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Because my friend is a bitch ass, I went to Rock the Bells in Boston instead of my native New York. That’s about four hours by car each way. I learned two things at the daylong festival: 1. I’m never going to Boston again, 2. Kid Capri is the man. Here’s how it went.
Before we even got inside, I had to deal with some bullshit. Security dug threw my backpack and made me take the cap off my water bottle. The concern was that things would get thrown, which is bullshit because I could still throw the bottle (more effective than a cap, wouldn’t you say?) and you could buy a bottle of water inside (with a cap), albeit for $4. Also on sale were $30 t-shirts and $10 burritos. I wonder how many ‘fuck you’s those vendors got.
Doors opened at 11:00 and the show was supposed to start at 12:00. We arrived at 11:45 and to my astonishment, Wale was already well into his set. This is the first time in my experience that a concert has started early. Wale performed to a mostly empty Comcast Center. It was kind of sad to watch him perform for such a small, uninterested crowd. He really got dissed.
Next up was Jay Electronica, which I skipped to get out of the sun for a minute. It was a hot day and our seats were very much in the sun, so it was pretty unbearable to stay for too long without a break.
Then came Scratch and Supernatural whose performance consisted of Scratch beatboxing and Supernatural freestyling, which was cool, but it went on for way too long. And Supernatural did some of the same stuff he did at Paid Dues, like taking a camera from someone in the audience and taking a picture of himself with it. His act works better with a small crowd because you can see the people he’s incorporating into his rhymes.
Next up was Murs who’s always a funny, entertaining guy. He drew a bigger reaction from the crowd than anyone before him. He did a few of the same songs he did at Paid Dues, but he also took requests which I thought was pretty cool. At the end of his set, he chided the two extremes in hip hop today: candy rappers who never say anything worthwhile and elitist rappers who are too angry have any fun. Speaking of which…
Immortal Technique, accompanied by DJ Green Lantern, mostly did songs off The 3rd World. He screamed his head off about government conspiracies and how much he hates cops for a little bit. He was rocking a cute little homemade shirt that read “Government = Conspiracy”. At the end of his set, he said that he wasn’t selling any merchandise because they were taking 30% of all sales (“Y’all can have 30% of my dick!”) and that he would be handing out free CDs and t-shirts and whatnot. This sent a lot of people rushing outside.
dead prez was supposed to go before Immortal, but they were “stuck in traffic” (which meant a lot more Supernatural) so they went on after and only had time for two songs.
This was when things got interesting. Kid Capri came on to bring out Rakim and yelled to all of us sitting in the cheap seats, “I don’t know if y’all have assigned seats or something, but you can come down here and watch the god.” People in the crowd looked at each other for a minute unsure of what to do, then collectively rushed into the lower seats which were half-empty. The people checking tickets tried to stop the hoards of people rushing down the steps and climbing over seats, but soon gave up. The crowd was now extremely hyped and you can imagine what happened when Rakim came out and started doing all the classics. Quoth Ghostface, “I don’t think there’s nobody that can do a party like Kid Capri can do a party.” Rakim unquestionably killed it and vastly outdid everyone who went before him. Also, he replaced Eric B.’s name with Kid Capri when it came up. Poor Eric, *sad face*. After Rakim’s set, someone got on stage and asked everyone to go back to their seats. Yeah, right; how about you give me back my fuckin’ bottle cap? Selling me $4 water and shit…
Raekwon and Ghostface came next and made the crowd go crazy, performing the hits off Cuban Linx as well as a few other Wu joints. They paid tribute to ODB with “Shame on a Nigga” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. However, they didn’t do anything off Cuban Linx 2 as was mentioned in the press release.
That’s Ghost in the red and Rae in yellow. Ghost wrapped up by taking a shot at the Red Sox which drew a lot of booing, but he smoothed it over with a piece of wisdom about how we’re all in this together or something.
Things cooled down a little after that. DJ Green Lantern came out and spun a few records and then De La Soul came on. It’s a good thing they didn’t come on immediately after Rae and Ghost because they were pretty dull and the crowd wasn’t really feeling them. After their set, Pete Rock came on to spin a few records, which was a nice surprise, but he didn’t get his props at all. Most people in the crowd didn’t realize who he was (or they didn’t care) and while he was spinning, there were people on stage testing mics and stuff for the next set.
Redman and Method Man were next except… huh? No Meth! According to Red, Meth had something to take care of in New York and he couldn’t make it. Unfortunately, I dozed off during Red’s set; not his fault, I’d been sitting (and during a few sets, standing) in the sun all day. I did manage to catch that he brought out B-Real.
At this point I was sweaty and tired and I really just wanted to see Nas and go home. I was not looking forward to the Pharcyde’s set. But as soon as they started, I remembered that the Pharcyde is awesome and they happen to be great live. They were jumping around and working the stage more than anyone else too, despite the fact that the crowd wasn’t giving them the biggest response. They had live drums and keys and they had their videos were playing on the monitors.
Before the next set, It appeared as if a fight had broken out way back on the lawn. Mos Def came on and brought everyone’s attention back to the stage. I’ve never been a Mos Def fan, but his set was dope. He did a lot of reggae-ish singing that filled the stadium.
Finally, Nas came on backed by Green Lantern on the wheels of steel and drew the biggest response of the whole day. He started with “Hip Hop is Dead” and then went through all of his hits. Pete Rock came out and gave Nas a hug when he did “The World is Yours,” which made me happy. Nas might’ve been a little too energetic because he kept losing his breath and missing lines here and there. The only major omissions he made were his verse on “Live at the BBQ” and “Ether”. The latter really would’ve brought the house down. I hope to see that one day.
The grand finale was A Tribe Called Quest, which I missed most of because of the looming four hour drive. Q-Tip came out first and did a round of his solo stuff and then the rest of the group came out. I regret missing it because they sounded awesome – and I’m not even a Tribe fan.
This was my first Rock the Bells and honestly, maybe my last. I prefer smaller venues and fewer performers. But that’s not to say the show wasn’t very memorable. Rock the Bells is exhausting and at times frustrating, but legendary nonetheless. Who knows, maybe by the same time next year I’ll be craving the insanity again.