This past weekend, as Rock the Bells came through the wonderful (and amazingly hot) city of Miami, I joined my friend and hip-hop head to a show I’d been anticipating for longer than I’d like to admit. What was hyped to be the biggest and most important Rock the Bells concert yet, was actually the biggest and most important hip-hop concert I’ve been to. Here’s an account from a Rock the Bells concert-goer.
12:00 pm: As my friend and I pulled up to the venue, which happened to be a waterfront outdoor festival venue, excitement and true hip-hop was definitely in the air. Just a few glances around, and I saw everything from some ridiculously colored limited edition kicks to some shades that only the hipster-est of the hipsters could pull off. However, before I could get too excited about what was about to go down, I quickly realized I had to wait in a will-call line (in the blistering heat) that was already 300-people deep.
1:10 pm: As my shirt completely soaked through, my camo shorts turned see-through from poorly-placed sweat stains and even my socks began to moisten, I was not in any mood for a hip-hop show. However, after over an hour in line and a few cuts through the crowd, I got my ticket and my comrade and I made our way inside. I’d felt as if I’d missed an act or two, but as I looked at the lineup and the upcoming acts were B.o.B., Wale, The Cool Kids, Jay Electronica and Dead Prez, I had no reason to fret.
2:30 pm: After Atlanta-bred B.o.B. killed the small-and-growing crowd with a few tracks like “Haterz Everywhere” and “Mellow Fellow,” I anxiously awaited the arrival of The Cool Kids, who unfortunately never showed. So, to kill the time I checked out the vendors with their unbelievably overpriced t-shirts and made my way back to my seat to check out the infamous Dead Prez. The political duo blazed the stage in very Miami-esque attire, and performed anthems like “That’s War” and “Hell Yeah.” Arguably the act I anticipated most was DC rapper Wale, and by the time he came to the stage after Dead Prez, I was finally read to hop out of my seat and rap along with him. The mostly-underground Wale did tracks off his mixtapes, 100 Miles and Runnin’ and The Mixtape About Nothing. The crowd was suprisingly into the performance and the amount of support Wale got was definitely impressive after a major act like Dead Prez.
6:00 pm: Promptly after Wale came by far the most forgettable act of the day, Immortal Technique. The overly and tiringly political Immortal was like a smelly wave of Washington DC bullshit-polluted air that every fan got a strong whiff of. He definitely did not belong in the lineup of Rock the Bells, and I have to say his performance was the only one that actually prompted me to eat some Rock the Bells grub.
6:14 pm: Two corndogs, $12 and a mild case of indigestion later, Immortal was off the stage and Shaolin’s finest, Raekwon & Ghostface, made their way to the stage. The overweight and under-zealous duo still blazed the stage with old anthems and a few new Ghost tracks thrown into the mix. Though the duo probably should have gone later in the day, they had a nice 20-minute set before the sun went down on MIA. Next up, De La Soul made their way to the stage, in all their old-ness, and threw tracks like “The Choice is Yours” and “3 Feet High and Rising” into their incredibly exciting set. With the trio jumping around and sharing DJing/MCing duties throughout the set, they got the crowd excited again after seven hours in the extreme hot started to finally hit the fans hard. One of the highlights of the evening and definitely the most comical set was Mos Def’s. I saw Mos absolutely kill Rock the Bells last year, as he went on for about two hours and brought out Talib Kweli and Common to keep the show moving, but this time he went solo. By throwing in a few spanish ad-libs and hits like “Umi Says,” Mos got himself and fans through the dead heat and brought everyone calmly into the evening breeze. As he left the stage, the sun set, and the crowd readied for the reuniting of The Pharcyde! Though I’d never been an enormous Pharcyde fan, the Cali boys definitely had a massive following in the audience, and they utilized that to full effect. They played the classic “Passin’ me By” and my personal favorite song of theirs, “What’s Up, Fatlip?” The foursome jumped around the stage as if it was a decade ago in LA, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind.
8:22 pm: By my fourth $4 bottle of water, I’d started to feel as if another corndog was in order, but my stomach growls told me otherwise. So, I made my way back to my seat to watch the universal potheads of hip-hop, Method Man and Redman. These two are by far the most exciting and personable performers I’ve ever seen live, and the amount of weed they caused to be smoked in the outdoor arena provided what could be confused with a mushroom cloud. Regardless, Meth and Red brought out the oft-forgotten Noreaga to perform “Nothin’,” and just as quick as they’d come on the stage and jumped into the crowd, the How High boys bounced off backstage to undoubtedly spark another L.
9:15 pm: Just when I started to get restless after a 20-minute intermission, and when I’d thought the evening’s headliners just might not show, Nasir blazed the stage like it was Bill O’Reilly’s credibility in Queensbridge. In his gym shorts & tank-top outfit, Nas had thousands of fans screaming along lyrics to “Got Yourself a Gun,” “One Mic,” “Hip Hop is Dead,” “If I Ruled the World” and “Sly Fox.” Though Miami didn’t get a Jay-Z cameo like NYC did, Nas killed it on his own. 10:25 pm: Ten and a half hours into my hip-hop excursion, I sat down in my seat after Nas finished up, and buried my head into my hands, wondering if my ears could handle any more hip-hop. Just when I’d felt I had too much to handle, I heard the unbelievably noticeable voice of the Abstract, aka Q-Tip, accompanied by hype-man Mos Def. Q-Tip came out and did a few new tracks from his upcoming album and old hits like “Vivrant Thing,” before he brought out Phife Diggy, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Tribe was definitely the highlight of the evening. With tracks like “Find a Way,” in which all members sang the hook (including Ali Shaheed!), “Check the Rhime,” “Oh My God” and “Electric Relaxation,” Tribe brought the entire audience back a few years to their heyday, even if the audience members (like myself) weren’t alive at that time. Either way, it felt great to hear and be a part of amazing and true hip-hop at its finest.
12:01 am: As I stumbled out of the venue, I held on to my friend for dear life in hopes that I would not trip and fall onto my face from sheer exhaustion. I’d never, ever, ever been a part of a 12-hour concert for any genre of music, and by the end I was truly grateful for making it out safely. Though I don’t remember much after falling asleep as soon as I hit the chair in my friend’s car, I dreamed about Mos Def and Q-Tip sharing a scotch backstage – probably the byproduct of sitting for a half-day in heat wave weather. Though hip-hop is an enormous part of my life, I now know where my hip-hop threshold lies. I think it’s somewhere between six and seven hours of straight listening. Rock the Bells is amazing at bringing together some of hip-hop’s best performers, but next time, I may just show up a little late, in hopes that I can see enough of the show so that I won’t want to cut my ears off by the closing act.
Best Moment: Supernatural and Scratch performing a set where Scratch made the most unbelievable of beats while Supernat freestyled for what seemed like an eternity about everything from Jordan shoes to farmer hats. Supernat is hands down the most ridiculous freestyler I’ve ever seen, but that comes as no surprise.
Curious Comments: Jay Electronica was in the house, and he stood by the stage as Nas performed, but he didn’t perform himself. What was he doing? Why didn’t he perform? And why on Earth was he carrying a metal baton 2/3 the size of his body?
Best Act: A Tribe Called Quest, as if it was even a question.
Least Expected Fans: Young Latino girls with their boyfriends who had no idea who the artists were, but they sure knew how to mean-mug if you accidentally put your hand in front of their face.