As host to the most abundant amount of entertainment of any city in the Garden State, Atlantic City has consistently brought in A-list entertainers. From the days when Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack played to packed casino lounges while diving horses plummeted from the Steel Pier, to the current day where throngs of sun-drenched cowboys (and cowgirls) flock to the beaches to watch the latest country acts conquer the once very un-country Northeast, Atlantic City remains one of the top players in the game when it comes to live entertainment.
A group of six talented male vocalists will reinvent your favorite Broadway tunes during a p…
But despite the stellar lineups that have graced stages here for decades, the town has never had a reputation for being particularly loaded with urban acts. Although the city itself always boasted a strong African American population, urban acts were often overlooked in favor of traditional mainstream artists who may have held a broader appeal.
But things may be moving away from that way of thinking. In fact, this weekend alone Atlantic City will host performances from Mary J. Blige, Boyz II Men, Fantasia, as well as a ‘70s Soul Jam. While the booking of these acts all on the same weekend may be coincidence, it does appear to speak to a change in the old ways. Of course in 2018 it could be argued that urban music such as R&B and hip-hop have become the new pop music and entertainment venues simply can’t afford to overlook them anymore. One look at the Billboard Top 40 or the recent Grammy Awards and you will see this is clearly more than a passing trend.
Of the four acts mentioned, two of them (Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men) will perform at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
“For Borgata it tends to be more about the availability of the artist as well as our venue space. We were very fortunate to be able to secure two world-class acts over three shows in what is going to be a great ‘holiday week’,” says Mike Woodside, vice president of marketing for Borgata.
“Over the years we have created many experiences that include a wide variety of comedy and musical acts. Some examples would be Jay Z, Ali Wong, Chris Rock and Rihanna. So it’s nothing new at our property.”
While some may feel that diversity has always been part of the entertainment culture here, others have pushed for more. Recent summer beach concerts have relied heavily on country and pop acts, and only after pressure from city council members were urban acts such as Bell Biv DeVoe and En Vogue added to the lineups.
“Overall the casinos do a pretty good job of bringing urban entertainment, and I know we have worked with Live Nation and the CRDA and encouraged them to have an urban act at the (beach) concerts, and for the last two years they have been pretty good,” says City Council President Marty Small.
And while there have been several hip-hop and R&B acts included in the annual beach concerts, Small notes that the acts could be — and should be — even better. “I mean, this is Atlantic City we should be attracting A-list talent. We go for A-list in the other genres so we should be going for A-list urban talent as well,” he says.
“They say they want to bring young people here, but you have to have young acts across the board.”
Small also believes there may be a certain hesitance about bringing in more urban acts, due to a fear of potential acts of crime during these shows.
“For some reason, people seem to shy away from those type of concerts, which I don’t understand,” he says.
“I mean anything can happen at any moment during any concert or situation no matter the genre. We as a city can’t afford to discriminate. Obviously everybody wants to make money, and that color is green. We should value all dollars. And with a huge minority base within a three-hour drive, I just don’t think we market to the urban population enough, and that needs to change as the city moves forward. Because as the saying goes ‘If you build it they will come.’”
Hunting for hip-hop in the clubs
With spots like Golden Nugget’s Haven, Borgata’s Premier and The Pool After Dark at Harrah’s, Atlantic City has been a top destination for clubbing for more than a decade. But despite being located in an urban environment, it’s not always easy to find a spot to hear hip-hop and other urban music.
“There’s still no place in town consistently where you can go and hear hip-hop and R&B on a regular basis in a club setting,” Small says.
“The clubs in town tend to (favor) the EDM movement. Every now and again they will bring in a celebrity DJ or a celebrity, but there is no presence in town for hip-hop and R&B music. I’ve got friends that come to town all the time and ask where the clubs are or where can they go to hear that type of music and I can’t tell them. There is no one spot, which is troubling.”
