Paid Dues – San Manuel Amphitheater – March 30, 2013

For the eighth time around, Guerilla Union's celebration of underground and independent hip-hop, Paid Dues, has given concert-goers willing to travel inland another full day of experiences and memories. Swarms of dirt be damned, we had another great time this go around, despite all the dust and dirt we've spat up and cleaned off since then. As always though, there are those moments and occurrences that stuck out — in a good way — and here's our list of what made Paid Dues worthwhile this year.


Most Appropriate Use of Non Hip-Hop Music: Flatbush Zombies

NYC's Flatbush Zombies were one of the acts we chose not to miss, and they lived up to our selection. Their entire performance was more aggressive than the other acts on the bill, with the Zombies choosing a setlist seemingly determined to give attendees many new hospital bills and the memories to keep them company as they recover. We couldn't think of many other acts that would fit just as well at a punk rock fest as the Zombies, and we can't help but be perplexed as to why they weren't booked for Coachella this year. 

Right before they launched into the muddy-yet-explosive “SCOSA,” they chose to play and go berserk to rock legends Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and we feel as though there wasn't an act at Paid Dues that had a better, more fitting transition. As strong as their rapping was, it would be impossible to ignore the visceral reactions the productions they performed promoted. All they needed was a guitar and/or drum set and they would fit in anytime at Chain Reaction.

Best Cover: Scarface performing part of Pink Floyd's “Wish You Were Here”

As far as we're concerned, down-south legend Scarface is one of the essential hip-hop artists to listen to. Song for song, he may even be a better, more captivating storyteller than Slick Rick. And, we can safely say inconsistency and left-field choices have never been too prominent in Scarface's career. So, when he interrupted his career-spanning set to sit down with a guitar and strum some chords, well, we were obviously caught off-guard.

For a few minutes, the former Geto Boy performed his own rendition of Pink Floyd's classic “Wish You Were Here,” and proceeded to pleasantly surprise most of the audience. He was kind of like rap music's answer to Bob Dylan or something, or at least he sort of tried to be. We'll probably never see Scarface fronting a band or coming out with an acoustic folk album anytime soon (or ever), but we can rest easy knowing there's more to 'Face besides just the lyrics.

Best Stage: Monster Energy Stage

We're going to go out on a limb here and assume the Monster energy drink and the company behind it didn't really have much to do with Paid Dues' lineup, but the stage of their namesake definitely had the best talent and most entertainment at it.

The near back-to-back booking of WC, Suga Free, Speak, Binary Star, Freddie Gibbs, and Killer Mike allowed the audience to fully experience all sides and sounds of hip-hop and witness the direction the genre ought to be going. Out of all the stages to simply just stand at and enjoy, the Monster Energy stage allowed for the best retrospective of the genre as a whole. And, if you stayed til the sun set you were treated to great performances by three highly-esteemed veteran acts representing the three most influential regions in hip-hop. Mobb Deep, Scarface, and Souls of Mischief collectively laid out the case for all the aging champions of the genre. Just because your age and time disconnects you from your glory years of the past, doesn't mean you have to put on a show like Slick Rick.

Most Intense Moment: Killer Mike during “Reagan”

No matter your political preference, we're willing to bet if you attended Paid Dues you didn't exactly vote Romney. Or it's possible you don't take much stock in the electoral system and didn't vote at all. Regardless, when Killer Mike launched into a performance of “Reagan” we're almost positive your face and fists were clenched we're certain you couldn't keep your attention off the stage.

While Mike rapped the lyrics to “Reagan,” he acted as an intimidating, militant public speaker who just so happened to have a great command of rhythm and rhyming. More political discourse than a straightforward rap outing, we can't really think of a time in recent memory where politics at a hip-hop fest was as effective. The swampy stream of thundering bass guided the way as Mike roasted and lambasted the former President, and his DJ even donned a Reagan mask to add to the whole act. Mike probably won't be getting an invite to speak at the Reagan Library anytime soon, but with performances like that we're sure he'll be booked at another festival in the future.

Best Performance: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

You know how we said all the praise lauded upon Freddie Gibbs may sound like a broken record soon but it will still continue in full force? This is one of those instances. Freddie Gibbs just makes us excited about witnessing a hip-hop show in every way and he represents how a rapper should be performing. He interacts with the crowd, has stamina bordering on infinite, never stumbles on his lyrics, and his trademark banter involving repeated “FUCK POLICE!” chants and throwing jabs wherever he wants somehow never gets on our nerves or gets old.

Gibbs began with the two inaugural tracks from his most recent solo mixtape Baby Face Killa and ended with the Madlib-assisted “Shame” and “Thuggin.” His set didn't span the entirety of the career, as he wasn't really allotted enough time for something like that, but he picked out the best cuts for a festival environment. Hopefully, Gibbs can land himself a better slot at a Guerilla Union event in the future, as he's definitely the type of artist who should now be headlining hip-hop festivals. Even if your daily playlist isn't stocked with gangsta rap, it's worth  the damage to your ears to stand front and center as Gibbs takes a stage. 
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