Hit parade

June 22, 2007


Indie/underground hipsters have the Pitchfork Music Festival. Alternative rockers turned SUV-driving soccer moms and dads have Lollapalooza. This summer, classic-rock devotees have Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival. And once again, 'tweens, fans of bubblegum-dance music and lovers of hip-pop and modern mainstream R&B have B96's Summerbash.

A look at Sunday's lineup reveals not only the enduring power of WBBM 96.3-FM to book top-tier hitmakers, but a solid overview of chart-topping pop in general circa 2007. This year's headliner: Hilary Duff, TV star (she charmed the 'tweens with the Disney Channel's "Lizzie McGuire"), actress (her films include "A Cinderella Story" and the "Agent Cody Banks" movies), head of a phenomenally lucrative marketing machine (her ring tones are ubiquitous) and, oh yeah, the voice behind three successful albums, including the recent "Dignity."

When I last saw Duff perform, in between her debut "Metamorphosis" (2003) and "Most Wanted" (2005), she was moving away from the fluffy dance groove of her big hit "So Yesterday" in favor of pop-punk: She covered the Go-Go's and, with a sly wink to the parents of the many 9- to 14-year-olds in attendance, the Who's "My Generation." Having split from boyfriend Joel Madden, the frontman for Good Charlotte, she's turned away from rock as well, and "Dignity" ups the electronic dance quotient as well as finding Duff joining all the other teen-pop divas (Avril Lavigne, Pink, Ashlee Simpson) trying to mature in an effort to keep an aging fan base. (You can tell 'cause Hilary has traded the high school gym-class getup for a sophisticated evening gown in the cover art).

This may be the most difficult challenge any pop star faces, but Duff is handling it much better than most. "Dignity" is a winning piece of cotton candy for the ears, with credit due more to the well-crafted hooks and beats of producers Tim & Bob and Will.i.am than the star's bare-basics vocals. The fun part, though, is Duff's attempt to turn the biggest dis thrown her way -- that's she's a meek, bland, goodie two-shoes -- into a proto-feminist statement of power and self-respect.

"You'd show up to the opening of an envelope/It's not news when you've got a new bag," Duff sings in the title track, speaking for the majority of us who've grown sick to death of the Nicole Richies and Paris Hiltons. Then, in "Danger," she not only rebuffs the advances of an older lothario but mercilessly mocks the guy's shortcomings: "Were you born in '74?/Are you the kind of guy that I should ignore?... I can see myself falling in line/Like the hundred girls you had over time/And I want more/I am so sure that I want more." You tell him, girl!

It'd be interesting to hear what Duff has to say backstage to the second biggest name at Summerbash, rapper Akon, who has scored his biggest hit to date by dueting with Eminem on the vaguely misogynistic "Smack That." (It's about a Lamborghini, not a woman, but the attitude is there.)

The son of a jazz percussionist, Aliaune Thiam was born in Senegal but spent his teen years in Jersey City, N.J., and like any rapper desperate for street cred, he brags of doing time for armed robbery and selling drugs. His music mixes subtle hints of West African melody with Southern hip-hop beats, but he has yet to become a strong performer on stage: Opening for Gwen Stefani at her recent show in Tinley Park, he wasted much of his set on crowd-hyping left side/right side chants and a showcase for his lame female proteges Brick and Lace.

All of the other Summerbash performers also have hits, or at least songs in regular rotation on B96, to their credit. They are, in order of their listing on the bill:

Growing up in Las Vegas as Shaffer Smith, Ne-Yo first made his name as a songwriter, penning Mario's 2004 hit "Let Me Love You." (He's also given tunes to Cassidy and Heather Headley.) He made his own debut with the slick urban soul of "In My Own Words" (2006), and hit No. 1 with the weepy lament "So Sick": "And I'm so sick of love songs/So tired of tears/So done with wishing you were still here."
Tallahassee-based emcee Faheem Najm shifted gears from his roots in the rap group Nappy Headz to R&B with a none-too-subtle tune called "I'm F**ked Up," this one an answer song to "Locked Up" by Akon, who proceeded to work with T-Pain in the studio. He has just released his second album "Epiphany."
A 16-year-old singer from Texas, DeAnda is the latest diva taken under the wing of starmaker Clive Davis (who could really use a new one, now that Kelly Clarkson is dissing him all over the place). She scored a hit with "Doing Too Much" and made her album-length debut with last year's self-titled release, which featured the skills of several top producers, included Frankie J, Happy Perez, Natalie and Ne-Yo. (It's a small world at Summerbash.)
The former leader of the boy band B2K, California-born Omari Ishmael Grandberry is also an actor (his credits include "Fat Albert" and "You Got Served") who made his debut as a solo R&B singer with the platinum-selling album "O" (2005). He recently released a Timbaland-produced single, "Ice Box," from last year's second album, "21."
The hook in the music of Barbados-born Robyn Rihanna Fenty is the slight Caribbean lilt to her dancehall jams, which include the club favorite "Pon de Replay." Think of a distaff Daddy Yankee or Sean Paul.
Star producer Lil Jon has called her "the First Lady of Crunk & B," but 21-year-old Army brat Ciara Princess Harris is best known as the breathy, sexy voice behind the hit "Goodies," a response to Petey Pablo's "Freek-a-Leek." Chicago R&B superstar R. Kelly remixed her song "Promise," and his fans are buzzing that he might make an appearance while Ciara is onstage.
Hailing from upstate New York, Travis McCoy, Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, Eric Roberts and Matt McGinley follow in the tradition of the Roots as a hip-hop band with live instrumentation. They record for Decaydance, the label launched by Pete Wentz of Chicago pop-punk heroes Fall Out Boy, but their third album "As Cruel as School Children" (with tracks broken down in first period, second period, detention, intramurals, etc.) has yet to duplicate the success of their 2005 single "Cupid's Chokehold," which featured Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump and made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
New York rapper Shawn Mims released his first album, "M.I.M.S. (Music Is My Savior)" in March, and is probably best known for several remixes of his pedestrian and unapologetically boastful song "This Is Why I'm Hot." "I love the dirty dirty/'Cause niggas show me love/The ladies start to bounce/As soon as I hit the club."



 5 p.m. Sunday
 7000 S. Harlem, Bridgeview
 Tickets, $25-$60
 (312) 559-1212