Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images by: Amanda Albion
Rock The Bells :: 07.26.08 :: Comcast Center :: Mansfield, MA
B-Real of Cypress Hill has said, "Rock The Bells is the only hip-hop festival that represents nothing but the greatest acts in hip-hop history." When Guerilla Union's Rock The Bells tour came through Mansfield, Massachusetts, that's exactly what they brought. The festival has developed a reputation for booking reunited headliners such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against The Machine, and this year was no exception. Topping the bill was the reformed A Tribe Called Quest alongside the recently reunited Pharcyde. But beyond all the reunion fever, plenty of hip-hop acts representing all different scenes and styles filled out the lineup.
Unfortunately due to the draw of Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes and Sammy Hagar, who were playing at the New England Patriots' sold out Gillette Stadium a few miles away, traffic prevented a whole lot of ticket holders from seeing early sets by Dead Prez and Immortal Technique. However, for those who managed to make it to the Comcast Center by mid-afternoon, Ghostface Killa and Raekwon The Chef gave a strong performance that brought some of that Wu-Tang energy into the atmosphere. The two work off each other better than any other two members of Wu-Tang when it comes to the live show, and their dynamic gave the audience an even closer look at their relationship than you'd get with an eight man strong Wu-Tang Clan performance. In addition to solo material, they rhymed their way through Rae's opening verse of "C.R.E.A.M." and then went right into their respective versus on "Bring Da Ruckus." Since the passing of Ol' Dirty Bastard, it has become a set staple for any member of Wu-Tang Clan to give a shout-out to their fallen Clansmen, and Ghost and Rae's set did just that. Following an "ODB RIP" chant, they worked their way through "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Getting to hear one of Dirty's tunes live was one hell of a treat, but with his vocals from the studio track pumping out of the PA system, the moment was bittersweet.
Speaking to JamBase backstage following their set, Raekwon commented, "These are real die hard fans out here, so they know the kind of hip-hop we do. So, it's just an honor to be fucking with them. They're enjoying it, and you can tell." Having been an integral part of the Rock The Bells history, Rae summed up the nature of the festival, saying, "Rock The Bells is the motherfuckin' armory of hip-hop, you know what I mean? Like back in the day, anyone familiar with the armory knows what I'm talking about."
| Rakim :: 07.26 :: Rock The Bells|
De La Soul followed Ghost and Rae on the main stage while The Cool Kids got a reasonable draw at the side stage. Following De La Soul, Method Man and Redman were scheduled to own the stage with their powerful stage dynamic and quality showmanship. Method Man has long been considered to be the best showman of the Clan, taking every opportunity he gets to crowd surf, and literally walk over the audience. Unfortunately, Method Man was a no-show, and Redman hit the stage with a substitute who never had a chance of filling Meth's shoes.
For anyone bummed out about the absence of Method Man, the performance by The Pharcyde surely raised their spirits. One special fan was especially stoked about their presence on the bill. Guerilla Union founder Chang Weisberg commented, "For me, getting The Pharcyde and the Tribe back together is just as big a deal [as getting Rage Against The Machine on last years bill]. I know more people showed up for Rage and Wu-Tang, and I understand their significance, but I also understand the importance of a lot of other groups who are hard to compare head to head."
The Pharcyde's set was followed by a lyrically astonishing but low energy set by Mos Def, who was relieved by the great and powerful Nas. His recently released, untitled album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, and with a lengthy history in the game that dates back to 1994's Illmatic, everyone in attendance understood that he was one of the most top-tier acts on the bill. With or without a number one album, Nas dished out a powerhouse set that many fans felt outdid his previous performance at the venue, and did wonders to gain new fans along the way. He opened his set with the title track off of 2006's Hip-Hop Is Dead, and the set included "Sly Fox," a tune off his new album that puts Fox News' notion of objectivity on the stand. The aisles were filled with grooving people and following his set a reasonable amount of folks left before A Tribe Called Quest even took the stage, driving home the notion that even though Nas didn't get the status of headliner, he pretty much topped the bill. The Tribe did their thing for a good hour and a half, the longest set of the day, before things came to a close.
| Nas :: 07.26 :: Rock The Bells|
Rock The Bells has developed a reputation for being a platinum level event whose name alone insinuates the best of the best. Although it was self-promoting in nature, Chang Weisberg observed, "[Rock The Bells is] a world class hip-hop event that is truly representative of real lyricism, quality beats and stinging live performances. This is not what you're going to hear on the radio. We've developed a niche, in that it's a combo of both underground and above ground talent."
Each year the event has been further refined, working out logistical kinks that add to the credibility of Guerilla Union. Rock The Bells 2008 gave fans a day full of some of the greatest names in the history of hip-hop, and without the bells and whistles that usually come along with an event of this size. "Nothing against [Kanye West's] 'Glow In The Dark' stage, but for us, two turntables and a microphone go a long way," said Weisberg.
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