Monday, August 23, 2010

Rock The Bells 2010 - Back to the Future!

After a year off - I went to Rock The Bells in San Bernardino. Things were different. 1) I had 6 months of allergy meds in me to avoid an asthma attack. 2) It was at a different location - the National Orange Show Center where it originated. 3) Everyone was doing a classic album in their catalogue.

Took me forever to get off the freeway (30 mins waiting to get off the highway, 20 mins in line?) I missed seeing Yelawolf and Slick Rick but here's my recap of a great day for hip hop.

Rakim got the day off started on a great note - coming out to "I Aint no Joke" as he marched through his classic debut album. As great as Ra is (and I saw this in 08), he's not great live because he doesn't have charisma. Plus most of the crowd seemed like they didn't know the great cuts like "My Melody" and "Paid in Full" - whenever Ra held out the mic, he barely got feedback.

The highlight was the sly disses to Eric B. Ra's DJ quickly went through the DJ tracks on the album dismissively. At one point, Ra whispered "Eric B. ain't on the cut" during one song. But he played it cool all set and to fully appreciate his greatness, you gotta listen to the songs.

One of my favorite sets of the day was KRS-One. This was my first time and as he did Criminal Minded, the stage was set for living history. Two posters of the album were on stage, he brought his old rhymebooks on stage and had a picture of the late Scott La Rock on his T-shirt. Let's take it back to 87.

"South Bronx" had me hyped like I was from there. And I got schooled on where Black Star got their mojo on "Remix for P Is Free." He even showed why the hatchet with the Juice Crew has long been buried when he did "The Bridge is Over" but made sure to shout out Marley Marl, Roxanne Shante and the late Mr. Magic as pioneers and equals.

Even better was him and event co-host Supernatural freestyling back and forth. SuperNat even served as KRS' hypeman and it showed why both are the epitome of hip-hop. Celebrating history and just being original and creative. The Blastmaster is by far one of the best live acts in hip hop and I became a bigger fan of BDP and him that night.

He even shared the story of how he and Scott La Rock met. Scott was his social worker while he was homeless and when he mentioned he wanted to be an MC, Scott said he was a DJ and the rest is history. KRS told it with the same passion he probably did years ago.

(Sidenote - whoever thought it was a good idea to bring the hose out and spray the crowd was brilliant! It added extra oomph to the set and during the night when it came out)

Next up, DJ Premier. Wearing the Gang Starr shirt. Showing love to the legacy he and Guru created. I was waaaay too amped to see this and so was he. He told the crowd to get hyped. Get Loud!! And every time, he got more and more amped as if Keith Elam's spirit was right there. Soon as he dropped "Full Clip", it was bananas!

Doing a combo of Gang Starr tracks, shouting out lyrics and peerless scratching, Primo had only 20 minutes to honor his bro but he did more than that. He briefly played Group Home's "Livin Proof" to shout the Gang Starr Foundation and showed why he too was an MC even though he talked with his hands. The set ended with fittingly "Above the Clouds" and if Guru was watching, he felt the love all around.

I almost had a brief tear when he walked off the set playing "Moment of Truth" - letting Guru get the final word. Rest in peace.

And then we waited........waited......waited. For nearly an hour. We saw the band warmup but no sight of the main draw. We saw shirts thrown out and water sprayed on us. Could Lauryn Hill really have another concert meltdown and were we gonna get played? I admit I was scared each passing minute but after Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg came out for the introduction, we got this right here.

The return of the Queen! She came out with Lost Ones in a double-time flow and just seemed like every bar had a purpose and energy that was years in the making. She turned it into a 10-minute jam session and then the hype faded into "where was she gonna take it?" - then she left the stage again and I said "uh oh"

It was only temporary. Ms. Hill got back into her groove, singing every song with the power, joy and relief of being back. When she sang "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do", it could've been a message to anyone who spoke ill of her the last decade.

I was geeked to see her do "Turn Your Lights Down Low" and "To Zion" but not as hyped as I was to see her do "Fu-Gee-La" and ALL 3 Verses to "Ready or Not" - including Wyclef and Pras. Was she as good as seeing Tribe reunited at the San Diego Street Scene in 2004 or Pharcyde at Rock The Bells 2008? No, but it was almost like a sign of things to come. Her set was like riding a bicycle after a while - wobbly in spots but good to see again.

Now it was time to go back to 1993. As Q-Tip pointed out, Tribe and Wu dropped Midnight Maruaders and Enter the 36 Chambers on the same day and Snoop dropped Doggystyle 2 weeks later. If yall don't know, Midnight Marauders is a candidate for my favorite album of all time so I was geeked to see this performed all the way through. Soon as I heard the horns for "Stir It Up", I was in a zone!

Ironic how for a group that disbanded when I was just starting high school and I didn't buy an album until 203, I've been blessed to see Tribe 3 times. Each time, they defined synergy by playing off each other well. As big a presence as Q-Tip is, Phife plays his role and gets his chance to shine. They made Midnight Marauders come alive from the image of the tour guide.

Like everyone else, they didn't stick to just MM as Tip beatboxed a freestyle that led into "Bonita Applebaum". The crowd jammed to "Find A Way" from 98's Love Movement and the booming bass of "Excursions" - the classic opener to Low End Theory - just hit you in ya chest like a shotgun. And then just when things were getting nuts, we finally got a surprise guest.

