LIVE: Rock The Bells at Merriweather Post Pavilion
by Winston "Stone" Ford
Sometimes Legends Aren’t All What They Seem?
I understand that Rock The Bells is one of the few underground hip-hop tours in existence, and I applaud everybody who works behind the scenes to pull an event like this off, not once, but four times.
And I understand that things go wrong, and that hip-hop shows (unfortunately) never start on time. As someone who is just getting into the promotion game, my heart goes out to everyone who put their ass on the line to make an entertaining show.
Having that said I believe that the DC iteration of Rock The Bells was one of the worst managed events I’ve been to this year.
If you follow us on Twitter, you already know about the 2 hour + delays for Lauryn, or the 1 hour plus delay for Snoop. Yes, delays are a part of the game but how you handle them are a different story.
Why not have a DJ play between sets? Even if DJ Premier couldn’t spin there are a lot of great local DJs that could’ve fit the bill. Why not have MCs fill the bill? Again, I don’t want to hate, but all of the boos, middle fingers, and “this is bullshit” lines were most certainly justified, especially for people who paid more than $250 for a single ticket.
And then there was Lauryn…
I’m not gonna lie. I ignored the all of the rest of the talent on this year’s Rock The Bells lineup and focused specifically on one, Lauryn Hill. As a dude who just turned 30 this past weekend, I remember the day when I drove to the mall, walked into Sam Goody and purchased The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. At that point, riding off of the high of The Fugees, Ms. Hill became one of the leading ladies in hip-hop, and her 10 year absence made fans like me whet their appetites for her appearance at Rock The Bells.
But unfortunately, Lauryn is not ready for prime time. Like some cornbread that’s not quite done yet, she managed to fail the toothpick test (cooking people, you know what’s up!). Her sped up, rock influenced renditions of classics like “Lost Ones,” were simply not appropriate in a hip-hop setting that was drenched in nostalgia. Her voice and mannerisms do not bespoke of the confident MC we knew in the 90s, but more of a lost child. And her attire–a off-putting wig with a Yankees fitted–might not have been the best look.
Let’s face it. Lauryn might be a legend, but her time in DC was a clusterfuck. Not even a surprise appearance from Nas could change things. Especially since it was revealed that her delays were not because of her illness or technical difficulties, but because she wanted a pedicure.
But enough about the negativity. Rock The Bells was a positive experience and was a straight up family reunion, as I ran into people I knew and met new friends who traveled from places like North Carolina, Texas, and New York. They all descended on the Merriweather Post Pavilion in the name of hip-hop.
After the Lauryn debacle, A Tribe Called Quest had a huge weight on their hands.
How do you change the misfortunes of a jaded crowd? By rocking the hell out of a show.
Using the hugely influential Midnight Marauders as a template always helps. Even though the show started off slow, with Q-Tip and Phife getting winded during the middle of their set, tracks like “Electric Relaxation”, “Sucka Nigga, and “Lyrics to GO,” made sure that the crowd stayed hype.
But the addition of Busta Rhymes ratcheted up the vibe in the pavilion to 11, marking the first (and best) surprise guest of the night.
After Lauryn was rushed onto stage for her fail, we were blessed with Wu-Tang.
Now, after seeing several Wu-Tang shows in my lifetime, there have always been more than a few members who fail to make appearances. This was not the case with RTB as everyone was on stage including ODB’s first born son, Boy Jones, doing most likely the best impression of his father that I’ve seen. Ever.
A Wu-Tang concert must be a soundguy’s nightmare, as the actual show became a inaudible mess. But again, it’s Wu Tang, so like your drunk uncle, you give them a pass.
Finally, after another hour delay we get Snoop Dogg. Snoop’s set, complete with Doggysyle backdrop and cinema vignettes made specifically for Rock The Bells, was almost like a stage play than a concert. The West Coast MC, fresh from arriving from rocking the MJ pary in Brooklyn still has more swagger at almost 40 than most rappers do at 18. In fact, I was reminded that Doggystyle dropped when a young Calvin Brodus was still not able to drink legally. (But let’s keep it real…he drank more 40s and smoked more blunts at that age than you probably have in your lifetime.)
Unfortunately, however, all of the delays cause Snoop’s set to be cut short, thanks to Merriweather’s curfew laws. Even still, Snoop proved that he could rock a show even harder than the last time I saw him….when I was in college.
Was the DC edition of Rock The Bells worth it? I might have to marinate on that for a while. Again, I cannot hate on a wonderful organization which is striving to keep hip-hop alive, and the over 100,000 attendees at all four RTB shows is a good indication of things to come. However, next year, let’s hope they figure out how to minimize delays and put on an even better show.