Published on September 18th, 2013 | by tmaider0
Review: Rock the Bells (San Francisco)
“That’s the great thing about Rock the Bells, it’s like a hip-hop summer camp.” Peter Rosenberg, arguably one of the great hip-hop camp councilors and Hot 97’s most prolific DJ, told the crowd this on the first day of the Bay Area edition of Rock the Bells. He’s definitely not lying. It’s the only festival that puts loads of talented rappers on the same stages together, spanning all the different eras of hip-hop. It’s one of the few festivals where artists like Rakim and Earl Sweatshirt can rap on the same stage, and it leaves very few people disappointed.
2013’s edition of Rock the Bells marked the festival’s 10th Anniversary, and within the 10 years it has been around, they have managed to pull the top tier of hip-hop music to their festival every year. Previous years housed bands like Rage Against the Machine, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Mobb Deep, and Pharcyde. This year was no different. Rock the Bells put together a top-notch lineup of artists like Wu-Tang Clan, Kid Cudi and Bone Thugz, along with some of today’s most unique rappers like Danny Brown, Tyler, the Creator, Action Bronson and Riff Raff. 10 years with an amazing lineup each time. It’s hard to believe they can continue to deliver year after year. Obviously, performances varied in caliber throughout the years, but Rock the Bells continues educates me a little more about hip-hop with unique lineups each time I attend. This year was no different (they even had Deebo rolling around on a beach cruiser all weekend!).
Without further adieu, 10 things that were awesome, educational, and memorable about the 10th anniversary of Rock the Bells (SF Treat Edition).
10. People Love Danny Brown
This was already something I kind of knew, but Danny Brown’s sweaty Sunday set was something to be mentioned. As soon as Brown walked (or should I say danced) his way out on stage with a beer in hand, the entire crowd began to bounce. However, they didn’t bounce in the fun way. It was the mosh pit, elbow a kid in the face type of way. Nobody slowed down for his entire set, and what was truly shocking was to see how into it the hip-hop crowd was. This is usually a crowd reserved for putting hands in the air and bobbing heads. Danny Brown brought things to the next level.
9. Earl Sweatshirt Officially Puts on Better Shows Now.
This marked my 4th Earl Sweatshirt set this year. My first was at Coachella, and it seemed like Earl was still trying to get his footing in the live rap game. This time though, he nailed it. The whole crowd chanted along on “Molasses”, “I will fuck the freckles off your face, bitch!” And his rendition of “EARL” sent chills down spines that inevitably led to a mosh pit. However, the puzzling thing was how much better Earl was than his friend, Tyler, the Creator, on the previous day. Tyler’s set was dull, and had minimal attitude, which usually makes his sets that much more fun. While Tyler played mostly material off WOLF, he failed to show any care, or concern for the show. Bottom line: Earl is king….he is the true Odd Future hero.
8. There is an Absurd Amount of Wu-Tang/Hieroglyphics Shirts
Everywhere I fucking looked, Hiero this, Wu-Tang that, ’93 ‘Til Infinity here, Killa Beez there. Wu-Tang and Hieroglyphics are definitely great at one thing far better than rapping: MERCHANDISING. Those logos were seen everywhere and I am still shocked at how many people own their gear. When considering career options kids, think BRANDIN.
7. A$AP Mob is on the Top of Their Game
This was the one confusing thing about their set. Last year, it was billed strictly as an A$AP Rocky set. However, the A$AP Mob played more material last year than Rocky did. This year, while billed as a Mob set, they did nothing but A$AP Rocky tunes. Not that I am complaining, but it was definitely weird.
ANYWAYS, A$AP Mob was hyped up by Pete Rosenberg prior to their set as a group that is truly representing Harlem, and New York, in a positive and great light in modern hip-hop. While he means their mentality and songs are doing that, their live show definitely helps. They were hands down one of the most enthusiastic groups all weekend, and to see the crowd rush forward for “Wild for the Night” was one of the best parts of the festival. A$AP Rocky spent most of his time leaning on a mic stand in a DOPE Wise Owl Chips jacket, singing on tracks like “Wassup” and “Peso”, but watching the Mob jump around for the more hyphy tracks was something worth paying money for.
6. Action Bronson and Riff Raff…Match Made in Heaven
After this weekend, “Bird on a Wire” became my new favorite song. Riff Raff will unfortunately have to deal with being compared to James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers for the rest of his days, but he has the chance to outshine that with his music and stage antics. Throughout his whole set, he carried around his small puppy and drank Heinekens, a tactic I have not seen many rappers use (cuteness to win the crowd over). The real treat though was later during Action Bronson’s set. Bronson came on and delivered a great set, despite the fact the man had a HERNIA the weekend prior. It was commendable to see him still get out there and rap. After opening up with an 80s mash up, and playing several quality Bronson songs, Riff Raff joined him at the end for “Bird on a Wire,” which was easily the most memorable part of my entire weekend.
