Rock The Bells 2012: San Bernardino
In the few short seconds before officials opened the black gates, San Bernardino’s Nos Events Center transformed from a field of scorching asphalt to the epicenter of hip-hop on the west coast.
Drawing more than 37,000 fans this weekend, the Annual Rock The Bells festival served as a platform for more than 60 artists, all representing the past and future of hip hop music.
On what seemed to be the hottest day of the summer (a burning 101 degrees) people young and old found their way to the parking lot turned-carnival; fully equipped with a boom box sprinkler, a Ferris wheel and a strip of corn dog, funnel cake and burger stations as far as the eye can see.
First day jitters are a thing of the past for Dom Kennedy, or so it seemed as he took over the showground like the pro he is, kicking off the two-day gala. Performing tracks off of his mixtape “From the Westside with Love” released in 2010 as well a few current tracks; Kennedy made his hometown proud shouting out his record label OPM in the process.
ATL native 2 Chainz pumped up the crowd immensely with his southern charm, and animated partner in crime as the mob roared “True”, waving small hand fans conveniently advertising his album Based on a T.R.U. Story, released August 14th on Def Jam Recordings. (Understatement)
Casey Veggies, fresh-faced and climbing the ranks proved he deserves his spot in the freshman class of “Hip Hop High” on the Guerilla Union Stage. Suave in presentation, with a heavy emphasis on reliability to his supporters, Veggies spits from the core and holds his own. “ Life Changes/ Things don’t stay the same,” songstress Jhene Aiko sings on the chorus of “Nobody” a track from “Customized Greatly 3”, the latest installation in the Customized Greatly saga in which Veggies says “ I spent 4 years gridin’ in hopes that Ima blow up/ and remained humble/ get a new chain/ but stay with the same hustle”. As you looked out into the crowd there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the new Roc Nation artist’s work is paying off.
The LA Times prints Kendrick Lamar “failed to capture the magic he created at Coachella”. We spoke to a group of girls from the Bay before the performance stating “ We came for Kendrick”. One young woman said proudly, “I never missed a single show and never will”. From the looks of the audience the “magic” created was all the same, but one would have to admit, this was not his greatest presentation; performing “The Recipe” and “Swimming Pools” while devoted fans pleaded for tracks from Section 80. Kendrick was accompanied by his fellow group members AKA “Black Hippy” or TDE, which includes School Boy Q, Jay Rock and Ab Soul.
“Life for me is just weed and brews!” School Boy Q screamed from the runway stage into the crowd as they echoed back for the call and response. With his most recent work Habits & Contradictions, released off Top Dawg Entertainment featuring fellow Rock The Bells artist like Dom Kennedy, Curenn$y and A$AP Rocky, Q is solidifying his role in the game as is his partner Jay Rock.
Opening up for TDE with his newest track “YOLA” he raps “You ain’t hood/ You ain’t bout that/Stop that/ ‘fore them killers end up where you house at/ Ka-ka-ka leave you topless” with an effortless flow leaving the whole crowd convinced.
His latest work Follow Me Home, released off Top Dawg Entertainment featured the likes of Chris Brown, Rick Ross and Tech N9ne, with production from Cool & Dre, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League and Soundwave.
Performing “Pineal Gland” and “Gone Insane”, Ab Soul received a warm welcome from the crowd, giving back the energy that his fans released from the pits. Soul’s most up-to-date album Control System, off Top Dawg Entertainment features artist like Danny Brown, BJ the Chicago Kid, and the late Alori Joh.
The most down to earth performance of the night came from Immortal Technique. Striking a revolutionary stance before performing “ Golpe de Estado” ,a song so deep you’ll feel the power of the lyrics whether you understand Spanish or not,
Tech spits, “Because I prefer to die/Fighting then to be a slave/ Dirty industry/ Drink acid rain/Learning the history of classic Hip Hop/When they control business and culture/ Music becomes commercial garbage/ And the Latin American queen painted like a chicken/It is more than a ballerinas or a whore on the corner/She’s a lawyer, teacher, mother, soldier”.
Immortal Technique even hopped off a speaker on the stage and into the barricades, sharing his story for his track “Industrial Revolution” while giving daps to all the fans who’s arms were long enough to reach.
The exceptional lyricist took the time out to thank the staff of Rock The Bells, the security working in the “hell-like” conditions, and everyone else who made the night possible and at the end of the show walked right through the crowd back to his booth to sign autographs and speak one on one with each of his fans.
By the time 9 o’clock rolled around and the temperature dropped, all the attention was on one single artist’s arrival. J.Cole.
The anticipation was a thick cloud mixed with humidity and sweat. Every set of eyes fixated on the corner in which he would appear.
“Sideline Story”, “Nobody’s Perfect”, “Higher”, “Lost Ones” ,“Lights Please”. Each song executed with more and more passion. With the searchlights, the live band and DJ all interacting in unison, J.Cole’s performance was like a continuous dream carried out with candor and grace.
Piano man, Ron Gilmore played “I ain’t mad at you” by the late great Tupac and a feeling of tranquility flowed through the crowd but, Cole shook the place from the trance; playfully calling his band out, asking if they had “the groove” before performing “”Grew up Fast” over Brenda’s Russell’s, “A little bit of Love” (used in Big Pun’s, “Still not a player”). Cole felt Russell’s 1979 vocals more than his fans; a track they were all too young to truly appreciate, but included them in the moment nonetheless with a “soul clap”.