“We don’t have a spot for example to say ‘every Thursday is hip-hop night or R&B night.’ We don’t have those options.”
Who’s coming? Here is a quick rundown of the urban acts that are set to hit Atlantic City this weekend.
MARY J. BLIGE
BORGATA EVENT CENTER // 8 P.M. FRIDAY AND SATURDAY, FEB. 16 and 17
WHO IS SHE: Mary J. Blige has won nine Grammy Awards and sold nearly 25 million albums since she burst onto the scene in 1992. Her debut album, “What’s the 411?” sold 3 million copies and featured the singles, “You Remind Me” and “Real Love.” Her first No. 1 single came with 2001’s “Family Affair.” Blige was recently nominated for two Oscars: one for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Mudbound,” and one for best song for “Mighty River.” She is also confirmed to be a part of the Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy,” which follows a dysfunctional family of superheroes.
SHOW INFO: Tickets are $79, $99, $119 and $149.
FANTASIA, KEM & SPECIAL GUEST AVANT
BOARDWALK HALL // 7 P.M. SATURDAY, FEB. 17
WHO ARE THEY: Fantasia became a household name in 2004 when she competed in and eventually won the third season of “American Idol.” Her first single “I Believe” debuted at the top of the charts and her debut album “Free Yourself” was a Platinum-selling and Grammy-nominated hit. Kem is an R&B and soul singer/songwriter who began in the music industry when he self-released his first album “Kemistry.” In 2001 he was signed to Motown Records and found success with his first single “Love Calls” and second album “Album II.” Avant is best known for songs such as “Separated” featuring Kelly Rowland, “My First Love” with KeKe Wyatt and “Ready Your Mind,” which was remixed featuring Snoop Dog. Avant has released such albums as “The Letter” and the self-titled “Avant.”
HOW INFO: Tickets are $59, $75 to $175.
BOYZ II MEN
BORGATA EVENT CENTER // 8 P.M. SUNDAY, FEB. 18
WHO ARE THEY: In the 1990s, this Philadelphia-based quartet became the most commercially successful R&B group of all time. They exploded out of the gates in 1991 with the hit single “Motownphilly” off of their debut “Cooleyhighharmony” album. In 1992, the single “End of the Road” from the “Boomerang” soundtrack spent a record-breaking 13 weeks at the top of the pop charts. Amazingly, the group was actually able to top themselves with the success of the single, “I’ll Make Love to You,” from their album, “II,” which spent 14 weeks at No. 1. Their next single, “On Bended Knee,” replaced “I’ll Make Love to You” on the top of the charts, a feat only previously accomplished by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
SHOW INFO: Tickets are $45, $44 and $75.
70s SOUL JAM WITH THE STYLISTICS, BLOODSTONE, BLUE MAGIC AND THE DELFONICS
TROPICANA SHOWROOM // 7 P.M. SUNDAY, FEB. 18
WHO ARE THEY: Russell Thompkins Jr. served as the lead singer of The Stylistics, the Philadelphia-based soul group, for over 30 years. His soaring falsetto voice helped the group earn 12 straight Top 10 hits including “You Are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” “Break Up to Make Up” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Bloodstone had its heyday as a funk, soul and R&B band in the ’70s and ‘80s. Begun as a doo-wop group in high school, Bloodstone eventually reached acclaim after signing with Decca Records, after which they released singles like “That’s The Way We Make Our Music,” “Girl (You Look So Fine)” and “Never Let You Go.” Blue Magic is a Philadelphia soul group that wowed with ballads like “Sideshow,” “Spell” and “What’s Come Over Me.” Blue Magic is just as much known for their songs as their choreography and sharp look, and have shared the stage with the likes of The Jacksons, Lionel Richie and Marvin Gaye. Beginning as The Orphonics, The Delfonics made a name for themselves in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. These Philly favorites released such hits as “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).”
SHOW INFO: Tickets are $58 and $68.