Rock the Bells, Day 1
NOS Events Center
Through heat and hip-hop, the first day of Rock the Bells
trudged on as one well-oiled, wild machine. We spotted a few cases of what appeared to be heat exhaustion, one lone altercation, lots of plumes of smoke, and most importantly -- we enjoyed one of the decidedly-superior festival lineups of the year. Whether it was a newcomer or one of our old-school heroes, virtually everyone we saw gave the San Bernardino
audience everything they could muster, pull, and release from their creative and physical bodies. Several years into Rock the Bell's tenure as a festival, every artist must know by now to bring their highest form of self with them when they hit the stage, and we consider ourselves lucky to have been able to witness all these luminaries of the genre in one day-long span. Here's a list of the stuff that stood out.
Smartest Utilization of Singles and Hits: 2 Chainz
Current chart-topper 2 Chainz (formerly Tity Boi, yes, Tity Boi) has the number one song in the country and is popular for a reason that goes beyond the easily-digestible songs he constantly churns out. He's good at what he does, and by that we don't mean good at rapping, though he is a decent all-around artist. The two-chained True Religion fetishist is good at producing airwave-pillaging tracks that are capable of infecting the eager ears and minds of every avid mainstream hip-hop fan who hears them. At Rock the Bells, 2 Chainz' setlist consisted almost entirely of what you could hear by typing his name into Youtube or asking a few fans what 2 Chainz songs initially come to their mind when they think of him. "No Lie," "Riot," "Beez In The Trap," "Mercy," "Bands A Make Her Dance," "I Luv Dem Strippers," "Birthday Song," "Spend It" -- all the works he's involved in that would make a sun-sauteed crowd brave heat exhaustion and go insane he played, and the main stage crowd enthusiastically responded for the whole time.
Act That Had The Most Fun on Stage: Dipset
Apparently, Harlem's very own Dipset had some rather bad blood streaming through its veins for some years, but you couldn't tell that from their performance. Jim Jones hit the 36 Chambers stage first to perform a few verses, and the rapper who we presumed might be the weakest link ended up handling himself rather well on stage, keeping the crowd's collective body producing adrenaline at a sufficient rate. Juelz Santana arrived next, and that's when all the real fun started. Santana looked incredibly energized and excited to perform yesterday, and his infectious smiles and mannerisms allowed his charisma to reflect the sky's shine.
By the time Cam'ron hopped on stage and the whole Diplomats crew (featuring Freekey Zekey) were on stage, everyone was interacting with the crowd and each other as if this was their own rowdy backyard get-together. They didn't just regurgitate what you could hear by putting on an album or a mixtape, they revitalized the original songs to give the festival audience some memories to hold onto. Who says relationships can't be mended and turn out just as strong if not better than before? Dipset appears to be proof that it's certainly possible. Oh, and Freekey Zekey had some of the best dance moves of the night as well. We don't know what exactly he was doing, but it was brilliant.
Most Entertaining Intermission: Wu Block
Just about five to ten minutes before members of the Wu Block started to trickle out to play, producer/culture lover RZA brought out an act that didn't have too much to do with hip-hop, though there definitely was "culture" there like he ascribed. Don't hate us for not recalling exactly what the RZA called it, but a performance troupe consisting of several people dressed up as multi-colored dragons and a battery of drum-beaters enacting what appeared to be an epic duel between beasts. At first, this may sound like a bit of a lame duck, but it came across more enjoyable than the usual random DJ spinning songs that pretty much every other colleague around him has spun and will spin later in the night. Kudos to Guerilla Union and the RZA for something out of the norm that was more interesting than the actual norm.
Moves That Stole The Show: Ghostface Killah
|We don't know what you call this, but it sure looks fun.|
We'll never know exactly what that "X Factor" is, but Ghostface Killah is decidedly lovable and a gem in every way. His body of work is stellar, his attitude towards his craft is respectable, his vernacular is some of the best in hip-hop, and he provides some undeniably awesome non-verbal entertainment sometimes. As every member of the Wu Block executed their part of the evening, Ghostface busted out some of the funkiest, head-turning moves Rock the Bells has seen. He went from goofy facial expressions -- that made it look as if he was kind of perplexed, or just trying to stare out into space to find something or someone -- to a sort of lazy rendition of the robot (we think?), to a lunged over jig. Tony Starks could go head-to-head with Lil B's cooking anytime, any day.
Best Group Effort: Wu Block
After so many years in hip-hop, Sheek Louch, Styles P, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah still have it. In fact, we don't even know if an individual outside of the level of "veteran" can really bring that level of comfort and finesse to a live show at all. Joined by Killah Priest (who we assume replaced Jadakiss?) and aided by a brief, albeit animated jump-in from Method Man, the fantastic five tore through a setlist that encompassed rhymes and beats from all over each member's discography. They rampaged through 90's mega-hit "All About the Benjamins," Lox original "Fuck You," crowd favorites from the Wu Tang Clan's debut, and a DJ-guided mashup. They even took on Styles P's portion of Rick Ross' huge "B.M.F." and adorned the avatar of the deceased ODB, spitting some of his always crowd-enlivening bars. If the album is as seamless and cohesive as their presence on stage, the Wu Block might be filling up a spot in more than a few "Top Album" lists this year.
Strongest Overall Stage: The Guerilla Union Stage
As we have noted before, it was extremely, painstakingly hot yesterday, and since we as a species have yet to invent an elaborate, intricate system of mass outdoor air conditioning, in order to escape the heat you had to go where the temperature was reasonable. To our luck, where the temperature was best was where the performers were equally sturdy. At the Guerilla Union Stage, Inglewood rapper Casey Veggies, southern firebrand Killer Mike, and indie hip-hop icon El-P led a three-hour charge through a varietal array of songs that ranged from the bombastic and booming, such as virtually every track El-P performed, to the divisively political like Killer Mike's "Reagan." And, beforehand Veggies provided much of the bounce and party-friendly vibes before exiting the small venue. El-P came correct with the humor, his band provided all the rock and electronics a a large hip-hop event can handle, and Killer Mike assumed the role of the very poetic, sometimes inspirational speaker. There was something for everyone in that three-hour span, and it was all of an unrivaled quality.