Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Tribe Called Quest, Lauryn Hill and other stars shined at Rock the Bells.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Behind the main stage of the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View last Sunday, a bit of hip-hop history unfolded with a nonchalance that belied the massive all-day festival's superstar line-up when The Cosby Show's Malcolm Jamal Warner, Regina King of The Boondocks, Boots Riley of Street Sweepers Social Club and formerly of The Coup, and DJ Premier, formerly of Gangstarr, casually walked past a pick-up game of basketball in the staging area. But the real star power was on stage in front of the nearly 20,000 fans who had showed up for the coveted four-city Rock the Bells hip-hop concert tour, featuring established stars of the game.
In what amounted to a throwback all-star hip-hop lineup, each artist on the main stage performed their most iconic album in its entirety. They included Slick Rick doing The Great Adventures Of, DJ Premier's tribute to Gangstarr/Guru, KRS-One doing Criminal Minded, Rakim's Paid in Full, Wu-Tang Clan resurrecting the seminal Enter the 36 Chambers, A Tribe Called Quest pulling out Midnight Marauders, all headlined by Snoop Dogg and crew doing Doggystyle and then some, with a special late addition to the West Coast bill—presenter Guerilla Union apparently didn't even have time to update the RTB website to reflect the change—of former Fugee and formerly reclusive solo artist Lauryn Hill performing from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
The concert tour started Saturday in Los Angeles and this weekend touches down in New York and Washington, DC. Twitter posts from the L.A. show described unanimous praise for the show, with complaints confined to the SoCal heat. The Mountain View show was similarly appreciated with thunderous applause, chants, hand waving and, as during most of Lauryn Hills' set, standing and dancing.
One young man entered the amphitheater arena, stopped, took it all in and said, "Wow." Then kept walking to find his place among the sea of mostly young people. Five of those youths, dressed in brown T-shirts and berets, identified themselves as Watsonville's leftist Latino political collective the Brown Berets. Peruvian-American rapper Immortal Technique, they said, had hooked them up with tickets and they were hoping to spot him to say "what's up."
KRS-One, Rakim and Immortal Technique had made themselves available for interviews and meet-n-greets in a second VIP lounge on the concourse. And though a number of journalists' scheduled interviews with artists ran late or didn't happen at all, many of the performers were surprisingly accessible from the confines of the backstage VIP lounge, which was encircled by their dressing rooms.
MURS, who's played Salinas' Fox Theater, sporting his trademark lopsided chunk of nappy dreds, signed autographs and took pictures with fans, saying jovially, "Rock the Bells is like slave drivers. They won't let you rest."
After a fiery set by Staten Island's legendary Wu-Tang Clan—in which now-deceased member Old Dirty Bastard's place was taken up by his first-born son, the strikingly similar Boy Jones—members of the 10-person collective milled about outside their dressing room, including Ghostface, Inspektah Dek, GZA and RZA, who hovered outside his dressing room amidst buzzing fans and journalists, many of whom remained strangely silent and gawkish, which gave me an opening to pose questions to the prolific and freshly relevant longtime music man.
When I asked him what the difference was performing on the second stage of Rock the Bells last year and the main stage this year, he said, slightly bemused and laconic and swaying as if listening to music, "It's kind of the same for me."
When I asked if he was currently working on any movies (he scored Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies and acted in Jim Jarmusch's Cigarettes and Coffee) he replied, "I'm working with my man Eli Roth on [martial arts movie] The Man with the Iron Fist." RZA directed and co-wrote the screenplay. He said "the great directors are my masters; I learn from them." He also said that he's currently reading a biography of Tesla and books on genetics; meanwhile his group's dynasty expands its discography and reach.
Inspektah Dek explained to me the group's formula for success.
"Before the records and music, we're family. Our mothers hung out together. Before RZA was making records, me, him, Rae [Raekwon], GZA and Dirty used to make tapes. Even then, I already knew [RZA] had it."
While this insight into one of the elite crews in hip-hop was being dropped behind the stage, the powerful bass kick and booming rhymes of Snoop Dogg, the Dogg Pound, Warren G and special guest Busta Rhymes seemed to shake the stars in the night sky.
As the festival wound down, nerves settled, Henny bottles were opened, weed smoke wafted and the vibe in the air seemed to simply exhale. Lauryn Hill, coming off a sweat-inducing set, was seen striding to a black SUV, peeking demurely at the cameras that surrounded her and snapped away. Later, Boots Riley, a firebrand of political agit-pop rap/rock, who, with guitarist Tom Morello, had pumped up a small army of fans as headliner the second stage, revealed a personal side, publicly cozying with a lady-friend, eyes droopy, afro thick, before shuffling off together into the night. They walked past a pick-up game of b-ball, being played by the hip-hop crew of Immortal Technique. California has officially been rocked.