5. Flatbush Zombies Kill It Live
Rumors had circulated around the web that the Flatbush Zombies were amazing live, and sure enough they proved it to be true. The Flatbush Zombies are a weird group of people, and it was no surprise that they were to be included in this year’s lineup after the success of “Thug Waffle.” All of them came out on stage in the creepiest, and weirdest fashions. They drank 40s throughout the set, and threw waffles into the crowd during their hit song. It was the kind of hip-hop show antics any fan would enjoy seeing. The killer moment though? For the finale, the group sampled “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and vanished from the stage. Nirvana eventually faded into their gem (and my personal favorite) “S.C.O.S.A.” and the group was suddenly in the midst of the crowd, pouring beer on everyone and leading everyone running around in packs. Quality Hip-Hop Show = Antics + Hype + Good Song Choices. Flatbush got the equation down.
4. Deltron, the Hero of the Future
When Deltron played new material, which was set in the year 3040 this time, the narrator questioned, “Would the heroes ever return?” I used to wonder than myself about Deltron, but with the announcement of a new album, the answer now was obvious; YES.
Deltron’s live show is NO FUCKING JOKE. For one, he had a full-blown jazz orchestra on stage playing the beats. You ever heard “3030” with a full strings section? The actual beat will never do justice again. Next, his DJ was the fantastic and talented Kid Koala, who not only knows how to spin well, but knows how to captivate an audience with his DJing as well. Third, his conductor was DAN THE AUTOMATOR. Obviously, Dan the Automator was his producer on the album, but to have him conducting a full orchestra truly showcased his abilities as something beyond a producer. And finally, you got Del, performing a number of classics like “Virus” and “Clint Eastwood,” but also get material from the new album. Deltron made their first album almost a decade ago as a weird experimental tale about the future, which seemed almost absurd at the time. Now though, it seems like they were far more in tune with everything than we previously thought.
3. Bone Thugz Resurrect Eazy-E
One of the most hyped parts of the weekend was the fact that there would be two holographic performances. The first came from the deceased Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who obviously is known for helping found the N.W.A., gangster rap, and basically making hip-hop what it is today. A reunited Bone Thugz ‘N Harmony were the sub headliner on day one, and came out to a crowd of ecstatic fans. Their performance was somewhat lackluster, but everybody was psyched when they asked if we wanted to see Eazy. At this point, DJ Yella came out on stage, the N.W.A.’s original DJ, and hyped everyone up for the ghost of Eazy. Sure enough, there he was. While the hologram did indeed resemble Wright and his classic Compton hat, it was definitely not on par with the Tupac hologram from a year ago, but it certainly met the hype. Everyone pulled out cell phones to see the ghost of Eazy-E do “Boyz N the Hood” and his verse from “Straight Outta Compton.” While Bone Thugz may not have been the best thing I saw all weekend, they definitely left the crowd dazzles with their projection of Eazy motha fuckin’ E.
2. KRS-One Still Owns
It doesn’t matter how many weird, crazy, and lyrically insane rappers come out; KRS-One is still king. When Kid Cudi took the stage for the younger crowd on the first night, KRS-One appealed to the older people who had been listening to hip-hop for decades. The man freestyled, played a number of gems like “Sound of da Police” and “Classic”, and showed that within hip-hop, there is no age limit. As we left that night, my co-pilot for the weekend said, “KRS-One has more talent in his fingernail than most of the people out there rapping today.” It seemed like a bold statement, but I couldn’t disagree.
1.Wu-Tang is indeed Forever
Wu-Tang Clan is definitely something you don’t fuck with. As mentioned before, the abundance of Wu gear was ridiculous at this festival, but within reason. Wu-Tang is always a gamble in concert; you never know what you will get. I have seen the Wu over 10 times and probably only liked two of them (Coachella 2013, RTB 2007). This year, Ghostface and Raekwon were strangely absent, and the group was able to blaze through a number of classics, while also managing to resurrect Ol’ Dirty Bastard via hologram. The show was not the greatest of the weekend, but the crowd was still so hyped on the Wu. And that’s when I realize…it doesn’t matter, Wu-Tang is forever. It transcends so much further now than the group, the albums, and their music. Wu-Tang is a movement and as long as some of them are there to rap for us (both dead, or alive), we will still wave our W’s high in the air.