Rock the Bells - San Manuel Amphitheater - 8/20/11
Better than ... your CD collection.
Earlier this week, rap's resident genius weirdo/"wackest rapper alive" Lil B performed at Hollywood's Freak City. Depending on who you ask, the venue/store either got swagged the fuck out, or earned its name. Fair bet most Rock the Bells' attendees would give you the side eye as they sniffed their agreement with the latter opinion.
The 8-year-old festival, which kicked off its four-city tour yesterday, hit upon an idea last year that made devoted golden-age hip-hop heads gaga: Recruit now-famous, edging-out-of-the-game rappers to perform their classic albums in their entireties. So Snoop Dogg did Doggystyle; A Tribe Called Quest,
The Low End Theory Midnight Marauders. This year, Nas performs Illmatic, Raekwon and Ghostface do Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and Lauryn Hill takes on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Inspired idea. How many times have you gone to a concert of your all-time, number-one favorite artist, excited to hear live the songs you know by heart, only to have them play a measly medley of those in favor of testing out all their "new shit"? With Rock the Bells the past two years, you've gotten precisely what you paid for.
If you're gonna sweat--and you are, it's San Bernardino in August--the San Manuel Amphitheater is a much lovelier setting than last year's NOS Events Center. Standing in the pit of the main stage at 1:30PM waiting for Black Star to perform still felt like baking on a pizza stone, but at least the view was pleasant.
Rebecca Haithcoat Rock the Bells main stage
There was plenty of time to stare off into the distance, because the hills were not alive with music. When Black Star, set to begin at 1:30, hadn't appeared onstage twenty minutes later, the crowd began to stir. "Come ON!" someone shouted, and a chorus of boos seconded the sentiment. By 2:30, it was obvious the duo was either gonna take it wayyy back and make this a real hip-hop show (set times? What are those?), or just plain not gonna show.
They didn't, although they arrived later and were squeezed in between Cypress Hill and Erykah Badu's slots, but their tardiness set a precedent. Surprising, considering the past couple of years, both Rock the Bells and Paid Dues, Guerilla Union's spring hip-hop fest, were to-the-minute prompt.
Rebecca Haithcoat Have fun passing the time with beer, moneybags (Bud Light Lime, $14? Really?)
You just can't see everybody at Rock the Bells, so here are our highlights. And yes, we were in the minority who chose to stay for Lauryn Hill instead of joining the mass exodus to watch The Chef cook up Cuban Linx with the ever-entertaining Ghostface, but guess what? We don't regret it.
Unlike his fellow "conscious" rapper (remember when it was cool to claim you preferred those?) Mos Def, Common's charisma onstage hasn't quite translated to the big screen, though he's trying his best. Understandable--to quote David Banner, "This rap money's ok, but you should see these movie checks." And rappers eventually retire, right?
Andrea Domanick Common
Shame, because live, Common is one of the most likable MCs we've ever seen. With a perma-smile, he jumped into "Go" and referenced his old beef with Ice Cube in a typically good freestyle.
Though he was scheduled to do Be, the 2005 record produced primarily by Kanye West, he snuck in a few oldies. Diehard Dilla fans' hearts thumped with "Thelonious," a track off another of Common's classics, Like Water for Chocolate; and everybody's head was bobbing during "I Used to Love H.E.R.," the song that sparked both the beef with Cube, and Common's career.
It wasn't a completely old-school party, even if Mississippi's Big K.R.I.T. (King Remembered in Time) wore a shirt that seemed to sum up the festival's mantra: "If it doesn't touch my soul, I can't listen to it."
The rapper/producer released his album K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in May 2010 and pretty much sealed the allegiance of purists with a line from his single "Children of the World": "They ain't after K.R.I.T/I guess I didn't swag enough/stupid Fruity Pebble chain Louis bag enough."
They are now, though. Yesterday, he showed why. With the smell of BBQ appropriately overwhelming the weed, K.R.I.T.'s molasses-thick accent charmed the crowd into "fuckin' with their country cousin, mayne." He's right--the sun was beatin' down just like it does in the Deep South, and SoCal's car culture can get with K.R.I.T.'s candy car ode, "Rotation." Ain't that much difference between Cali and the Dirty, y'all.