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Rapping presence

Youth, starring Chris Brown: That's what Holladay Jam is all about, a Wachovia Center package of R&B and hip-hop.

Young fans enjoy the show at Power 99's R&B/hip-hop Holladay Jam at the Wachovia Center.
Young fans enjoy the show at Power 99's R&B/hip-hop Holladay Jam at the Wachovia Center.Read moreMIKE LEVIN / Inquirer Staff Photographer

In 2007, when hip-hop has been left in the hands of adults, the results have been mediocre at best. Although industry giants like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and 50 Cent have racked up decent sales, if you wanted really big songs, you had to turn to the kids.

Kids like the rappers and crooners of Power 99's Holladay Jam at the Wachovia Center on Thursday night, which brought out a sea of Juicy Couture-wearing moms and daughters, dancing with arms waving high.

Among the biggest of those kids is 18-year-old heartthrob Chris Brown.

It's not just because he's got a new movie out,

This Christmas

. Brown is a cute R&B singer with something close to the swagger of an adult MC. He's won street cred by working with hard-line rappers like Lil Wayne and T-Pain. But he's also got the appeal of a new-school Michael Jackson, without the personal problems.

Brown didn't have Jacko's vocal range on Thursday night. But from the lilting highs in his song "Take You Down" to his prancing and popping, Brown made a case for comparison.

That he leaned so heavily on dancing and videos was frustrating. You wanted to hear more of him singing. But when Brown graced his rabid fans with song - with his silky tones on "Wall to Wall" and his cocky croon throughout "Kiss Kiss" - he more than made up for it.

Brown was just the headliner. Jamaican American singer Sean Kingston, 17, known for his summer hit "Beautiful Girls," picked up the slack on the spicy hip-hop by turning out reggae-rimmed tracks like "Take You There." But too-loud production and a bad mix marred the subtlety of his vocals.

Though Lil Mama, of the radio hit and YouTube video "Lip Gloss," missed the show because of the death of her mother, the snap-rapping 17-year-old Soulja Boy was there with rhymes as rugged as his steely rhythms. His constant nasal shouts of "youuuu" throughout his signature song "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" somehow produced both a headache-inducing and a happy effect - like the repetitive ring of a Good Humor ice-cream-truck bell.

This left Bow Wow, 20, as the night's elder statesman. Age has deepened Bow Wow's lyrical flow as well as his charming stage presence. Accompanied by MC Short Dawg and the crooner and (bad) dancer Omarion, Bow Wow turned out a focused, theatrical set with fluid tunes that were both romantic and new ("Girlfriend"), and from his not-so-far-off childhood.

Ah, youth.