Rock the Bells began its series in 2004, but didn’t go national until last year. In the past 2 years it really turned itself into an event of almost epic proportions. When it started in California in 2004 it reunited Wu-Tang Clan with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a few months before his death. In 2006 they did a national club tour. It was such a success that in 2007 they brought back EPMD, put Rakim on a big stage all over the country (although he already came back from retirement at that point), headlined Rage Against the Machine and brought a lot of attention to old school acts, like Public Enemy.
In 2008 they went even further. Besides giving Nas a lot of play on the hills of his new controversial album, they reunited A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, again had performances on the small stage, separate from main stage breakdown, with acts like Afrika Bambaataa and celebrated success once more all over the country.
The magnitude of the New York show is rather hard to describe. As opposed to last year, it was at Jones Beach Theater, not on Randall’s Island. The backstage area was quite a bit smaller and the arena itself was definitely not large enough to fit in 40,000 fans, like in ’07. Still, it was almost a better experience. After making the trip to Long Island and watching the organizers stop about half of most artists’ crews from getting backstage (Method Man almost got wrestled down by security for trying to get his own cousin in), the luckier few got a chance to see one of the most amazing artist line-ups in history. Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Pharcyde, De La Soul, Raekwon and Ghostface, Method Man and Redman, EPMD, Slick Rick, Biz Markie, Buckshot, DJ Scratch, Nas, Jay-Z, Pharaoh Monch, A Tribe Called Quest, Dres (Black Sheep), M.O.P., Busta Rhymes, Consequence, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Supernatural, DJ Premier, B-Real, Cappadonna and many more were backstage and most got on the stage and did their thing. The overabundance of amazing music was almost too much, when people had to choose to get up for a bathroom break during Q-Tip or Nas, Mos Def or Pharcyde and so on.
It was a true celebration of amazing music, with an entire day filled with acts switching from one to the other and moments to be forever remembered. B-Real chopping it up with Buckshot days before the announcement of the Cypress Hill MC signing to Duckdown Records became official… Supernatural showing once again why he is in the Guinness Book of World Records with his amazing endless freestyles… Meth and Red showing off on stage, entertaining the crowd only like that duo can (too bad there was no crowd in front of the stage for Meth to walk on, that was the VIP section)… Ghost and Rae joined by Cappadonna in breaking off a piece of that renowned Wu sound… EPMD and Slick Rick introduced by Meth on stage to remind everyone that while Wu-Tang is for the children, it is still old school… Immortal Technique speaking thru his music of the fight for the right to be truly equal and free in your mind and your actions… Busta Rhymes showing up earlier to mingle with the industry on the hills of his upcoming release, getting on stage just to do Scenario with A Tribe Called Quest… Jay-Z being walked through the backstage by his bodyguard, who reminded more of Kevin Costner from the infamous movie, than a Hip Hop bouncer… Nas getting out of his Bentley as he got to the show, acting as if at this point of his life he really is all about chilling… M1 playing with his kid, seemingly completely entwined in the little one’s smiles… Streetlife looking on as only the stars of The Wire are able to replicate… Billy Danze catching up with Redman before stage time… Mos Def joining Q-Tip for his performance to try and fill the enormous stage with another conscious/commercial music head… These moments continued all day long, for about 12 hours, each one no more or less special than the other.
Rock the Bells 2008. Check out the photos, watch the interviews and make sure not to miss the ’09 show, or just relive the amazing moments of this one day in New York, brought to you by Guerilla Union.