BUSTA RHYMES!!!!! He came out just before he and Tribe did "Scenario" but everyone went nuts when they saw him. The best part about Busta and Spliff Star is that they stayed out for the end of the show - including "Check the Rhyme" and "Award Tour." The crowd was hanging on every word. This. Is. The Power. OF. HIP. HOP!!!!

This set us up for a trip back into the "36 Chambers" as all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan came on stage to "Bring Da Ruckus" - one of the coldest intros ever. With RZA rockin the 36 jersey and Meth holding a baseball bat, we were back in Staten Island where the Wu held it down.

Like Tribe, I've been blessed to see the Wu three times over the last four years (going back to 06 Street Scene, 07 Rock The Bells). Everytime feels special because although half of them have made outstanding careers on their own, the bond they have on stage is magnetic.

"Da Mystery of Chessboxing", "Protect Ya Neck", "Tearz" were a reminder of how ridiculous that album is and how Method Man was destined to be a star after his solo joint. He was the only one who did a solo cut at the end - "Da RockWilder", which had me wishing Redman came out.

(From left to right, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon)

But this was a night for the Wu, who love Rock The Bells because it was the last time all original members were together. Ol Dirty Bastard has been gone for 6 years but his spirit was alive in his oldest son, who channeled the ODB vibe by running through the crowd, throwing drinks off stage and even having the famous crazy braids of his dad (Wish I had a better pic of it).

Of course, they ended with "Triumph" and I have to say this. This might be one of the best songs ever done live in hip-hop as far as crowd reaction and on-stage energy. Raekwon performed his final verse almost acapella and folks were saying it word for word like it was Inspectah Deck's classic intro.

After one more hose-down and a set change, this is what we got ready for.

Sway and King Tech came out to introduce the Doggfather and it jumped off with the classic intro to Doggystyle (which i just heard Friday morning). Lady of Rage came out to perform her opening verse on the album's 2nd track and then we heard that classic pouring sound leading into "Gin N Juice". Then out came Snoop in the classic Jaromir Jagr jersey from the video

It was epic from the start. Snoop took over the show with that laidback cool over the menacing Dr. Dre beats. It was a Death Row reunion with Rage, Kurupt + Daz, RBX and I felt proud to be from the West Coast. During "Murda Was THe Case", Snoop took off the jersey and rocked a khaki suit as he sat down for the 1st verse. As the song progressed, he got up and rapped each verse with the same passion he did at the 94 VMA's when he was facing the murder charge. Just powerful.

Snoop performed with a live band but they were behind the stage so you could focus on him and the crew going full force. We even had a video cameo from Dr. Dre to play that old school Snoop which led to a medley of "Nuthin but a G' Thang", "Next Episode" and "Deep Cover"

Sadly with Dre on video, that meant my dreams of one cameo was dashed. The other cameo I hoped for was Nate Dogg, who's been hospitalized since his 2007 stroke. But in the spirit of Nate, everybody rapped along to his hook on "Aint No Fun" as well as "Regulate" with Warren G on stage. It was all love in the air.

Daz, Kurupt and R-A-G-E with Snoop

I got my wish later on when they performed "Stranded on Death Row" from The Chronic album. This is one of my favorite joints from the album as Kurupt, RBX, Rage and Snoop murdered that song with the viciousness - I was jumping up and down even though folks looked at me crazy. If y'all don't know that track, that posse cut might be the illest West Coast collab in history.

Snoop ended the show in style with "Drop it like it's Hot" and "I wanna Rock", reminding everyone that its 17 years later and he's still making hits. Just like how 17-20 years after nearly all the artists on the bill impacted hip-hop, they can still do shows and attract 25,000 people to the venue.

All of them thanked the crowd for supporting the album they performed because except for Tribe and Ms. Hill, those were the albums that started off their career. It's a reminder every year that hip hop lives and artists who stood for integrity and original music will never be forgotten.

I didn't get to check the side stage but with artists like Yelawolf, Street Sweeper Social Club and more - hip hop continues to thrive. And it's festivals like these that show its essence from the DJ to the b-boy and of course, the MC.

Yeah, I'd wish it'd come closer to LA and that there were seats available to sit down. We also had event cards that were the only way you could buy food/drinks - something I discovered was only exclusive to our show. And yep, it was 98 degrees at it's peak and I saw folks passing out. Hence why I drank nearly a quart of water before I even got there and was lucky to get a wet towel when I walked around.

At the end of Snoop's set I had to laugh because all that was left was ice in a cup and we had to pay a dollar for it. Genius investment but it's exactly why I only bring money for drinks and possibly merchandise. You don't go to concerts to eat cause those lines are ridiculous,

But every year I make my way out and every time I don't regret it.


  1. Thanks for the recap. I've been away from hip-hip for over ten years. I just hate the new crap out now. Maybe I'm just getting old.

    I wish I could have attended that show. I've seen most of those acts before, and would've loved to see them live one more time. You're right about Rakim, great MC, just not live. Last time I saw him was when '18th Letter' came out a million years ago. KRS is the opposite, he puts on an amazing show. I've seen Wu-Tang(the entire group or just some of the members) 12 times. I'm pissed I wasn't there to see them perform one more time.

    I missed Lauryn...damn.

    Also, looks like Snoop and company put on a great show. Damn, I wish I would've been there.

  2. What a day of music. Glad u saw KRS-1. He is outstanding live. Def go check him again inside at a club when it's his night. Unforgettable energy.

    Great reviews!