Within the last year, a sell-out show by Nelly at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in May and a heavily attended concert by Snoop Dogg at Rupp Arena this past December has proven one thing: Lexington has a hefty appetite for live hip-hop.
But both of those shows had a few characteristics in common. Each one featured several notable artists in addition to the main headliner and each showcased hip-hop acts with a bit of a nostalgia factor since some of Nelly and Snoop Dogg’s most well-known songs came from either the ‘90s or the ‘00s.
The next arena-worthy hip-hop concert that is coming to Lexington checks both the nostalgia and deep lineup boxes. The Real Music Festival features multiplatinum acts including Ja Rule, Ashanti, Rick Ross and several other hit-making artists. It comes to Rupp Arena Feb. 22.
Of the artists already mentioned, fans of late ‘90s and early ‘00s hip-hop and R&B probably can’t talk about Ja Rule without mentioning Ashanti. Ja Rule was the first to come into the limelight with a notable guest verse on Jay-Z’s 1998 single “Can I Get A…” Soon after, the MC from Queens, New York, released his first major label solo album “Venni Vetti Vecci” in 1999, which produced the rapper’s first hit single “Holla Holla.”
Over the course of the next three albums (2000’s “Rule 3:36,” 2001’s “Pain is Love” and 2002’s “The Last Temptation”), Ja Rule would release several Top 10 Billboard singles that came from fruitful collaborations, whether it was “Between Me and You” featuring Christina Milian, “Put It On Me” featuring Vita and Lil’ Mo, or two collaborations with pop-star/actress Jennifer Lopez in the form of “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny.”
However, many fans will probably agree that some of Ja Rule’s most memorable songs came courtesy of the collaborative chemistry he had with Ashanti. Another NYC-based artist, the two were labelmates under Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc. Records and her sweet hooks provided a unique contrast to his rough, growly delivery. In 2002, the two worked together on four Top 10 Billboard singles including “Always On Time” and later on other other hits like “Mesmerize” and “Wonderful,” which featured both Ashanti and R. Kelly.
Ashanti’s sweetly melodic voice would also find its way onto other artists’ hit songs, like Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?” in 2002 and would go on to release three platinum-selling solo albums (her Grammy-winning eponymous debut in 2001, “Chapter II” in 2003 and “Concrete Rose” in 2004) and hit singles like “Foolish,” “Rock Wit U (Aww Baby)” and “Rain On Me.”
While both Ja Rule and Ashanti reached the height of their musical success in the early-to-mid-2000s, the Real Music Tour’s other headliner has had more recent success. Rick Ross first burst onto the hip-hop scene with an instantly distinctive deep, gruff delivery with his 2006 single “Hustlin’” off his chart-topping debut album “Port of Miami.” Over the course of nine studio albums (his latest was 2017’s “Rather You Than Me”), several mixtapes and plenty of notable guest spots with artists ranging from Jay Z and Kanye West to Mariah Carey and Drake, the South Florida MC has produced several hit hip-hop singles and quickly carved out a career in popular music. He also went on to find his own record label, Maybach Music Group, which is home to notable MCs like Meek Mill and Wale.
Aside from the show’s three main headliners, the other featured artists on the Real Music Festival have more than a few hits of their own and some may add some extra nostalgia for those who crave the days of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B. They include two of the biggest artists most closely associated with Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and The Notorious B.I.G. in the form of MCs Ma$e and Lil Kim, respectively. The lineup will be rounded out by another R&B star in the form of Mya and one more seasoned MCs from the Sunshine State with Plies.
The Real Music Festival definitely has a lineup that could provide a night’s worth of hits. Some of it may be old. Some of it may be new. All of it could be yet another successful Lexington hip-hop concert in the making.
If you go:
The Real Music Festival featuring Ja Rule, Ashanti, Rick Ross, Ma$e, Lil Kim, Mya and Plies
When: Friday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $41 to $91
Call: (859) 233-3535