Rock The Bells, San Bernardino, CA (8/9/08) Recap.

To ensure that you, ML’s faithful readers, get the most in-depth recap of this year’s Rock The Bells festival in sunny Southern California as possible, I’ve made sure that reading this entire post will take about 12 hours. Grab a snack and enjoy…

… but first, allow me to reintroduce myself…

My name is Buhizzle, but you may call me BK Doom.

Nearly one year after my last trip to the 100-degree-heat of San Bernardino, I made some necessary changes to further enhance my concert-going (and, thus, my concert-recapping) experience…

  • First, I rolled with a tighter crew of people — we all drove to the venue together, which is really the only way to go about it. Having multiple people drive in from different areas can be a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Second, I wore a cap to fight off the heat and not end up looking like a tomato when I start school next week (my first-timer friends weren’t as lucky)… BUT, this was not just any cap. It was a New Era Milwaukee Brewers two-tone pinwheel cap. Remember when pinwheel-style caps were in style? Well, that time has passed. But I’m bringing it back. Just wait and see.
  • And, finally, I brought my digital camera this time, just in time for RTB to do away with their not-really-followed “No Digital Cameras” rule. Click on the pictures to see ‘em bigger on ML’s Flickr page. There are also some extra pics on the Flickr page which aren’t in this post.

RTB made some changes, as well. For one thing, they separated the sections into lawn, loge, and pit, rather than just selling all general admission tickets for the same price and letting everyone fight for position. So, my loge ticket entitled me to a seat (which was a pleasant surprise), but prevented me from moving to the standing-room-only pit area right in front of the stage. Not being able to get up there was a bit of a bummer, but the separation appeared to make everything run pretty smoothly. The time I spent waiting in line to get in was drastically shorter than I’ve come to expect from a RTB show.

Bottled water cost an incredible $5 each — so, quit your bitching, Boston ($4) and Maryland ($3)! Also, it was not actually served in bottles, but rather, they would pour the bottle into a fountain cup with no lid, apparently because people like to throw the bottles, caps and lids. But, you could bring unopened bottles of water into the venue from outside. So, while water bottles and caps are apparently weapons, they are weapons that you are allowed to bring from home, but not weapons that RTB will supply you with… which makes perfect sense, in a nonsensical sort of way.

And, as you can tell by this futuristic bagless recycling bins, which apparently teleports your plastics to a different dimension, RTB is certainly concerned about the environment.

The first main stage act was supposed to be Jay Electronica, whose set time was scheduled at 11:35. Me and my friends found our seats at about 11:30, but we never saw him. Either he was a last-second scratch, or he hit the stage and finished before 11:30, in which case he would’ve ended up performing in front of very few people. Jay Electronica is an artist who I have admittedly been sleeping on — I’ve wanted to peep his shit, but I just can never find the time. This would’ve been my chance, but, unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned.

So, the next first act was Wale, whom ML has been jocking for a while now. Though he may come off as being a bit full of himself on record, he was humble enough to play his part here — that part being the relatively-unknown opening act at a festival chock full of legends. He opened up with “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.” and closed with “Back In The Go-Go” and “Nike Boots” — he mentioned that Bun B and Pusha T appear on the former song (which always leaves the crowd in that “Yea, but they’re not here now, are they?” state of mind), but declined to mention that Lil’ Wayne appears on the remix of the latter (which probably would’ve made more people take notice of him). In between, he spit a really nice fast-paced freestyle over some techno-sounding beat, and spit his verse from The Roots’ “Rising Up”. Dude’s got all the tools to become something special — if he can keep creating quality music, and if Interscope will properly invest in him (the bigger of the two “if”‘s), then there’s no reason why that won’t happen.

Next up on the main stage was Dead Prez, but I chose instead to roll to the second stage to see B.o.B., whose “Haterz Everywhere” has been in constant iPod rotation. There were a few notable acts on the second stage — Kidz in the Hall, The Cool Kids (are they cooler for spelling “kids” with a “S” instead of a “Z”?), Afrika Bambaataa — but they all seemed to coincide with main stage acts that I was more interested in. I was particularly interested in seeing B.o.B., and, though I have nothing against Dead Prez, they were the main stage act that I was least interested in.

