words/photos: Ani Yapundzhyan
What I’ve always known about the Rock The Bells festival and what was confirmed for me at this year’s press conference is that it’s a family affair.
The mutual respect between the world-class artists and Guerilla Union CEO Chang Weisberg is a unique circumstance in artist-promoter relationships and it is one huge reason why this festival is so successful each and every year.
“We’ve been friends a long time and every festival that Guerilla Union puts on is a quality event,” says RTB all-star B-Real of Weisberg, “he makes sure that the artists get a great look, and he’s one of the few promoters who looks out for the artist.”
Weisberg is a CEO, but he is also a true fan at core and its his love for the culture that allows him to choose, and in many cases re-unite the most respected and loved artists throughout the eras of hip hop.
This is why, sitting at the press conference table are the likes of RZA, Souls of Mischief, Havoc, and B-Real to name a few-all representing different styles of hip hop, yet all legends in their own right.
When asked who he is looking forward to seeing the most at this year’s show, RZA excitedly exclaims, “To see Souls of Mischief ’93 ‘Till Infinity’, that’s a classic thing happening for me. And for Lauryn to do ‘Mis-education’, that’s classic.”
Brotherly Love: Souls Of Mischief
Weisberg points out that Rock The Bells is also at the forefront of spotting artists just before they blow up.
“i think what separates Rock The Bells, just from the classic acts, are the acts that are gonna be the next classic acts. I mean whether its gonna be Curren$y, Childish Gambino…
I mean guys, Wiz Khalifa was up on our stage last year and I had to explain to people who he was. I had to explain who B.O.B. was. Rock The Bells is here for those acts as well.
I’m hoping that at some point we fulfill everybody’s dream and we keep this goin’, and right now I have to pinch myself because I’m looking at this year’s line-up and it’s a piece of history one, that will never be re-created again. Two, it’s still in it’s infancy, things are gonna grow from the energy that we put out today.”
After the press conference, I found B-Real and asked him a very important question:
Fusic: You’ve hit the ten-foot bong on the Rock The Bells stage, you’ve passed around the world’s largest joint, what new smoking apparatus do you plan on unveiling this time around?
B-Real: That’s a good question. I’m going to have to get something prepared for that, because now that you’ve said that, I have to think about it. I have to see what we have to top those other ones.
Fusic: Because sometimes those joints are so huge that we’re like, “Nah, that can’t be real, and then we see you start to smoke it…”
B-Real: And then you smell it and you’re like, “Wow, that’s real!”
West Sidah Ridah: B-Real
Fusic: Cypress Hill has performed at every Rock The Bells since the inception. What is it about you guys that keeps the fans, for so many years in a row, down to see you guys’ show?
B-Real: We don’t oversaturate the market with performing all the time. We limit our performances in certain places so that there’s value in it, so people aren’t “Oh yeah, we just saw them two weeks ago over here…” And we’re blessed, we love our fans and we appreciate the fact that they’ve been there from day one so every show, we try to give them the best possible show to entertain them.
Fusic: How often do you rehearse for a show like RTB?
B-Real: We do maybe two days of rehearsals, we don’t really try to overdo it because we know it, and we try to go off of our vibe and what we’re feelin’ and our adrenaline. And if its too contrived, people can see that.
While B-Real is a RTB veteran, this year will be Havoc and Prodigy‘s first time performing at the concert. I made sure to ask Havoc how he felt about this Mobb Deep reunion, and his answer was simple and to the point. With a huge smile on his face, he said, “It’s an honor and a little bit of vindication, all wrapped in one.”
Fusic: When Prodigy was in jail, what did you guys talk about during your visits?
Havoc: We always looked forward to workin’ on another album, because this is the longest we’ve ever been away from each other. So every time I would go see him in jail, that would be one of the things we would always talk about. And performin’. We’ve performed once since he’s been home, and now our next major even that we’re going to be doing is Rock The Bells.
Fusic: And it’s major, for real.
Havoc: Exactly. It’s not a little show, right? It’s not to be taken lightly.
Havoc of Mobb Deep
Soon after our interviews, the artists did 15 minute mini-sets on the House Of Blues stage.
The kids in the audience were riled up as B-Real and Sen Dogg performed “How I Could Just Kill A Man.”
Senn Dogg of Cypress Hill
Rakaa joined Evidence for “Worst Comes To Worst.”
I remember a random verse from Evidence that was hilarious to me, “I could smoke a whole eighth in a spliff/ some call it a problem, I call it a gift.”
Evidence of Dialated Peoples
Rakaa Iriscience of Dialated Peoples
The highlight of the evening came in the form of Souls Of Mischief. With everyone going crazy around me, I had to stand still as they performed “’93 ‘Till Infinity”, still finding it hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since the song was written.
And this is what makes Rock The Bells so special. The festival is an opportunity for all lovers of hip hop to re-live and cherish those moments from decades ago that defined the culture.
Year after year….
The fans, front and center
Full Lineup and more info: