Stars light up the night at WGCI’s Big Jam 2015

Monica performed an array of songs from her hits with three background singers and a full band. (Ariana LaBarrie/Medill Reports)

By Ariana LaBarrie

Festival season ends when the leaves change color in Chicago and this year’s season ended with a bang – cooler weather brought WGCI’s Big Jam 2015 to the United Center on Oct. 25.

Sponsored by WGCI, one of Chicago’s urban contemporary stations, the annual concert featured Vic Mensa, Crucial Conflict, Do or Die, Twista, Lil Durk, Omarion, Dej Loaf, Rae Sremmurd, Monica, Meek Mill, Future and Kendrick Lamar.

The lineup  featured many artists from Chicago, an important theme to the station and the audience. Music enthusiasts love these events because it allows fans to see several of their favorite acts on one ticket. There is a lull for this type of experience once festival season is over.

“WGCI is the home of hip-hop in Chicago and having Chicago artists like Vic Mensa, Lil Durk, Twista, Conflict, and Do or Die on the big stage is something we needed to do,” said Derrick Brown, Director of Urban Programming for WGCI’s parent company, iHeartMedia Chicago.

Even artists who hail from elsewhere,  showed their Chicago devotion.

“Chicago is one of my favorite cities,” said Dej Loaf, a Detroit native, during her performance.

Chicago was also represented by a surprise performance from Bryshere Gray, who plays Hakeem on the hit series “Empire,” which films here. The crowd went wild and sang along to every word when Gray performed “Drip Drop,” a hit song from the show.

While Chicago was celebrated on stage, so were the legacies of the artists on the bill. Musicians performed  past and present hits. Omarion, an R&B artist who got his start in the early aughts with the boy band B2K danced to that group’s 2002 song “Bump, Bump, Bump.”  The crowd shrieked in excitement. He treated them to songs from the beginning of his solo career –  “O” and “Ice Box,” and “Post To Be,” the single from his most recent  album “Sex Playlist.”

Multi-platinum artist Monica, decked out in red hair and a fur vest, told the audience  she started in the music industry at age 13. She sang her classic hits like “So Gone,” “The Boy Is Mine,” and “Angel of Mine.” And she dropped in some tunes  from her upcoming album “Code Red.”

Newer artists performed debut singles and new triumphs.  Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, of rap duo Rae Sremmurd,  recently ranked No. 5 on’s “21 Under 21” list, rapped their first single “No Flex Zone.”  They also performed their summer hit “This Could Be Us” and their latest single “Come Get Her.”  Dej Loaf followed a similar formula, performing her debut single, “Try Me,”  and songs from her EP “#AndSeeThatsTheThing,” like “Hey There.”

These artists commanded the crowd’s attention, interacting with the audience by talking about their music in between songs. They kept the mood and the audience energized during their 15-minute sets by having the crowd out of their seats, singing every song as the artists playfully ran around the stage.  The artists enjoyed themselves and their time on stage.  Rae Sremmurd took a selfie at the end of the show with the crowd as a backdrop, a tradition they do at the end of each show.

Kendrick Lamar carried the closing act with his signature mix of thumping beats with a socially conscious message. He opened with “Money Trees” from his 2012 album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.” and continued with hits like “Backseat Freestyle,” and “Poetic Justice.”  The crowd went wild when they heard the first few beats of “M.A.A.D. City,” a popular song.  Lamar also performed tracks from his newest album “To Pimp a Butterfly” with “Alright” and “King Kunta.”

The kinetics of the concert continued as concert goers left the United Center chatting excitingly, uploading photos and videos of their favorite artists to social media accounts.

Brown pronounced the event a success.

“I thought it was an incredible event,” he said about the sold out event.  “It was one of the biggest ones we have done in the past 15 years. It was incredible how it panned out.”

Photo at top: Monica performed an array of songs from her hits with three backup singers and a full band. (Ariana LaBarrie/Medill)