If Wale made the main stage, B.o.B. could have been as well — he too is a relative unknown with a major label deal, and has a single out with a reputable artist (the video version of “Haterz Everywhere” features Rich Boy). But, performing in front of a smaller, more intimate audience allowed him to make a great impression on all of those present, rather than probably making little-to-no impression on the hundreds who would’ve watched him on the main stage. B.o.B.’s music comes off like ATLiens/Stankonia-era Outkast (he refers to his hometown of Decatur as the “12th Dimension”) with a Soulja Boy-like light-heartedness (peep the sunglasses). In addition to “Haterz Everywhere”, some other notable tracks he performed were “Mellow Yellow” and “Grip Your Body” (apparently featuring Amy Winehouse). His hypeman, whose name I couldn’t make out though he was rocking a green t-shirt that said “Georgia Durt” (for whatever that’s worth), performed a few songs as well, which were pretty good in a crossover-appeal sort of way. B.o.B. brought out a guitar to close up his set with some Wyclef-like crooning, and, unlike Lil’ Wayne, he looked like he could actually play the guitar.

B.o.B. made it a point to mention that you can cop his music on iTunes (by searching “12th Dimension”) or on his website, so I figured I’d be doing him a service by passing that info on to y’all.

I made it back to the main stage in time to catch Supernatural and Scratch warming up the crowd, which they do so well. Unfortunately, I just missed a celebrity sighting that my homeboys filled me on — David Faustino a.k.a. Bud Bundy (a.k.a. Grand Master B, for those that are down). He was with cute blonde (upon a Google search, turns out that’s his wife) who was taller than him — clearly, there’s no shame in the Grand Master’s game.

Next up was Murs, who was in full-on promotion mode for Murs For President (in stores September 30th!). He started off with the single “Better Than The Best”, before kicking into some of his well-known 9th Wonder collabos, including “Bad Man”, “H-U-S-T-L-E” and “Silly Girl”. He also debuted a song called “Lookin’ Fly” from the upcoming album, which was produced by will.i.am, and sounded like a cross between “Tell Me When To Go” and some Mariachi-type shit — I’m sure that that vague description helped no one, but y’all will hear it eventually, and it’s pretty dope. Murs also mentioned that Sweet Lord, his latest work with 9th, was available for free download, which was smart of him, since people like free shit — he also made it a point that no one could criticize it since it’s free, and only after they buy Murs For President could they tell him he sucks.

Before closing out his set with “L.A.”, Murs took off the black tee to reveal a blue Dodgers tee with “99″ on the back, paying homage to newest Dodger Manny Ramirez. And, because you can’t have blue without red, he brought a special guest to close out his set… DJ Quik!

Quik performed “Tonite”, and I don’t think he missed a lyric — granted, it was the only song he performed, but he showed impressive breath control nonetheless. I had been bumping a lot of Quik’s music recently, so it was an awesome coincidence that Murs brought Quik out.

Next up was Immortal Technique, who was quick to separate his brash self from the rest, spitting a freestyle which included a lyric about “fucking your girl with the head of a dead puppy” — pretty disgusting, though he was quick to clarify that it was not meant to promote bestiality. He performed a few songs off of his recent street mixtape/album release with DJ Green Lantern, The 3rd World, including “Lick Shots” for which he brought out Chino XL (to the right of Immortal above), as well as some choice cuts from his Revolutionary series, like “Point Of No Return” and “Industrial Revolution”. He also set aside some time for his DJ, DJ G.I. Joe, to perform some impressive scratching. Not surprisingly, Immortal Technique incited a “fuck cops” chant, adding that if anyone was offended by the chant because their fathers were cops, fuck them AND fuck their fathers. Before bouncing, he mentioned that he’d be walking through the crowd later on to be around the people, and would be feeling “safer than Bill Clinton” — sure enough, one of my friends caught up with him and got his ticket autographed. Say what you will about Immortal Technique, but he’s true to his word.

The crowd was next treated to the energetic, party-starting talents of Kid Capri, who played a short mix of famous West Coast beats, followed by a couple of East Cost beats (including “Ante Up”, which brought this to mind), in preparation for the one and only Rakim.

Ra did nothing but classics, most of which were from his days with Eric B…. although, whenever Eric’s name was supposed to be spit, Rakim would say Kid Capri’s name instead. Great foresight by Ra to bring a DJ whose name rhymes with his older DJ’s name — they don’t call him the God for nothing. Ra and Capri made a great duo, with Ra’s mild-mannered smoothness being the yin to Capri’s batshit-crazy energetic yang. And Capri did his thing on the 1′s and 2′s, working different instrumentals into Ra’s classics, like Artifacts’ “Wrong Of The Side Tracks” and 2Pac’s “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” into “In The Ghetto”, and Freeway’s “Roc The Mic” into “Microphone Fiend”. Ra closed out with “Know The Ledge” as an homage to ‘Pac, who starred in Juice (the soundtrack on which “Know The Ledge” first appeared).

