True talent is scarce in hip-hop today and finding lots of talent in one place at one time is almost impossible to find. Guerilla Union, however, does just this with Rock The Bells, bringing artists like Dead Prez, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, and Mos Def together on the same stage. Looking at the line-up’s collection of backpackers and conscious rappers, there is one artist who seems to stand apart though — B.o.B.
The ATLien is not only the sole southern style artist on the roster, but is also one of the few artists on the roster who isn’t overtly political. Because of this, it only seemed appropriate to ask B.o.B. and his mentor, Playboy Tre, to use their vantage point to critique the show which they will tour with through 19 cities.
Chicago native duo, Kidz In The Hall, kicked off the show to an excited and still fresh crowd. Naledge and Double-O got the delayed show started with undeniable energy, which was evident when the hometown crowd went word for word with the group’s TRL success, “Drivin’ Down The Block.”
Tre: They were received well by the crowd and definitely got me going. You can tell they were repping for their city and that their city was repping for them.
B.o.B.: They definitely got the energy going for when we got out there. No doubt.
Next up was our very own B.o.B., accompanied by Tre. Fueled by the first set and a large internal store of energy, the two danced across the stage tirelessly, careful to avoid a loose piece of box which had somehow made its way on stage, although Tre had a close call with the box. While many in the crowd may have been unfamiliar with B.o.B. and Tre, they still couldn’t help but sway and bounce along with the two as they performed tracks such as “Goodbye America” and “Haterz.”
After B.o.B. and Tre was Jay Electronica, who only continued to raise the bar set by those before him. With an aura of comfort and ease during his performance, Electronica was able to grip the crowd. Clearly no stranger to most in the crowd, he excited his numerous fans, driving the show, still bathed in sunlight, closer to its climax.
B.o.B.: Jay Electronica was real theatrical. He came out there with the whole general staff and he interacts with the crowd real well. He can really control the crowd well and you can tell when he gets out there he has an intent to entertain. He’s got this certain ease when he’s out there, too.
At this point it was time to sneak into the green room for a little break and a seemingly sleep deprived B.o.B. fell asleep on a couch with his guitar still on his lap and Murs took to the stage with his dreads in full effect for a highly energetic set.
Following Murs was the highly political Dead Prez. M1 and Stic.Man brought the audience back to their seats and performed to a pit full of fans, some of whom seemed ready to flip over a squad car or two thanks to the power of DP’s performance.
Playboy Tre: Dead Prez had a hardcore set of fans while they was performing and it was just a trip to see them. There were all races that were going with them even though they do music mostly about black empowerment. If you saw the number of people that came towards the stage when they started performing, it was crazy. Another thing is that some acts are more energetic, while other let the words speak for themselves and I think that’s what they do. They also had a female DJ, which was the sh**.
While B.o.B. was still sound asleep, Immortal Technique made his way onto the stage, sporting a t-shirt with an upside down American flag, for a set that somehow got the crowd even more pumped and was complete with CD throwaways into the audience. This was yet another solid performance and there were no signs of the show slowing down at all.
It was after Immortal Technique’s set that the show switched gears a little with DJ Kid Capri perched in the elevated DJ booth introducing none other than the legendary Rakim. Wearing a white doo rag accessorized with towels, the hip-hop pioneer entered asking “Are y’all ready for some real hip-hop?” The crowd quickly responded with a loud cheer and Rakim gave the crowd a dose of “Don’t Sweat the Technique.”
Tre: Rakim was amazing. It was my first time seeing him perform and I definitely can see why so many people think he’s in the top 10 of all time. Every artist should aspire to have the longevity he’s got. I’m kinda mad I didn’t see him perform before. Rakim’s performance made me feel like a Goddamned little kid again! You had Kid Capri DJing and Rakim rapping, it can’t get better.
But somehow it did get better and B.o.B. even woke up when Method Man and Redman stormed the stage and instructed the crowd that “the energy you give to us, we give back to you.” The energy recycling was in full effect with Meth and Red throwing water, walking on hands in the crowd, and crowd surfing. While this made for a truly entertaining performance, the mix of water and jumping off stage did make Meth take a tumble off stage, but the Wu-Tang MC got right back up like a true Shaolin warrior. Red was also sure to get everyone’s middle fingers in the car asking everyone to say “F*** you Redman! F*** you Method Man.”
B.o.B.: That was the best one yet! I had to get out there and see that sh**. I like giving a lot of energy in my performance just like those two and so it showed me a lot of techniques to get the crowd going. It’s cool to be able to pick stuff up like this from other acts and to see these two was crazy. I missed Meth fall, I musta turned my head then, but that stuff happens. Even when we was out there, there was like a box or something that I almost got caught on and just had to act like I was dancing. This is definitely in the top two performances I’ve seen. The other one was David Banner in Austin, Texas.
Tre: I’ve seen Redman before, but I’ve never seen Redman and Method Man together. You know when those two together, it’s gonna be crazy. I was just excited to see them perform “Da Rockwilder.” These two are some of the best performers I’ve ever seen. Other good ones I’ve seen are Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Goodie Mob, David Banner, Outkast, Krs-1, and DMX. DMX is crazy. He’s just one guy out there alone.
Unfortunately, the show was due for a slight hiccup, which came in the form of Mos Def. Although a talented performer, Mos just caught a bad break having to follow up Meth and Red. Most of the crowd, however, didn’t seem to care of this change of pace and were simply happy to see yet another one of their favorites rock the mic.
B.o.B.: I just feel bad for anyone who has to go after Method Man and Redman.
Tre: Yea, it’s hard to follow that up.
Although B.o.B. and Tre wanted to stick around to watch fellow Rock the Bellers, Nas and A Tribe Called Quest, they had to leave in the middle of the Pharcyde set, leaving us to handle the rest of the show on our own. With the sun finally gone, Pharcyde was entertaining the crowd with the first nighttime performance and a live band. Not too shabby, but the real excitement was what was coming next.
A quick cleanup of the instruments from the stage and out came Nas. Wearing white shorts, a white tee, and a small cross around his neck, the MC seemed comfortable and effortlessly brought the show to its climax. The God Son started his set with “N.I.G.G.E.R.” and his Fox News bashing “Sly Fox,” but then quickly transitioned into tracks such as “New York State of Mind” from the Illmatic days. With the entire crowd matching each word and pelting him with camera flashes which made their way through a thin haze of weed smoke, Nas ended his set a few tracks later with “One Mic.” Only if Nas had stayed on for longer…
While Nas did bring the show to its climax, A Tribe Called Quest, were the headliners on paper. With a full band and flashing stage lights, the group maintained the energy level but didn’t quite seem to take it up to a higher level than what Nas had left it at. While the Tribe offered a solid set it just seemed as if an extended Nas set at the end would have served as a better ending.
All things said, Rock the Bells proves to be one of the best shows. Guerilla Union delivers on the hype and truly presents a good show full of good acts. With hosts such as B-Real and Supernatural even the down time between sets is entertaining. A classic lineup, stores of energy, and priceless performances make Rock the Bells a show that you have to catch if it comes through your city.
For more information on the remaining tour dates, visit RockTheBells.net.