Although some fans would have loved to hear The Warm up’s horn intoxicated “Welcome” or Friday Night Light’s spine-tingling “See World” or even “Relaxation” featuring Omen and Rock the Bells second day performer Fashawn, the crowd was left full from dinner and eager for seconds.
Playing “Blow up” and “Work Out” with convincing theatrics the adrenaline bumped prolific rapper took his time out to thank his fans for riding with him thus far, his band and Rock The Bells for allowing him to fulfill yet another goal on his list.
With performances by headliner Kid Cudi, who ended the night off with a bang, Tyga, Jadakiss, Common, Dipset and the dynamic duo Method Man and Redman whom dug in the closet to perform tracks like “Cereal Killer” off “Blackout!” made day one by far the most exciting line up of the weekend.
The heavy hitters of day two were few and far between. The temperature dropped a few digits and so did the number of people ready for round two of the Hip Hop festival.
Big Daddy Kane, one of the first to step foot on the Rock The Bells stage that afternoon personally escorted the crowd on a fast paced, lyrical rollercoaster ride few ever get to witness. Complete, unadulterated Hip Hop burst from Kane’s core out to his forceful voice through the speakers. Whether you knew his hits or not, no one could deny the man his respect. Spitting his verse from Marly Marl’s “The Sympony”, Ain’t no half steppin’” “Smooth Operator” and even doing a well synchronized dance routine to “Warm it up Kane”, the hip hop pioneer brought back the DJ and rapper connection on stage, fulfilling his promise to “take it back to the old school” with a tribute to the late Jam Master Jay.
On the left side of the parking lot killing the Paid Dues stage were the powerful pair, Murs and Fashawn. The team came equipped with chemistry and rhymes that came full circle, and did something that Murs says most rappers “don’t do” performing “Slash Gordan” juggling bars and feeding off each other’s energy.
With their collaborative album This Generation set to release this September 25th on Duck Down Music, Murs and Fashawn embody the sprit of the West Coast and channel it through their charisma and undeniable skills.
Murs raps “ When this shit drop it gonn’ shock the people /Like Barack hit the block letting off the eagle” performing the crowd pleasing “Bad Man” ,“L.A” and assisting Fashawn with “G’s” and “The Ecology” off Boy Meets World, where Fashawn paints a vivid picture with his rhymes on his roots.
The duo ended out their show returning to what Murs calls “back and forth, real MC shit”
Hieroglyphics ran through the same stage shortly after for the true hip-hop heads. As the younger crowd prepared to see Chicago native Chief Keef, the Hiero crew showed off their skills performing the legendary “93’ till infinity” a hit even the 95’ babies could sing along to.
As far as Chief Keef is concerned, the no-show sure did cause a raucous as hundreds headed towards the Gurella Union Stage only to be greeted by an empty platform. After bottles (and sneakers) were chucked at the DJ booth, rapper YG came out to try to calm the angry crowd.
Apparently no-shows are something Keef’s fans “don’t like”.
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony took the Rock the Bells stage with full force. Performing hits like “Buddah Lovaz”, “1st of the Month”, and “Thugish Rugish Bone” off their debut album “Creepin on ah Come Up” released in 1994. With the sun setting and more fans flocking to the man stage, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony conjured up their 1999 energy for “Tha Crossroads”; a tribute to NWA member Eazy-E. Along with the Eazy tribute , Bone Thugz paid homage to the legends Tupac, B.I.G with “Thug Luv” and “Notorious Thugs”
Ice Cube, the rapper turned actor proved that he’s all rap and no act on the Paid Dues stage Sunday performing the mellow Cali anthem “Today was a Good Day” and the infectious “I Rep that West” off his latest album “I am the West” twice throughout his set.
Cube even brought out the infamous Debo, from his Friday movies, giving the crowd a few spoilers on the upcoming motion picture Last Friday. The recollection on peoples faces as the speakers blasted “You can do it” ,“Straight Outta Compton”, and “Friday” was priceless as Ice Cube and his hype man pitted each side of crowd against each other just before performing “Bop Gun” which features the great George Clinton.
Even though Ice Cubes set was originally supposed to coincide with that of Nas, the East Coast legend started his performance late, filling the entire ground with stomach turning expectancy.
Shutting down all press, Nas made sure that his performance would be a “one in a lifetime” event for the masses to enjoy. Nas cordially invited 36,000 individuals to take a step into his world and walk with him from his transition from “Life’s a Bitch”, a track of his classic album Illmatic to Life is Good his eleventh album released off Def Jam Recordings.
“Nas is Like”, “N.Y. State of Mind” ,“Halftime” “Represent”,“Hate Me Now”. There wasn’t a track Nas didn’t unleash from the crate, showing his fatherly side with his newest single “Daughters”.
After the long sweltering day you would think fans would be worn out, but whether you were standing up in the barricades or spread out on the asphalt, fans were showing their love, mimicking the hand gestures and flow of “The Don”
Though the second day didn’t match the first in volume, it brought the Hip Hop essence to the forefront nonetheless. The Rock the Bells festival is now heading to Mountain View, C.A, with a final stop in Holmdel, NJ with add-ons including Mac Miller, A$AP Rocky, Slick Rick, Action Bronson, and the incomparable Missy Elliot.
The best way to end off the summer is to catch this festival live. If you can spare the extra 400 for a ticket you won’t be disappointed. These might be the only “bells” you’ll hear till Christmas.
Words by Gyasi Williams-Kirtley
Photos by Colin Main
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