Ra, like many other performers on the bill, also said R.I.P. to Bernie Mac, who shockingly passed away early that morning. You could tell the people who arrived late and/or didn’t watch the news that morning by their eye-opening reactions to anyone giving out a “R.I.P. Bernie Mac” shoutout, subsequently needing to be schooled on the news by other concertgoers.

At this point, I made a (overpriced) food run, and caught a glimpse of some of those tender moments that you only encounter at a RTB show. For example, one dude was rocking a Los Angeles Lakers #9 Nick Van Exel jersey — having to hold two cups of water without lids, I wasn’t able to snap a flick, but if I could’ve, hopefully it would’ve made the Straight Cash Homey collection (on that note, special runners-up honors to the dude rocking the Minnesota T’Wolves #8 Latrell Sprewell jersey). Also, you know those moments where you overhear a random half-sentence from an equally-random passer-by, and it blows your mind? Well, I saw this fine-ass Latina, probably the best-looking girl I’d see all day, rocking this tiny black tank-top, talking to her homegirl, and she said, and I quote – “I got out on bail that SAME NIGHT!” Needless to say, I think I found an angel.

As a result, I missed some of De La Soul‘s set, but I can say that they rocked it pretty convincingly. One of my homeboys, who wasn’t at all familiar with De La, came away extremely impressed. While most artists at day-long festivals like these usually cut their songs to a verse or two, De La actually performed most of their tracks in full, like “Buddy”, “Me, Myself & I”, and “Oooh” (with Maseo filling in for Redman). Though they made note of their 20 years in the game (Pos even put himself out there by mentioning that he’ll turn 39 on August 17th), they also kept things current enough to keep those less-than-big fans interested — most notably, Maseo involved the crowd in a Lil’ Jon “TO THE WINDOW!” call-and-response. De La closed up with Pos doing his opening verse on “Rock Co. Kane Flow”, Maseo dropping the beat out, and the trio standing frozen in place for nearly a minute as the crowd gave a huge ovation. Although De La likely wasn’t the reason why too many people came to RTB, they left a great impression on the crowd.

Next up was Raekwon and Ghostface, with Mathematics as their DJ. They started with some Wu-Tang classics (one of which, “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit”, didn’t even feature either Rae or Ghost), and even recited Inspectah Deck’s opening verse to “Triumph” before jumping ahead to their own verses on the song. They quickly flipped the script to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx tracks, which they performed as well as you could imagine, even down to the opening ad-libs on “Ice Water” (“sniff ya brains out, all my Al Capone, Al Pacino n***as”). They set aside some time for some rarer tracks, including Rae’s “State Of Grace” (which he referred to as “Cuban Linx II shit”, though I doubt it’ll show up on the actual album itself, what with the song being a few years old now), and Ghost’s “Be Easy” and “Mighty Healthy” (which I know word-for-word, though I don’t exactly know what the words mean). At one point, while Rae rapped his verse to “Daytona 500″, Mathematics threw the instrumental to Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”, which apparently no one saw coming — Rae awkwardly finished his verse off-beat.

After leading the crowd in “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and closing up with “Rainy Dayz”, Rae announced that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II would be out in February. Wishful thinking, I know, but I’d look on the bright side and take the fact that Rae’s narrowed it down to an actual month as a sign of progress.

Next up was Met… actually, it was just Redman at first, who announced that Meth was “late as usual”, and that if he (Red) didn’t come out, they would’ve had their set cancelled. Red rocked with his classics like “Pick It Up”, “Time 4 Sum Aksion” and “Tonight’s Da Night”. Method Man eventually came out and did his classics, like “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man”, “Bring The Pain”, and “All I Need” (the original Tical version, not the Mary J. Blige remix). Because they were running short on time, the only actual “Method Man & Redman” track that they performed was “Da Rockwilder”, which they closed the set with. As energetic and rowdy as they were (Meth did his usual crowd-surfing), not being given the full time that they were allotted (and not hearing “How High”) was disappointing. On a brighter note, they said that Blackout II will be out before the end of the year.

After a live band set up and tested the ear drums of the audience with super-loud sound checks, we were treated to the evening’s special guest — the Black Eyed Peas??

