Take a Trip Down Memory Lane….
Rock the Bells is an automatic event for Hip Hop fans during the summer. The festival prides itself on having 30 artists on four different stages. This year the collective artists will perform in San Francisco, New York, and Boston. However, August 20th, was Los Angeles turn to feel the historical prowess of Hip Hop elites such as Raekwon, Ghostface, Genius Gza, Killah Priest, Mobb Deep, Black Moon, Souls of Mischief, Immortal Technique, Cypress Hill, Black Star, Common, Erykah Badu, along with headliners Nas and Ms. Lauryn Hill.
Saturday’s concert was a tribute to the earlier days of Hip Hop as artist performed music exclusively from their older albums such as Be, Baduizm, Illmatic, and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The crowd, which had a lot of young first timers, braved the desert like heat hoping to witness something epic, perhaps hearing tracks that were originally recorded before their time. Unfortunately, the audience at the main stage also experienced the undeniable hurry up and wait, and wait, and wait, game that multi act concerts have. Between the four stages, and artist meet and greet, keeping track on when and where to go is important. However, when Black Star didn’t perform at their set time, it left the crowd a bit confused, especially when it was announced they would be on in five minutes. After little to no information provided to the waiting crowd, Common saintly came out and gave the thirsty audience a lively performance in his sweater and all. Common’s Be performance included all the album favorites including, “Faithful”, “Testify”, and “The Corner”, which included a rendition of Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover”.
The smaller stages, “Paid Dues”, “36 Chambers”, and “Grind Time”, appeared to be a little more time conscience, while still giving performances that could have been on the main stage. Los Angeles native and underground emcee Blu performed along with Fashawn and DJ Exile. Although Blu has many tracks that can fill an entire hour, he shared the stage and only did about four tracks, including “My World Is…”, “Simply Amazin’”, “Blu Colla Workers”, and “No Greater Love”, then the trio closed with “Samsonite Man”.
As Hip Hop grows, new faces continue to surface as a significant number of people came for the emerging acts such as Mac Miller, and Childish Gambino. Childish Gambino at first glance has that familiar, kind face (as seen on TV), however, when his beat dropped, his face transformed into this hatred scowl, schizoid-like, as he is no longer Donald Glover from that TV show, he is a rapper. CG performed with a full band, including a violinist, as he used his tambourine to effortlessly transition from rapping to singing, which makes him a quadruple threat, similar to Jamie Foxx, but Hip Hop. CG’s cult like fans rapped along the entire show, which included “Be Alone” and “All of the Lights”. The show turned epic when he performed the internet hit “Rolling In The Deep” remix, as well as a new song with lyrics probably too hot for TV. (RTB Video).
Back to the main stage, for those who just happened to be at their seat after the Cypress Hill set, Talib Kweli appeared on stage wearing standard emcee gear, t-shirt and sneakers, while performing tracks from the critically acclaimed Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, album. Moments later, Mos Def came out in fitted slacks, and dress shirt, with a tie on. It took a minute for everyone to realize that Black Star was performing, which meant the duo did come after all, and the audience had to take back all their bad thoughts. With only a few minutes before the Erkyah Badu set needed to be designed, Black Star performed as many songs as they could in a short amount of time. Even Common came out and performed “Respiration”. As the time was clicking away, Black Star performed their last song acappella, as their DJ had to leave the stage. Beat or no beat, Black Star performed “Thieves in the Night” to an appreciative crowd.
Now with all the artists accounted for, and the sun disappearing, the crowd started returning to the main stage in preparation for Nas, or Nasty Nas, if you prefer. With the throwback theme in play, the set was designed to reflect the Queensbridge Projects, the place he called home, even before he had a record deal. The stage even provided a bench for the QB family, Ron Artest, Mobb Deep, and his brother Jungle to post and observe. It has been 17 years since the release of Illmatic, the album that keeps Nas’ name in the best rapper alive argument. Nas performed the entire Illmatic album, starting with “New York State of Mind”, which lead into “Life’s A B*tch”, which brought out AZ. After the Illmatic set, the audience got to see Nas swag it out on “One Mic”, “Hate Me Now”, “Ghetto Dreams”, with Common, and “Made You Look”.
The last performance of the night (at the main stage) was saved for Ms. Lauryn Hill. Although special care was given to the set design, the Hip Hop crowd would have been just as content if Lauryn came out with just her mic. However, when Lauryn did come out in her baby-doll like skirt (really shorts) and thigh high stockings, the crowd exhaled and yelled, “you look beautiful”. Although, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, came out in 1998, the young women in the audience seemed to gravitate and relate to the messages in her songs as if it was written for today’s generation. As Lauryn began “Ex-Factor”, the crowd acted like hired background singers, at times even sounding louder than Lauryn herself. As The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill continued, the crowd seen that Lauryn doesn’t just concentrate on singing the right word, in the right key, she also conducts the band. Similar to a director on a movie set, Lauryn would signal for action, and if a mistake is heard, she will yell cut!
With Illmatic and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill being timeless albums, it was only a matter of time before the two artist combined to perform “If I Ruled the World”, another timeless song. As the crowd exploded, new memories were created as people realized they just seen Lauryn & Nas & Common & Mos Def & Talib & Cypress & Erykah & Ghostface & Raekwon & Gza, and so on, and so on.