Rock The Bells has to be the most important thing to happen to Hip-Hop concerts ever. The rap festival that started as a mid-sized park jam in San Bernardino, with some of the most loved hip-hop artist ever assembled on a line up, has turned into the international powerhouse, competing with other well know summer festivals and bringing old and new hip-hop music to the masses annually.
I have attended many of RTB's past shows and had an amazing time at all of them. I remember my first and how amazed I was that I had managed to pull off backstage press passes. I roamed the back trailers and backstage area, bumped into tons of rappers, B-Boys and other hip-hop heads, all while attending a musical milestone. RTB was responsible for bringing the Wu-Tang Clan back together onstage, and they had the honor of being the last show that the late O.D.B. would perform at. It has earned its stripes and is truly one of the leading rap shows!
I actually didn't plan on attending this years event. A good friend of mine gave me two tickets to the show. I tried to tell him that, while I appreciated the generous gift, Rock The Bells isn't the type of concert you want to miss out on. After he refused to take the tickets back, I decided not to look a "gift horse in the mouth", and took the tickets.
I arrived to the show a bit later than I should, as I ran into the usual traffic snarls heading up the 210. By the time I arrived at the general parking area and got settled, I could hear Raekwon The Chef rocking the crowd from the Paid Dues stage. The Wu Clansman is about to drop his eagerly anticipated follow up to Cuban Links, "Only Built For Cuban Links II", and has been the center of attention for the past few weeks. I'll get more into that in a bit, but for now Raekwon's songs were the backdrop for my walk up the hill to San Miguel Amphitheater.
Once inside we were greeted with the various promoters and vendors, passing out tons of flyers, CDs and assorted promo junk. I took my handfuls and continued up the ramp to our "seats". After being told to "keep walking up the hill" at every check point, I realized that our tickets were free because they were lawn seats. We strolled the lawn and listened to the sounds of The Roots as they rocked the house! I caught the last end of their set, caught up with a few friends of mine, and "upgraded" our seats! I realized that this upgrade meant that I would have to miss all the action on the Paid Dues stage or risk losing my new and improved seating, in real chairs! I made a decision that I regret a bit. More on this later as well.
Busta Rhymes was up next, and I was more than ready for him. Busta is one of my favorite artist, and I had never caught one of his shows. I already knew he would match the intensity of his songs, live onstage. He did not disappoint, as he ran out with M.O.P. and rocketed off into "Ante Up". Once Busta got the crowd up, he never let them back down until he left the stage.
After a lengthy stage break, KRS-One stepped onstage and introduced the next act. He briefly explained the history of hip-hop and reggae music before bringing out Nas and Damien Marley. The two are working on a collaboration called "Distant Relatives" and judging from the way they worked together onstage, they have stumbled onto something incredible!
Nas opened the show and brought out Damien Marley as they got the crowds full attention! They proceeded to bounce back and forth off of each other, with Nas doing a long list of his hits, then giving the stage to Damien Marley. Marley would perform for twenty minutes or so, and give it back to Nas. They dipped and weaved like this through "Road To Zion" and a amazing blend of Nas' "One Love" and Jr. Gong's fathers classic hit of the same name. For good measure and to cover all the bases, they made sure to do "Welcome To Jamrock", "One Mic", "I Can", "Hate Me Know", "It Aint Hard To Tell", "Move", and many more! By this time night had fallen, the air was thick with smoke and the lighters were well in the air, as they concluded their set!
Ice Cube was next up, about to close the night. As we waited for the set break, I decided I had enough of missing the action on the Paid Dues stage. I knew something was going on back there, and didn't want to miss it, as tons more acts were on the bill and in the house. I called up one of my friends that I knew was backstage, with one of the groups entourage. When I got him on the line, he was indeed with the unnamed group in question, but couldn't really speak. Seems that RZA had just finished performing, and Slaughter House was about to perform. At the time, no one knew exactly what was going on, but there seemed to be something wrong with Slaughterhouse's camp.
My friend was on the phone, telling me one of the artist got in a fight or something, and all hell was about to break loose. Seems the Joe Buddens/Wu Tang saga was continuing to unfold in front of our eyes. By the time I got to the Paid Dues stage, Slaughterhouse had the crowd in a frenzy, with Buddens and Crooked I on stage moving the crowd. I was still a good distance from the stage but could clearly see that they were agitated, and heard Crooked I bellow out what sounded like a warning. "No one is going to come and disrespect anyone in my group, while were in the west coast". Both Crooked I and Buddens were shirtless, with Joey wearing what looked like a bandanna around his neck. I checked my Twitter and saw the drama was starting to leak online immediately, with word of the punch. Seems like the "Ice Water" bandanna belonged to some one from Raekwon's camp.
My friend was still on the phone, and he was leaving with the rest of the crew before it got dicey. I decided to do the same, and we took the long trek back to the parking lot. Again we met tons of promoters outside the gates, slanging flyers. Later on, I would hear more details on the ruckus backstage, as it is now old news, being reported all over the net. Regardless to the ego-clashes, Rock The Bells delivered another impressive round up of Hip-Hop. I only saw a small fraction of the artists that were on the bill, and it was still and incredible night of music! Looking forward to next year, minus the UFC fights and such!
You can check out my live audio blog post and video clips from Rock The Bells at my site links below.
Rap Critics blog
Video Clips from Rock The Bells
Audio posts from Rock The Bells