Tuesday, August 11th 2009
Shows: Rock The Bells
“Welcome to hip-hop summer camp,” Chang Weisberg, organizer, founder and chief promoter of Rock The Bells, offered the audience as the 2009 edition of the tour descended on San Bernardino’s San Manuel Amphitheatre last Saturday. A dizzying array of rap’s finest was unleashed on the thousands of people who drove out to the middle of nowhere for a Hip-Hop show unlike any other.
Where else are you going to find Mystik Journeymen, Tech N9ne, La Coka Nostra and Raekwon all in one spot? Add some heavyweight clout including Busta Rhymes, Nas and Ice Cube, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a way to spend a summer day in (far) East L.A.
Check out Antiquiet’s video recap of Rock The Bells 2009, including my exclusive interview with Luckyiam of Mystik Journeymen / Living Legends as two drunk homegirls make out in the background:
Eyedea (aka Mike Larsen) of Eyedea & Abilities had some transportation issues but conquered the Paid Dues side stage as victorious underdogs of the day. After all, a white duo with a vocalist who looks like Shaggy from Scooby Doo on top of their rock leanings (one of Larsen’s many side projects is an indie rock band).
The duo tore through an inspiringly original set consisting largely of material from their latest release, the aptly-named By The Throat. The crowd seemed to react most excitedly during their breathless Spin Cycle jam, in which Larsen frantically spit the verses before transitioning to a proper rock-style chorus.
As The Roots enjoyed some time away from Jimmy Fallon with a beat-tastic set, New York legends M.O.P. performed their classics, from Cold As Ice to Ante Up, as well as some new tracks from their upcoming comeback album, The Foundation.
Raekwon, looking like he’d just been in a fight, ran through several signature Wu classics to the screaming delight of everyone within earshot of the Paid Dues stage. Raekwon’s set was a fiery fiasco with fans rhyming along to his every word, hungry for the Wu shit any way they can get it.
Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek tore the shit out of the main stage as Reflection Eternal, despite being dwarfed by the giant ampitheater surroundings in broad daylight. Kweli always brings the inimitable flow, and his spitfire delivery was as transcendent as ever in the San Bernardino heat.
Once the sun dropped behind the horizon, Busta Rhymes descended from his gigantic Flipmode tour bus to warm up the stage for the final acts. What he did instead was blow the preceding names off the stage and raise the bar to near-impossible heights for every performer to come after; the man was utterly on fire, spitting fury and interacting with the crowd in good spirits throughout the set.
After a few warmup tracks by Nas, Damian Marley joined him under a waving Jamaican flag for an enticing set of material that pulled from each of their catalogues as well as Damian’s legendary father Bob Marley, while sampling a healthy dose of material from their collaboration album due later this year as well. Their show was a definite highlight of the event, a uniquely high-caliber collaboration that’s bound to crush on record.
Naturally, wherever Slaughterhouse goes, drama follows. Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to sandwich the beef-happy Slaughterhouse between sets by Wu-Tang cornerstones Raekwon and RZA? That person should certainly be unemployed now, for having helped create a violent damper that sent this year’s Rock The Bells festival off on a bad note: Joe Budden of Slaughterhouse was sucker punched backstage by someone in Wu-Tang member Raekwon’s entourage prior to their set.
Nevertheless, Slaughterhouse took the stage to thunderous crowd enthusiasm that far exceeded their love for any Wu members that played. Their set was cut to three songs (no, really) due to curfew, but it was their own damn fault – a half hour after missing their scheduled cue time, Raekwon’s Wu-mate RZA took the stage and started his show early. He was supposed to have closed the second stage, which may have had something to do with the issue (that, and Budden’s punch to the face).
RZA unleashed a sizzling set, splashing Grey Goose every which way and unveiling the firstborn son of the late ODB in the process with an unbearably bad song called I Want A Million Dollars.
Headliner Ice Cube sent the night out with a manic blast, recruiting his former Westside Connection partner WC to help him run through a hit-brimming set that included Natural Born Killaz, Bow Down, Straight Outta Compton and Pay Ya Dues, a fitting tribute to the second stage. A wildly diverse lineup (though no female MCs… what’s up with that, RTB?) and a whole lot of behind-the-scenes drama made for a hell of an entertaining Rock The Bells 2009.
Don’t miss it next year.