a clear shot. There was not a person there who wasn’t putting in an effort to make sure they got the best photographs and not a festival attendee who was not screaming the lyrics and hanging on to Carti’s every move. When you thought the crowd could not get any more intense, Carti played “Off the Grid,” a well-known chart-topping song that he released with Kanye early in 2021. It was incredible and easily one of the best performances of the festival.

Playboi Carti. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu
Playboi Carti. Summer Smash. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

 

All in all, the festival was a great success, the fans were respectful, and the staff was accommodating, even having massive water fans at every stage to cool down the crowd. I would highly recommend and enjoy covering this event again next year.

 

 

 

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