For its second stop in the West Coast, this year’s Rock the Bells Festival at the Shoreline Amphitheater inMountain View, California brought veterans and underground talent together for a massive line-up that never fails to disappoint.
Many of the prolific acts continued the classic album theme from last year, performing their masterpieces while newcomers added new school Hip-Hop for the growing number of people watching.
Though the absence of Erkyah Badu, Curren$y, who is still recovering from his leg injury in San Bernardino, and MF Doom was missed, it didn’t stop more than 30 acts from tearing up the microphone.
Rock the Bells’ success as a premier Hip-Hop touring festival comes from its featured artists across three stages — the mainRock the Bells Stage and its side stages, Paid Dues and 36 Chambers — making it nearly impossible to catch every set without running out of breath.
Check out the full review after the jump!
While the heated 80-degree weather with the sun beaming made for a hotter day, the first to hit the Rock the Bells stage,Freddie Gibbs, kicked off the festival with his smoky baritone. Gangsta Gibbs rapped some of his laidback mixtape tracks — including “Personal OG” that spoke to the crowd by suggesting everyone to light up the Cali bud for some good vibrations.
Souls of Mischief of Hieroglyphics stepped on the stage next, bringing back memories of the Hiero Golden Age with93’ Till Infinity, which undoubtedly made every Bay Area fan in attendance get up off their seats.
Although the dominance of Tyler, the Creator’s Odd Future motley crew has been sweeping the Internet and cracking into the mainstream, Cali’s original Hip-Hop collective that defined the West coast’s lyricism has always been Hieroglyphics. Souls of Mischief broke into several intermissions about the group’s upbringing as well as meanings behind tracks like“Heaven For Sure.” Their performance of the single, “93’ Till Inifnity,” is a record that still holds it down as a showcase of jazzy production and witty rhymes.
Common’s performance of Be was everything we’ve come to expect from the Chicagoan. With DJ Dummy on the ones and two’s, his short snippets and full-length plays received some impressive scratches that really hyped up the crowd.
Songs like the “The Corner” and “Be” were met with fans reaching their hands up in the sky and waving along to his tight lyrics. During the set, Common took the opportunity to break for a freestyle session with Dreda Dre, a local Bay Area rapper, who stepped up to the spotlight.
Near the end, Common performed his latest single off The Dreamer, the Believer, “Ghetto Dreams,” which could of stole the show if Nas made a surprise appearance for his verse.
By midday, the attention seemed to be given to Big K.R.I.T. on the Paid Dues Stage. For a first time performer at Rock the Bells, delivering tracks off K.R.I.T. Was Here and Return of 4EVA were some of his best material.
He was a dynamic performer, utilizing his Mississippi drawl while jumping up and down to keep the crowd bouncing to tracks like “Rotation,” “My Sub,” and “Time Machine.”
At one point, K.R.I.T. commanded the crowd to put their middle fingers up to all the “haters,” a gesture that everybody agreed to. He also performed the closing track of Return of 4Eva, “The Vent,” as well as his infectious Internet single,“Country Shit,” two tracks that will make use of your stereo bass.
Slaughterhouse — Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, Royce Da 5’9’’, and Crooked I — also graced the Paid Dues Stage, only this time Royce, who was absent at the San Bernardino show for a conflicting performance, appeared with his crew. The supergroup paid homage to their hometowns while putting on a performance that cemented their raise from an underground online presence.
Since their first appearance at Rock the Bells ’09, Slaughterhouse has seized their place in Hip-Hop as lyrical murderers that evidently gained the respect of both Eminem and the Shady Records imprint. The tracklist that ranged from breakout hits “Microphone” to solo singles like Budden’s “Pump It Up,” and Royce’s “Fast Lane,” to a Detroit tribute with Em’s “8 Mile,” becomes representations of a veteran voice that can bring nothing but headbangers.
As the evening cooled the Mountain View skies, each of the stages prepared for their headlining artists. This is the point for someone who wanted to see the politically driven raps of Immortal Technique, throw “W’s” up for the back-to-back Shaolin set of GZA the Genius performing Liquid Swords and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, or witness the presence of Ms. Lauryn Hill, has to make a tough decision. Rather then dedicating your attention to one, it was more pleasing to split time between personal favorites.
While the Rock the Bells stage was covered in preparation for Lauryn Hill, the 36 Chambers stage had an atmospheric feel fitting of their style — hardcore raps that display their distinctive styles and personalities. Raekwon and Ghostface went through both their albums, (Both parts of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … and Supreme Clientele), even bringing out freestyle specialist Supernatural for an entertaining session of spitting rhymes off of objects in the crowd. Another Wu-Tang reunion would have been monumental, but watching the sharpest rappers of the Clan blast through the stage speakers with fans rapping every word was a highlight.
Once Ms. Hill was ready to perform, the backdrop unveiled a wall adorned with books, her band lifted on fancy tables, while she was looking elegant in a black and white ensemble. The audio visual complimented each of her renditions of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Focusing less on correcting her band’s volume levels, Ms. Hill’s gestures were directed to the crowd, as she sang and rapped tracks that sounded less enthused than her previous performances. However, Ms. Hill still managed to make fans reminisce on the album’s prominence in Hip-Hop today.
It’s difficult to measure how Rock the Bells can top last year’s line-up. The excitement, energy and sheer popularity of the festival is a proven indicator of its success. Although Rock the Bells has finished its West coast stops, the tour has several stops on the East Coast — Boston and New York — before fans get anxious for the next wave of Hip-Hop greats. Until then, Rock the Bells returns every year as the definitive concert to feed any true Hip-Hop head’s state of mind.
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