Doug Neill/OC Weekly
Rock the Bells Festival
August 21, 2010
NOS Event Center
Scorching heat, swarming crowds, parking gridlock, inefficient management, and borderline incompetent staffing didn't stop Southern California from "rocking the bells" this Saturday at San Bernardino's gargantuan National Orange Show Event Center.
Although the rap legends that took the stage aren't ones infecting mainstream radio (notable exception: Snoop Dogg), the event organizers sought to attain a comprehensive variety of hip-hop performers that contributed the genesis of the art form. Forget KIIS-FM; many of these guys were on Soul Train in the early 1990s. Additionally, headlining artists countered the mainstream traditions by performing entire albums from start to finish, not merely their Top 20 hits.
"This [Rock the Bells] is the realest fucking hip-hop show alive... I salute LA for standing up," declared famed radio DJ Peter Rosenberg.
Rock the Bells pegged itself as a festival, and it did not stray from that identification. The hip-hop culture surfaced in every conceivable way, with break dancing competitions, freestyle competitions, and dozens of vendors selling hip-hop-oriented wares. To see, hear, and experience even half of what Rock the Bells offered was a herculean task.
And yet, despite the laundry list of woes that afflicted spectators, camaraderie was forged over how truly ridiculous the event management was. A 45 minute wait for chicken on a stick? Charging $12.75 for a Heineken? An hour's wait just to purchase a prepaid "event card," the requisite to purchase literally anything at the festival?
The crowd may have merely bonded over mutual sweating, suffering, and smoking, but a remarkable show of unity was deeply evident. An incalculable numbers of blacks, whites, latinos, and Asians all convened, unified perhaps in no better moment as tens of thousands of people chanted "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing to Fuck With!"
Doug Neill/OC Weekly
Rock the Bells featured two main stages. The primary outdoor stage claimed the headliners of Snopp Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, and Lauryn Hill. The auxiliary "Paid Dues Stage" proved that it is indeed possible to hot-box a massive industrial warehouse. With temperatures stubbornly lingering around 100 degrees all afternoon, the heat combined with the potent fumes of home rolled joints, Grape Swisher Cigarillos, and stage fog, in a very unique sort of "green house" effect. Spectators emerged from the building looking like Amazonians leaving the rain forest.
A highlight from this dank warehouse was an invigorating set from the lanky 23-year-old, Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa. The up-and-coming star greeted fans with "y'all smokin' good weed in this bitch?" and proceeded to steam-roll through a lively set. The charred remains of marijuana cigarettes were being tossed up on stage towards Wiz Khalifa in praise.
"It's raining dubes!" the rapper declared.
Approximately two-thirds of the way through his set, Wiz left the stage. The DJ covered his conspicuous absence with some stock beats, but Wiz emerged from backstage, fat joint in hand. After lauding both the quality and prevalence of kush in California, Wiz Khalifa continued in his playful yet aggressive demeanor. His performance of "This Plane" was infectious.
Up next on the Paid Dues Stage was the relatively unknown new hip-hop act, Street Sweeper Social Club. One pertinent detail the tongue-twisting band name leaves out: the rock/rap fusion band is led by rock and roll royalty, the famed guitarist Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.
Throughout their mesmerizing set, Morello manhandled his instrument. Any conceivable part of the guitar that could emit sound, he played. At one thrilling moment, Morello pressed the guitar (inscribed with the words, "ARM THE HOMELESS") up against his face, seemingly performing a face-melting solo with his tongue.
Street Sweeper Social Club, however, possessed another dynamic force in the form of leading vocalist and rapper, Boots Riley. With pouting lips, dark aviator sunglasses, and a Don Cornelius-caliber afro, "Boots" pranced around stage, issuing hard-hitting verse after verse.
Consistently, he reminded the audience "we are not a band. We are a social club. And you all are now a part of the social club."
Despite his godly guitar performance, Morello had remained quiet through most of the set. This was until the end of the show, when he reminded fans why he was there.
"We're on a mission to feed the people, fight the power, and rock the fuck out!"
By this point, the stifling heat of the day began to subside. The sun returned to its western horizon, simultaneously triggering a newfound infusion of vitality and energy in the crowd. The legendary acts A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan held their own. True fans were able to persevere and claim their territory close to the stage. But for tens of thousands of others, many lyrics got washed away in the transmission of sound and the hectic commotion of the festival.
But after a long wait in tense anticipation, San Bernardino did it "doggy style."
Doug Neill/OC Weekly
Introduced as "The God Father of West Coast Rap," and "one of the truest dudes in the game," Long Beach's own Snoop Dogg took the stage. Accompanied by Warren G., an odd mascot dog, and video interludes between nearly every song, Snoop Dogg performed his 1993 album Doggystyle in its entirety, with each track evoking more enthusiasm from his adoring fans. With the iconic "Gin & Juice," Snoop seemingly transported the masses 75 miles towards the sea, back to "the LBC."
Employing his trade mark laconic drawl and refined melodies, Snoop sauntered around the stage with the fervor and vitality of an emcee half his age. A shocking number of fans had nearly every word of every track memorized, and performed their own lip-synching rendition of Snoop Dogg's hits in their own personal bubble.
"If you got some chronic, put it in the air right now," Snoop Dogg said.
Temperatures still hovered idly above 80 degrees, yet Snoop's cool wit and style soothed the perspiring brows of 25,000 loyal West Coast fans.
Critic's Bias: I was crawling on my hands and knees when "Doggystyle" came out (and not because I was actually doing it doggy-syle).
The Crowd: A truly eclectic mix of hip-hop fans: relics of the Old School, trendy New School-ers, jock-ish frat boys, hot asian girls, rastafarians, 909-er bros, and aspiring break-dancers.
Overheard in the Crowd:
"I knew it was hot, but not this fucking hot."
"The government should fear the fucking people."
"VIVA LA REVOLUCION!"
"Y'all fuck with that Kush and OJ?"
Seen on a T-Shirt:
"MONEY OVER BITCHES"
"Real hip-hop is not on the radio."
"Silence! I KEEL You!"
"Medical Marijuana Information"
Line-Up: Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Rakim, KRS-One, Slick Rick, Dj Premier, Street Sweeper Social Club, Murs & 9th Wonder, Wiz Khalifa, Clipse, Immortal Technique, Brother Ali, Jedi Mind Tricks, Supernatural, DJ Muggs w/ Ill Bill, Dj Rocky Rock, Big Sean, Yelawolf, Lauryn Hill.