Anyone interested in attending a music festival has about a gazillion to choose from. Big names such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival may be the first that come to mind, but their respective solitary locations means that somebody’s going to miss out.
Enter Rock the Bells. This San Bernadino-based rap festival has only been in existence since 2004, but its continuously impressive yearly line-up that travels to four major U.S. cities makes it a must-go. Home to some of rap’s finest moments (such as first-ever, full-length album performances by Nas and Lauryn Hill in 2011), this year’s RTB promises performances that will add to rap history’s “most memorable” list.
Though it was hard to narrow it down, my top five anticipated performances are:
5. Common: Whenever I hear Common rap, I always picture him in a suit. His unbeatably smooth voice complemented by his intellectually poetic lyrics makes Common truly stand above the rest. Regardless of his endless repertoire of collaborations with artists such as Kanye West, the Roots, Lauryn Hill, J Dilla and Mary J. Blige, Common’s solo work is the perfect balance of rap, soul and class – not that the three were ever mutually exclusive. In light of his semi-recent efforts in the acting industry, Common’s performance is almost guaranteed to be one of the most entertaining of the entire festival.
4. Tyler, the Creator: Admittedly, it took a very long time for me to like Tyler. Call it Odd Future, Wolf Gang, Golf Wang or Flog Gnaw, the birth of Tyler’s hip-hop collective pressed the limits of controversial and dirty – even for the 21st century. But following the 2013 release of his (almost) comparatively modest album “Wolf,” the Colorado native is obviously very in tune with his thoughts and emotions, flawlessly carrying them over in tracks like “IFHY” and “Answer.” And with Odd Future’s consistency of Frank Ocean, the Internet and Earl Sweatshirt (the latter two will also be at RTB), Tyler truly has an unlimited amount of uniquely genius musical inspiration at his disposal.
3. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: There isn’t anything quite like listening to a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony track; and if there is, you can bet Bone Thugs played some role in its inspiration. Their indescribably hard, melodic flow is one of the reasons why the group is almost always placed on “best of” hip-hop lists. Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Krayzie Bone, Wish Bone and Flesh-n-Bone will perform at their (surprisingly only) second consecutive RTB. And, inspired by Coachella 2012’s ground-breaking 2Pac hologram, a virtual performance of the late BTNH mentor and friend Eazy-E is expected to be “Foe tha Love of” good rap. “Every night we pay a tribute to the fallen soldiers of rap,” Bizzy told Rolling Stone. “This is a dream come true.”
2. Wu-Tang Clan: This performance ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with. With a 20th anniversary album commemorating 1993’s “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” in the works, and a hologram of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard slated to perform alongside, Wu-Tang’s headlining set at RTB marks the first time the group has performed in whole since the inaugural RTB in 2004. Made up of ODB, Ghostface Killah, RZA, GZA, Raekwon, U-God, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck and Method Man, Wu-Tang is commonly referred to as the best rap group of all time, having created a musical legacy that tested rhythmic and lyrical boundaries that set the bar for every other rapper to follow.
1. Black Hippy: Maybe I’ll get some flak for placing Black Hippy over the classics, but I have to play favorites here. Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar have been rapping together since 2009, but each have their own distinguished solo careers that truly showcase their independently colorful lives and personalities. Lamar (my personal favorite and protégé of fellow Compton rapper Dr. Dre) released his debut album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” last October to roaring success and has since guest appeared on multiple tracks – most notably his deafeningly bloodthirsty verse on Big Sean’s “Control” where he challenges fellow rappers to step their game up. But each member brings an equally impressive style, so I’m looking forward to the set’s combination of both solo and group songs – and how each artist will contribute something new to them.
Honorable mentions: KRS-One, Big KRIT, Deltron 3030, Immortal Technique, Pusha T, Girl Talk, A$AP Mob, Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt
Make sure to check back next week for exclusive coverage and photos of Rock the Bells 2013 in Mountain View.