Rock the Bells (Day 2) San Manuel Amphitheater 9/8/2013 Day one of this year's Rock the Bells brought us a reason to pile on sunscreen, a hologram of Eazy-E, DJ sets that didn't seem to matter much, and great performances from longtime lyricists such as Pusha T and future legends such as Earl Sweatshirt. On paper, day two was set to give us a holographic ODB and give Guerilla Union a 2-1 victory over Goldenvoice and Coachella, all the while delivering a lineup that ranged from street rap to radio-friendly hit-makers. Once again, we trudged on out to the farther end of San Bernardino, all for the love of hip-hop, holograms, and heat.
Best Idea All Weekend: Free Monster Energy Drinks When you need to stay up for an entire weekend basking in the sun, flailing about in moshpits, running up and down hills, and using your body to pay homage to Mac Dre and the hyphy movement during E-40, having access to an unlimited supply of energy drinks at a time when you don't even really have access to free water should bring tears to your eyes. This doesn't mean you should be camping out at the source of the supply to induce yourself into a caffeine coma, but it is quite the gift to be able to recharge yourself easier than you can recharge your phone.
The ASAP Mob Knows How to Perform While most acts with live instrumentation didn't seem to utilize their live instrumentation very well, the NYC-based ASAP Mob -- primarily ASAP Rocky -- sounded at home rapping over a live band. While ASAP Ferg, Nast, and Twelvyy all got their shot at riling up the crowd, it was ASAP Rocky who shined and showed his natural abilities as a performer. ASAP Rocky performed current favorites such as "Wild for the Night," but he thrived when playing songs such as "Wassup" and "Peso" while trouncing around on-stage like a polished rock frontman. The backing band only added to the codeine-coated atmosphere of his older hits, and Rocky once again showed that with the levels of charisma and style he has he was just born to be a star on a stage.
Best Hip-Hop Elder to Take the Stage: Juicy J By now, most of us know how the story of Juicy J goes. After years of floating around and risking falling into a vacuum of irrelevancy, Juicy J saved his career from the brink of bar shows by tweaking and transforming his sound to evolve with age and usher in an era of drug-and-dance friendly hip-hop. Now, at Rock the Bells, Juicy J was allowed to get things going trippy. Juicy J began his set with "Stop It" and "Smokin, Rollin," two tracks from his new album Stay Trippy, and rolled through verse after verse of party-inciting drug-rap that the crowd in turn ate up like Xanax bars.
At the age of 38, Juicy J can perform marathon sets and keep his energy at a manic pace that most younger emcees can't match. Whatever he's doing to make himself a never-ending source of turn-up and crowd-pleasing power is working, because he's about to enter his 40's as one of the strongest rappers in the mainstream and one of the most relevant veterans in rap.
The Holograms, Day Two: 'Ol Dirty Bastard While not as smooth as Bone Thugs' summoning the prior night, the Wu-Tang Clan managed to bring to life their deceased colleague ODB for a short performance and a somewhat awkward meeting between ODB and his son Young Dirty Bastard. ODB performed verses from "Shame on a Nigga," and "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," and just like Eazy-E the night before was zapped away ...along with the crowd. Right after the ODB hologram had disappeared, the crowd started to quickly filter out, and within a matter of minutes much of the audience had been depleted.
What was just as interesting as the hologram was the issues Wu-Tang Clan was having beforehand. Method Man was visibly upset with the sound issues, calling out GU head Chang Weisberg and walking off for some of the set. Ghostface and Raekwon, two integral parts of the Wu, were nowhere to be found. And, the Wu seemed to sound best only on GZA's tracks and at the start of their set when they were performing cuts from the classic 36 Chambers. Whatever was going on backstage or internally, as a whole the Wu-Tang Clan just didn't deliver a performance worthy of a "10 anniversary show."
Performer of the Weekend: Danny Brown After seeing Danny Brown this weekend, we probably didn't hype him up enough in our initial post singling him out as the the main act to see. All the songs he uses to ignite crowds into wildfires of limbs and banging heads -- "Blueberry," "Witit," and new songs like "Dope Song" and "Kush Coma" -- were used to full effect. Danny Brown's crowd was mostly moshpit, with fans eager to let loose the reins on their psyche and physical selves and yell out Brown's drug-addled tales of insanity. Brown himself was all over the place as usual, and as usual his presence was that of a cartoon character constructed solely for the stage. All the holograms in the computerized world couldn't match up to one live Danny Brown song.
Random Notebook Dump: Please, no more holograms. Respectful, tasteful dedications are fine.
Critic's Bias: We heard Danny Brown laugh a couple times on stage, and that signature laugh was all we needed to hear to crown him the king of this weekend.
Random Notebook Dump #2: Next time, maybe less dance music, more diversity with rap acts maybe? As much as we love some of the headliners, it's time to look for new go-to headliners as well.