No, not those “Black Eyed Peas”, most known for “Let’s Get Retarded” and any number of songs where Fergie stole the spotlight. In fact, Fergie was nowhere to be found, and the group made no mention of her name (a sign of things to come, perhaps?). Instead, they brought out a couple of breakdancers (the original BEP trio are breakdancers themselves) and announced that they were only performing songs from their ’98 release Behind The Front, which probably sounded like a good idea, but didn’t really end up that way. Although Behind The Front may be their purest hip hop release (so as to fit in with the schemata of RTB), it’s also their least-known, so most of the fans (including myself) were unfamiliar with the material and seemed sort of out of it. The biggest reactions they got were when they brought out Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 (who I remember hearing had broken up, but apparently no one else heard that), and when they finished up with “Joints & Jams”. All in all, BEP was sort of disappointing as the special guest, and it was much less than special if they were the reason why Red & Meth had so little time. I would’ve much rather preferred a full set from DJ Quik as a special guest.

Next up was the moment of the night for many of those present — the original four members of The Pharcyde gracing the stage for the first time in many years. I can understand if the East Coast leg of this year’s RTB wasn’t as receptive to The Pharcyde, but for Cali heads, this was a big deal. Imani, Bootie Brown, Slim Kid Tre and Fatlip (who now has dreadlocks) were a welcomed antithesis to Death Row’s reign over L.A. radio, and paved the way for many acts who probably could’ve never emerged out of L.A. without ‘em — Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Black Eyed Peas, to name a few. It was such a big deal that Lil’ Jon introduced them to the crowd! Well, actually, we never saw Lil’ Jon come out, so it may have just been someone impersonating Lil’ Jon, but, if that was the case, it was BY FAR the best Lil’ Jon impersonation I’d ever heard.

The stage set-up was a bit different from The Pharcyde — instead of simply flashing their name on the screen behind them, they showed their music video, synced almost perfectly with their vocals. This effect really made their performances of “Runnin’”, “Drop” (pictured above), and “Ya Mama” that much more exciting. When there weren’t music videos to match up with the tracks, they ran different types of video montages — for example, when they performed “Oh Shit”, they mixed in this clip of Ricky Davis dunking over Steve Nash (if you can make out what Ricky says after the dunk, you’ll know why it worked so well).

Fatlip took a moment to address the rumors that he was the cause of The Pharcyde’s break-up, and mentioned having heard people say that he was an alcoholic and/or smoked crack. Well, he didn’t really address them, but rather acknowledged their presence. Instead of putting those rumors to rest, though, he performed “My Perogative”, as the other three danced back-up to Fatlip doing his best Bobby Brown impersonation. (Here’s video of bits of The Pharcyde’s performance, posted by illseed at AllHipHop.com — “My Perogative” comes in at about 2:39.) Reading the lyrics to “My Perogative”, it sounds almost like that song was written just for Fatlip.

The Pharcyde was about to leave without performing “Passin’ Me By”, but legendary L.A. radio personality Big Boy (of Power 106) wouldn’t let them do so. Here’s a bonus Fun Fact for y’all — Big Boy used to be a bodyguard for The Pharcyde before getting his hosting position at Power 106.

Next up was Mos Def, and by now it’s dark outside. The fact that Mos’s stage set was accompanied by red and purple lighting made it practically impossible to get a picture of him — shit, he hardly would’ve been visible if not for the TV screen they set up atop the stage. Mos’s DJ, DJ Preservation, spun a variety of funk, soul and reggae records between Mos’s songs, giving Mos time to sing along and thank the fans (he must’ve said “You could’ve been anywhere in the world tonight, but you’re here with me, and I truly appreciate that” about 3 times). It set a nice mood and relaxed the crowd, but overall, it seemed like Mos was sort of taking it easy. He finished up strong with “Ms. Fat Booty”, “Umi Says” and “Travellin’ Man”. At one point, he sang “Paper Planes” and mentioned that M.I.A. was in the building, but I don’t believe she ever came out.

Toward the end of Mos’s set, a couple of my homies mentioned that they were going to head to second stage to see MF Doom‘s set. I didn’t tell them about his tendency to send impostors donning his mask to shows, but they seemed pretty psyched about it, and probably would’ve gone away — at least, I want to believe that so that I don’t feel bad for them getting fooled. Here’s more video from illseed, easily the most damning evidence of Doom’s recent fuckery. Publicity stunts are one thing, but this shit is too much — Doom ain’t exactly flooding the market with material like he was from ’01 to ’04, so you figure he’d be trying to keep his fans happy rather than test their loyalty like this.

