Words by: Andrew Bruss :: Images from: RockTheBells.net
Rock The Bells :: 07.28.07 :: Randall's Island :: New York, NY
Tens of thousands of hippers, hoppers, hippies and punks packed a dusty field at Randall's Island to attend the New York incarnation of Rock the Bells, a day long festival that offered up, quite possibly, the greatest hip-hop oriented lineup of all time.
| Zack de la Rocha - RATM :: 07.28 :: Randall's Island|
The highlight of the event was a headlining performance by the recently reunited Wu-Tang Clan. However, when Rock the Bells came to New York City, Wu-Tang Clan was just a fraction of the hype behind this year's bill. This time around, Wu-Tang would be sharing their headliner status with the newly reunited Rage Against The Machine. In addition to the two headliners, the main stage was overflowing with hip-hop legends like Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, The Roots and a blood boiling performance by Immortal Technique.
As the gates opened, folks flooded the massive field, hoping to position themselves close to the stage and, if all went according to plan, hold their ground to see the headliners up close. Unfortunately, plans rarely work out. The heat was strong enough to dehydrate anyone with a beer in their belly, and for those hoping to CamelBak up, the massive water trucks the promoters rented were out of service. As difficult as these realities may have been, it didn't stop all of the Rage-heads and Killa Beez from getting what they came for. With well-rationed bottles of water, sun block and petroleum jelly to prevent crotch chaffage, fans began positioning themselves early on, knowing that they were in for a long, long haul.
| RZA - Wu-Tang Clan :: 07.29 :: Randall's Island|
One of the first and best sets of the day was performed by Peruvian born, New York bred Immortal Technique. The rapper's aggressive, politically charged rhymes and radically left wing outlook has earned him the reputation of being "the Che Guevara of hip-hop." As he meticulously spit fiery rhymes, Technique gave the impression rapping was just a means to end - this guy is looking to start a revolution. Much like Zach de la Rocha of Rage, when Technique does his thing, he does it with the fury of a jungle rebel and the charisma of a Baptist preacher. Technique is relatively new on the hip-hop scene, but judging by his performance at Randall's Island, his revolution is just getting started.
| Mos Def :: 07.28 :: Randall's Island|
Following a collaborative set by Mos Def and Talib Kweli, politico-hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy took their message to the people. Their set featured an attention starved Flavor Flav shouting out his trademark catchphrases, but more importantly, Scott Ian of Anthrax jamming on "Bring the Noise." Public Enemy was on hand as part of their 20th anniversary tour, which one would have hoped would earn them more than a 45-minute set. However, the event had an early curfew and an extensive lineup, and as a result the group left the stage before they got a chance to hit their stride.
| Scott Ian w/ Public Enemy :: 07.29 :: Randall's Island|
Public Enemy's premature set-close ushered in a performance of instrumental hip-hop by The Roots. After they wrapped up their intriguing, yet ultimately uninspiring set, Cypress Hill tore into a haze-friendly set featuring a three-foot bong, an inflatable Buddha and enough second hand ganja smoke to give any cop on hand a contact high. Given the changes the group has gone through over the years, folks were skeptical of the authenticity they would muster. However, by the end of the set, the qualitative delivery of their punked out hip-hop combo was sure to convert even the most cynical doubters.
As the sun began to set behind the stage, the eight surviving members of the Wu-Tang Clan tore into rhythms that featured the RZA's trademark mixing methods, a tribute to fallen Clansman Ol' Dirty Bastard and a stage overflowing with their pseudo-entourage army. Wu-Tang featured each member on their beefed-up choruses while the verses provided individual members a chance to show off their skills. The GZA and Ghostface Killah dished out some rhymes worth bragging about. However, it was Method Man who crowd surfed, mic in hand, for the majority of the set, and shone brightly above the rest.
| Method Man - Wu-Tang Clan :: 07.29 :: Randall's Island|
Even with all the energy the group brought to the stage, Wu Tang's set was a bit sloppy. The performance of "Bring Da Ruckus" was dragged out and off rhythm. But, considering the feuds these guys have had over the years and the strong likelihood that they'd never grace a stage together again, the sheer thrill of seeing them all on one stage is what ultimately made their set a success.
When the break between Wu-Tang and Rage Against the Machine drew to a close, chants of "Rage" grew loud and fast. As the lights dimmed, a simple, yet adrenaline-triggering message blanketed the crowd. Signifying the start of the chaos, Zach de la Rocha welcomed the crowd saying, "Good evening, we are Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles California." At that very moment, the sea of people before the stage erupted as though an earthquake had shaken it. Rage dove hard into their set with "Testify" followed by "Bulls On Parade," a tune that criticizes the military industrial complex and features a solo by Tom Morello that has forever changed the way people view the guitar.
| Rage Against the Machine :: 07.28 :: Randall's Island|
As the set progressed, de la Rocha belted his way through his militant poetry on tracks like "People Of the Sun" and "Guerilla Radio." The group was on fire, but questions began to arise regarding the relationship between Morello and de la Rocha. Morello, currently on tour as the acoustic guitar slinging Nightwatchman, was long rumored to be the stubborn holdout against a Rage reunion. Obviously, he got past whatever was stopping him, but the difficulties that once distanced the group's frontman and guitarist still seemed to exist. Throughout the entirety of their 90-minute set, de la Rocha romped around the stage, buddying-up to bassist Tim Commerford but failing to once make eye contact with Morello.
| Rage Against the Machine :: 07.28 :: Randall's Island|
Even with a possible feud still brewing behind the scenes, to say that Rage's performance was anything short of amazing would be ridiculous. The fact of the matter is Rage Against the Machine helped to radicalize a generation of politically apathetic music fans. When Rage takes their message to the stage, every crowd they perform for responds with fire coursing through their bodies. What the future holds for them is uncertain, but for anyone who caught their set at Rock the Bells it was abundantly clear that Rage has still got it.
JamBase | New York
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