Monday, August 23rd 2010
Shows: Rock The Bells
During one very special month in 1993 – November, to be exact – three landmark albums in Hip-Hop arrived: Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers, A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle. All three albums were genre touchstones and pivotal catapults of exposure for a scene that was exploding with talent, and for nearly 30,000 blazed rap heads in San Bernardino this past Saturday, every moment of those quintessential albums came roaring back to life.
For anyone who was a kid in America throughout the first half of the ’90s, Rock The Bells 2010 is a musical time machine dream come true. The nostalgia trip was just the tip of the iceberg, however, as performances from Slick Rick, KRS-One, Rakim and other Hip-Hop veterans were countered & complemented with a bill that found the unfathomably fantastic Brother Ali spitting inimitable rhymes alongside spitfire activist Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, Murs & 9th Wonder and many more as this year’s Rock The Bells tour kicked off in top form.
That’s a staggering collection of talent on one bill, but still doesn’t mention another top highlight – an appearance from miss Lauryn Hill, who made a return to the stage backed by an 11-piece band. Ripping through cuts on her debut (and only) solo CD, Lauryn touched on accelerated & reinterpreted versions of Lost Ones, To Zion and Doo Wop (That Thing) alongside Fugees jams that set the crowd ablaze.
In all honesty, Hill’s appearance left much to be desired. While she seemed to genuinely enjoy herself, the soulful prowess we adored and eagerly anticipated was replaced with rushed deliveries and strut-rap that showcased only glimpses of the talent that’s put her in league with the genre’s all-time heavyweights.
Nevertheless, her set was a wildly celebrated return amongst the hardcore devoted who braved 100-plus temperatures to experience the history being brought to life on the main stage that day.
Earlier in the day, the legendary Rakim unleashed his classic Paid in Full album to the sweating hordes, who were just beginning to arrive as the sun hit its highest point in the desert sky. After a menacing set from Jedi Mind Tricks, Rhymesayers’ de facto godfather Brother Ali utterly obliterated any notion that he deserved his relegation to the Paid Dues stage with a set that bordered on messianic.
Preaching a message of love and compassion, Ali delivered a set that spanned his entire career, peaking with an intensely moving take on the torn-life anthem Tightrope, off last year’s excellent Us album.
He then brought out DJ Snuggles, a 22year old scratcher who can beatbox like nobody’s business. Using only Snuggles as an instrument base, Ali ripped through a freestyle before the unknown DJ pulled some Iron Man vocal shit that blew everyone’s mind.
Shortly after, Supernatural brought the one and only KRS-One to the main stage for a spirited run through 1987′s Criminal Minded album – which sadly fell largely on the circumstantially deaf ears of an audience of which most were born after the record’s release. Nevertheless, for the enlightened it was a spirited affair of pioneering Hip-Hop. After all, who before KRS was dropping rhymes about sex, guns and hardcore beatdowns, let alone kicking transcendental wisdom through lyricism?
Street Sweeper Social Club proved to be the odd men out as the only rock act on the bill, and the crowd of less than a hundred reflected the collective interest in what was going on at the other side of the NOS Events Center (Lauryn Hill). Nevertheless, they attacked their set with full-throttled enthusiasm and steadily built on the increasingly excited crowd reaction, and ended up pulling in roughly three times the crowd they started with.
A Tribe Called Quest brought the Midnight Marauders power in full force as Q-Tip and Phife Dawg laid extra fire to the verses and brought out a few surprises. One of the original members, Jarobi, came out for Can I Kick It?, and Busta Rhymes (accompanied by Spliff Star) made an appearance with the timeless Stop the Party. Rhymes, Spliff and Jarobi stayed onstage for the last two numbers, Check the Rhyme and Award Tour.
Sure, it would’ve been nice to have maybe witnessed Low End Theory rather than Marauders, but we’ll take what we can get.
Ultimate Hip-Hop supergroup Wu-Tang Clan descended as night fell with a full-throttle presentation of their classic 36 Chambers album. Each performer taking solo turns on their respective verses, all members interacted with buoyant enthusiasm and even gave a touching tribute to former member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who died in November 2004 from a drug overdose. Leading the tribute was O.D.B’s firstborn son Boy Jones, who’s improved heavily in recent years and held his own amongst his mentors. With a hairstyle and flow to match his father’s, Jones inhabited his father’s lyrics and helped fill the large void left by his absolutely batshit tasmanian devil of a father.
And then it was time for Doggystyle. Snoop Dogg’s headlining set was the cherry on top of a legendary event featuring unprecedented full-album performances, and there wasn’t a soul in attendance who didn’t appear to know every single word of every track on the record.
Sporting a vintage Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, braids & shades, Snoop returned to the fire & menace that he’s long since traded for blazed, leisurely pimpdom. Aided by performances from Tha Dogg Pound, the Lady of Rage, Kuript and Warren G, Snoop stepped back into his youthful persona for a time-machine recount of a cornerstone album from the ’90s. Even the elusive Dr. Dre had taped a pre-recorded video, instructing Snoop to “play that old school shit” while Snoop paid tribute to the incapacitated Nate Dogg with Regulate and Ain’t No Fun (if the Homies Can’t Have None).
Hip hop’s golden era has been revived, and if you’ve got true love for the artists and albums that kicked off the most prominent generation of music Hip-Hop has ever seen, you should do yourself a favor and make it to New York or D.C. for the August 28th and 29th shows, respectively. This bill with these albums is guaranteed to never, ever happen again.
Find out more at RockTheBells.com.