Fortunately, my ex-Doom-fan homies came back in time for Nas‘s set, so not all was lost for them. DJ Green Lantern brought Nas out to “You Can’t Stop Us Now” from Untitled, leading the fans in chanting the hook, as Nas thanked everyone for giving him yet another #1 album. Nas was delivering the message that was prevalent throughout his new album, telling the people to stand up for what they believe in, use their voices and protest — I can get with this Nas much more easily than Hip Hop Is Dead-Nas. He was heavy on the “Fuck Fox News” tip, performing “Sly Fox” as well as the hook to “Shoot ‘Em Up”, the song which Fox News brought up the most in their crusade against Nas’s performance at Virginia Tech (it also served as an awesome segway to “Made You Look”). Somewhat surprisingly, Nas alloted about half of his set to his early tracks — at one point, he performed about 9 consecutive songs off of Illmatic and It Was Written, including “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, “One Love” and “If I Ruled The World”. I still to this day debate in my head who’s better, Jay-Z or Nas — after every time I’ve seen Nas live (this was #3), I come away feeling like Nas holds the upper hand. We’ll see what happens after Blueprint 3, though.

Next up was the grand finale, with A Tribe Called Quest returning to the stage in full form — Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and even Jarobi (although, considering the minimal role Jarobi has played in Tribe’s success, they probably could’ve grabbed any dude off the street and passed him off as Jarobi). Not only was it really dark out at this point, but the random colors and effects playing on the screen behind them again made it difficult to get a good picture… well, that and the number of hands raised toward the sky in front of me. Just like they did at the shows recapped by knobbz and DJ01, Tip began with solo stuff — some from Amplified, some from the upcoming The Renaissance, like the new track “Gettin’ Up” — while Mos Def played a semi-hype-man role. It was cool, but Tip didn’t overstay his welcome as a solo performer.

The whole crew came out, giving props to the late J Dilla before getting into “Buggin’ Out” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)”. They played a couple of album cuts like “Turn It Up” and “Lyrics To Go” before Tip took a break to describe what was to come next — he analogized it to the point on a roller coaster where you’ve hit the highest point and you’re about to speed downhill. After that, it was non-stop classics — “Find A Way” (with all four members taking turns doing the hook), “Electric Relaxation”, “Scenario”, “Check The Rhime”, and “Award Tour”. The only glaring omission from Tribe’s set was “Can I Kick It?”, which was odd because, as Tip addressed the crowd one last time to close up the show, the screen was flashing “Can I kick it? Yes you can!”, as if it was supposed to synch up with the song being performed. Maybe they were running close to sound ordinance time.

While seeing all 9 original members of the Wu-Tang Clan perform in ’03 is my greatest Rock The Bells memory, this year’s may be the greatest Rock The Bells show I’ve been to. Everything ran smoothly — there were no huge breaks between acts so the set times ran pretty close to schedule, there were few sound problems (if any), and every performer that I was looking forward to seeing put forth solid performances. (Of course, if I was looking forward to Doom, I might have a different overall opinion.) If I could complain about one thing, though, it would be the music that played in between sets — it sounded as if they put together one mix CD and played it over and over. I probably heard INI’s “No More Words” and Biz Markie’s “Make The Music With Your Mouth” over five times each throughout the course of the day — not that these are bad songs, but a little more variety wouldn’t hurt.

This was the second time that Tribe has headlined a RTB festival. Nas has appeared at three of the five RTB festivals that I’ve been to, and Rae and Ghost were at all five in some way (either as a duo or as members of the Wu). In fact, I believe that everyone I saw today (except for Wale and B.o.B., though they are relatively new artists) has performed at a RTB festival before, if not more than once. It’d be tough for me to say that I’d wouldn’t go to next year’s RTB even if the line-up consisted entirely of acts I’ve seen before, but here is a suggestion as to how RTB could really out-do themselves in ’09…

Good luck and god speed!

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There are 7 comments

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  1. Josh

    I missed a few acts, but this was definitely a great show. The atmosphere was amazing. It was a breath of fresh air to see such a wide variety of ppl so passionate about great music although they don’t recieve any mainstream attention.

  2. Alex Delarge @ Liveagl.com

    Great event, but cause I am in Toronto, I wasnt able to see RAGU..which really really sucks ass, because thats one of the main reasons I wanted to check out the concert..

    Next time, if Wu-Tang does a concert..Im going to Buffalo for sure..

  3. djeurok

    Dont front on jarobi. he’s one of the best hype men in the industry, and has been an integral part of the group despite what you may assume

  4. Eazy

    I was there up close & personal for 10 hours of madness. This was by far the best concert I’ll ever attend. Unless you know who decides to ever tour again.

  5. Sticky Icky Ricky

    I got a question that needs answering… During intermissions the DJ was playing a song or repeating beat with a girls voice in the background just saying the same thing over and over again but it was TIGHT. Does anyone know by chance what I’m talking about or what the name of the beat and/or song is???


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