Monday, August 4, 2008


The Rock The Bells 2008 tour was a great time, but before I talk about it, I gotta thank my friend Angela Yee from Shade 45 for getting me in, and my friend Su for getting me a ticket! 

The behind the scenes stuff was a mess, and the waiting time between artists was way too long, but why dwell on that. It was a great show. I got there a few hours after it started, but as I got to my seats, dead prez were wrapping up their set with their classic song, "Hip-Hop." They are group who definitely have something to say: I wish I liked their music more. Speaking of having something to say, the next artist was Immortal Technique. He's a little bit to the left of me, but I liked his tracks and definitely appreciated that he has something to say. I may not even agree with everything he says, I don't know, but I am at least interested. 

Then de la soul came on. de la was the first hip-hop group I ever saw perform: it was at The Ritz in New York City back in like '89 or maybe '90, they were opening for Living Colour. Back then they came off a bit goofy, but I don't feel bad saying that: a few years ago, I got to interview Pos, Dave and Mase and when I mentioned that show they were all like "Oh no!" But they've toured so extensively since then, they've got their thing down, and they are one of the tightest live hip-hop acts that you'll see.  It was tough for them to squeeze their set into 35 minutes or whatever, but they did good. Q-Tip joined them for a bit of "Buddy," and Dres from Black Sheep joined them, yes, for "The Choice Is Yours." Say what you want about "one-hit wonders," it must feel good to have thousands of people chanting along with your big hit from 15 years ago. On the other hand, it was clearly a bitch to have to follow that song up. 

Raekwon The Chef and Ghostface Killa were next. Here's my problem: like quite a few hip-hop crews, these guys let everyone they know come on stage with them. That might be cool at a club (I'd argue that it isn't cool even in a club). But at a huge venue, it doesn't work. I was so far away, I couldn't really see who was who. Most of the people on stage didn't even have mics. So why did they need to be there? But the performance was mostly tight. I like Ghost's new song "Be Easy." But the old stuff like "Ice Cream" and "Incarcerated Scarfaces" of course got everyone out of their seats. 

Then Mos Def. For my money, he's one of the most talented cats out there, but I sometimes think he needs some focus. The guy is a great lyricist, has awesome delivery, can sing soulfully, but also do rock and reggae, and has lots of presence. He's always got so much going on: hip-hop, his rock band, his big band, spoken word, acting, etc. I think he's had some great cameos, but other than the Black Star album and his solo debut Black On Both Sides. And that was kind of the deal with the beginning of his set: there were these weird scenery videos going on, and the performance wasn't too gripping. Then Talib Kweli hit the stage. Next level, how ya doin'? I know those guys aren't too anxious to do another Black Star album for fear that it won't live up to the first one, but I don't know, if they really focus, maybe they can do it. "Respiration" was great. Too bad Common wasn't there (it would have been cool if he'd joined de la as well). 

Considering how much Method Man and Redman seem to enjoy blowing trees, it's surprising how tight they were. Meth kept yelling the same "The same amount of energy you give us, we'll give back to you!" thing he yelled at last year's festival, when he played with The Wu-Tang Clan. He seemed to have more fun with Red, though, and the crowd seemed more into them. They're plugging Blackout 2, the sequel to their first album, Blackout, from 1999. But they hardly played any songs from that album; too bad, it was really underrated. Other than "Da Rockwilder" (which they did play) I liked "Mi Casa," "Cereal Killer" and "1,2,1,2." Ghostface joined them, which was cool. And Erick Sermon and Parish Smith (a.k.a. EPMD) also joined them, which was cooler. They did "You Gots To Chill." Slick Rick also popped on stage for a second or two to recite the hook to "La Di Da Di." 

Nas is kind of having his moment right now: his untitled album is at #1 despite controversy over its original title. I was surprised to see that he was backed by a band, along with DJ Green Lantern. (GL calls himself "The Evil Genius," which - no disrespect - makes no sense. Why doesn't he call himself Sinestro if he's evil? That's some comic book stuff.) They opened with a new song "Slave/Master" which was pretty powerful, and then went into the title track from 2006's Hip-Hop Is Dead (a great song to play live with a band). Then he kicked into a bunch of songs off of his classic debut Illmatic, followed by other his from his career (including "One Mic" and "Hate Me Now." And Jay-Z joined him for "Black Republicans." Predictably, people went nuts for the former President of Def Jam. I'm not a fan, but I had to admit, it was pretty cool. A lot of people weren't feeling the band thing. I thought it worked at some points, and others it didn't, but it was overall a good set. 

Next, Q-Tip hit the stage with DJ Scratch and did stuff from his upcoming album (but not the cool song "Work It Out," some Tribe stuff, and his earlier solo hits like "Vivrant Thing" and "Breathe And Stop." He had a band but no drummer, which was pretty weird. It didn't totally work for me as much as I wanted it to. Still, I believe Tip may have a few classic albums in him, his mind is in the right place. 

It's probably almost too easy for Tip to play with A Tribe Called Quest again. Still, they are so awesome together, it would be a shame for them not to do it anymore. I hope that he can balance his solo career with Tribe - even if it is just Tribe concerts and not new music. They were awesome, and when Busta Rhymes joined them for "Scenario," it just tore the place up. 

Great night, and thanks to Shade 45/Flow TV personality Angela Yee for getting me through the gate and my pal and former intern Su for hooking me up with a ticket.  I took some pictures, but they were from far away, I gotta look at them and decide if I want to post them. 

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