Rock The Bells Hits LA For A Two-Day Hip Hop Spectacular

words/photos: Ani Yapundzhyan

Amidst the heat, the crowds and overall exhaustion that someone my age feels at music festivals, I am thankful for Rock The Bells for being the only huge music event that represents the true, girtty hard-core hip hop-of today and yesterday. There is no other avenue where one can watch the originators of hip hop live, one after another, like choosing a hundred courses from a music menue.

The idea of Rock The Bells being split into a two-day event sounded exhausting in theory but once at the venue, it made sense, as the crowds were not as big, the atmosphere was more relaxed and everything was just more comfortable.

Day 1’s most exciting sets included a raw performance by Wu-Block, as Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch, Styles P and their crew came together over heavy, bangin’ beats and had every kid in the crowd throwing up their Ws. Raekwon joined them for a song to end their set.

DMX gave one of his rare powerful performances, performing “Slippin’,” “Get At Me,” “Party Up In Here” and “Ruff Ryders Anthem.” He has that unique stage presence that comes from not givin’ a fuck and performing from the heart, as every word coming out of his mouth sounded sincere and true.

He was joined for a couple of songs by Eve, who surprised the hell out of me with her flow. Eve truly is a superstar. Her stage presence and command of the crowd in one thing, but when she start to spit, she spits right; I saw that she is an emcee who knows how to control her voice, her delivery and overall presence to give a stellar show.

At the 36 Chambers Stage, the dynamic duo of hip hop, Redman & Method Man, not only got down but seemed to be having real fun together on stage. The performed “Rotweiler,” “How High” “Y.O.U” and “Tear It Off,” but the highlight of their show came during “Serial Killer” when Redman expressed to the crowd how proud he was of Method Man for remembering the lyrics from songs off of their first album, BlackOut released in 1999.

Method Man explained that he smokes too much and doesn’t remember any lyrics, but somehow he remembered those. A lot of groups that have been together for years tend to not get along, but the dynamic between these two was so positive, as it always is, that it was evident they love to work with each other and really are homies at the end of the day.

Salt-N-Peppa hit the stage all smiles, their vibes playful and positive as they joked around with each other and the crowd in between songs. When “OPP” came on and Peppa told the crowd to sing along, Salt joked that she was playing her baby daddy’s music for child support. As they were doing “Do You Really Want Me” it was awesome to see these two OG female emcees schooling thousands of young kids who couldn’t be more into their music.

I missed Big Daddy Kane‘s set, which was a sad moment as it was the one I was most looking forward to, but I peeped his Meet-N-Greet in the VIP area as he talked to fans and signed autographs. Seeing all the women in their door-kocker earrings lined up to meet Kane, it was obvious that he is still pimpin’…

One of the highlights of the entire festival was the return of Del The Funky Homosapien and Dan The Automator as Deltron. Dan the Automator conducted what I counted as a 17-piece orchestra that performed with them, and the music was extraordinary. Del proved why he is one of the illest emcees ever as they went through the Deltron3030 album and performed a couple of songs off their upcoming sophmore joint. With the orchestra backing them up and Kid Koala on the turntables, it was truly an orgy of sounds that was musically inspiring. To sum it up in one sentence, as a fan said during the show, “that shit was so dope.”

Too Short and E40 took the stage together to the excitement of the ladies, and it was ignorance at its most spectacular. E40’s beats are perfect for a live show, as they thump so hard that it’s all it takes to get the crowd in a frenzy. It’s really awesome to watch the exchange between fan and performer in these situations. I stopped counting how many times Too Short shouted “Bitch” at 45, but it’s classic and it works. And the ladies still love him for it.

DJ Quik is a Rock The Bells veteran, and true to form, he hit the stage with a drink in his hand and performed “Sweet Black Pussy,” “Quik’s The Name,” “Dollars And Sense” along with other classics. It was a nice West Coast party.

I was eager to see Ice Cube, as any Angeleno should be, so imagine my excitement when he stepped on the stage sprorting his old school fro and a mean mug. Fro Cube is the best Cube, straight up. You forget just how many hits Cube has made until you realize that every single song he performs was a hit. From “Straight Outta Compton” to “How To Survive In South Central” to “Put Your Back Into It” to “Ghetto Bird” the hits kept coming. Cube was joined by WC during “Bow Down” as it got real gangster. Along with Deltron and Wu-Block, this was one of the best performances of the festival.

Hit Squad, Nas, J-Cole, Murs, Kendrick Lamar, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and Atmosphere were among the hundreds of acts that also performed.

KRS-ONE commanded the indoor stage as he did “Sound Of Da Police” “Outta Here,” “Step Into A World” and brought out Mad Lion for “Take It Easy.” Supernatural later joined him for a freestyle session.

I missed Wiz Khalifa‘s set, but as I walked up to the stage during the last few seconds of his last song, I could hear him yelling to the crowd, “Work Hard, Work Hard, Work Hard!” over and over again as the same words flashed in huge font on the screen behind him. It was great to hear this dude, who was adored by the thousands of young fans watching his set, to walk off the stage on a positive note. The guy standing next to me must’ve felt the same way because he turned to me and said, “It counteracts that song about being young, being drunk and smoking weed.”

Spread over a weekend, Rock The Bells gave OG hip hop heads and young fans alike two days to run around in what felt like a hip hop amusement park. Whether it was sniffing out newer acts like J-Cole and Kendrick Lamar, catching old RTB favorites like DJ Quik and Wu, or having the chance to see rare live perfomances by DMX and Deltron, you were surrounded by real hip hop culture. And without Rock The Bells, that environment would be barren.

My homegirl summed it all up in one sentence afterwards, “Got to cross a few more legends off the ol’bucketlist.”

words/photos: Ani Yapundzhyan