While Jay-Z was rocking Philly for the “Made In America” festival during their two-day festival series over the weekend, Rock The Bells was rocking in Holmdel, New Jersey‘s PNC Bank Arts Center durig the same two-day stretch (September 1-2).
Despite some of the acts not showing up that were supposed to, such as Watsky, ScHoolboy Q, Tyga, Big Sean, Tinie Tempah and Pusha T, the day turned out great. Rumor has it that some of those mentioned no shows were in Philly at that other festival. Oh well, their loss because the energy and vibe in NJ was all love. No drama, no fights, nothing…beautiful thing to see at a hip-hop show. Saturday’s line up started off with Yo Gabba Gabba’s resident DJ, DJ Lance Rock and Friends on the 1′s and 2′s. Biz Markie graced the stage with him to get the crowd ready for the rest of the day’s acts.
Up next on the main stage was Epic Records artist from Atlanta, Georgia, Future. This was my first time seeing him live and he didn’t really capture my attention. There just wasn’t enough energy for me. He did perform some of his most popular hits, such as “Tony Montana” and “Straight Up”. He is a fairly new artist, so hopefully he’ll work on his stage presence.
On the 36 Chambers stage, were veterans and influential ladies of hip-hop, Salt N Pepa. They looked amazing and sounded outstanding as well. Doing such hits like “Whatta Man”, “Shoop” and “Push It”, they had the crowd, of mostly women, so hype as we sang along to every word effortlessly. Pepa looked a bit more comfortable interacting with their two male dancers on stage than Salt did. Maybe it had to do with how religious she is now and also being a mother and a married woman. Overall, it was great to see them on stage performing after being in the game for twenty-five years.
I’m usually the first person to not cosign 2 Chainz, formerly known as Tity Boi, but I have a newfound respect for that man. I thought his stage show was great and he was engaging with the crowd. He also was spotted at the Made In America Festival in Philly, but at least fulfilled his obligation to his fans at Rock The Bells by performing his set first. Kudos to you 2 Chainz, it was appreciated. It was great to see him do his verse from “Duffle Bag Boy” and also “Birthday Song”, “No Lie”, “Spend It” and the remix to “Bands A Make Her Dance”. I have to admit, even I was on the side of the stage getting footage and getting into the songs. Great energy!
On the main stage, you also had Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. After their debut album, they kind of lost me until they reappeared on “Notorious Thugs” with B.I.G. They had a full band with them and also a female vocalist who I could not hear at all. Even during “Thuggish Ruggish Bone”, in which I should have been able to hear her on the chorus, I couldn’t and I was in the very front row. I didn’t even know what song they were doing until I listened very closely. I honestly couldn’t even sit through the entire performance. I did come back to hear them close out their set with “Tha Crossroads” and that sounded pretty decent.
After that on the main stage, was 1/3 of the Yonkers, NY based group, The Lox. The man with the most distinctive laugh in the rap game. The one and only Jadakiss. Decked out in a red and white NY fitted hat, a red and white baseball tee with ‘So Raspy’ on the front of it and fatique army shorts, he marched on stage to the beat of “Mighty D-Block” to which the crowd errupted and chanted the chorus with him. At times he stopped and the audience filled in for him. The audience was so loud, it was amazing as well as awesome to see Kiss get so much love. He’s earned it. He sounded really clear on the mic too and we could hear all of the lyrics to his many hits. You never really realize how many bangers he has until you see him live and he goes through them all. He blessed us with “We Gonna Make It” featuring fellow Lox member Styles P, as well as “Knock Yourself Out”, “Money, Power, Respect”, “Who’s Real” and a freestyle to Nas’ “Made You Look”.
Hitting the stage next was “How High” twosome, Redman and Method Man. The amount of energy they had was mind blowing, and they’re not young dudes either! Plus, they have crazy chemistry on stage and feed off of each other’s vibe. Even the actor, Tiny (Debo from Friday) came out on stage riding what looked like a child’s bicycle. It was so funny! They did “Time 4 Sum Aksion”, “Let’s Get Retarded”, “How Bout That” with Streetlife and Jadakiss as well as “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man”.
Wu-Block!! Wu-Block consists of the members of Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block. Some were saying they didn’t sound that great, but I know I enjoyed every minute of it. I heard songs that took me way back to when both groups first came out and then took me on a journey throughout their careers. We heard “Cherchez La Ghost”, “Good Love”, “Criminology”, “Incarcerated Scarfaces”, “Wild Out” and “Locked Up”. It was also wonderful to see them bring out ODB’s son to do “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, as well as pay tribute to the Notorious B.I.G. by doing “Last Day”. This crew knows how to show love and give respect when it’s due. They admitted to learning a lot from Biggie and it was really moving because you could tell it was sincere.
Next up was one of the original members of Ruff Ryders, the brickhouse Stallion herself, Eve. This Philly native looked gorgeous in an all black one piece pantsuit. She didn’t miss a beat either. One might think she was rhyming and doing shows daily. Doing all of her classics, like “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”, “What Y’all Want”, “Who’s That Girl”, and “Satisfaction.”
Ending the first day’s show was Dark Man X, otherwise known as DMX. This was my second time seeing him live, but not since 2000. He looked like he was focused and ready to perform for us. He even brought out Drag-On to do the “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” with him. He had the crowd going hysterical doing songs like “Get At Me Dog”, “How’s It Goin’ Down”, “Stop Being Greedy”, “Slippin”, “Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood”, “Party Up”, “What These B*tches Want”, “What’s My Name”, “Who We Be”, “We Right Here” and ending his set and the night with “The Lord’s Prayer”.
On the second day, after earlier performances from groups including Slaughterhouse, the the Rock the Bells hip-hop festival rolled on despite the downpour that had many running for cover. Or, staying in the amphitheater in the hopes that the mini-lakes forming around them wouldn’t flow into the seats.
After the rain let up, Sunday’s highlight, Nas, took the stage with his full band. His performance ranged from introspective blue oldies — hands in the air conjured a slow-motion video — to his anthems like “Made You Look” and “Hate Me Now.” Later there was a surprise interlude from Lauryn Hill, which significantly livened things up before Nas resumed his show.
Ms. Hill did tracks in front of her home state including “You Just Lost One,” The Refugee’s “Fu-Gee-La” and ended with “That Thing.”
“I’ve been gone for a long time, but I’m back again,” said Lauryn, who wore a black leather jacket with flamingo-pink pants.
Highlights from his newest album “Life is Good” included “Bye Baby,” the rapper’s kiss-off to former wife Kelis, bolstered by an Aaron Hall sample come to life. There was also the candid, conversational piece that is “Daughters,” another play on the rapper’s family life. And Nas, like many artists at Rock the Bells, made note of the late Chris Lighty.
Special guests that weren’t Hill got just as much love, though their appearances were much shorter. They were Scarface and Large Professor of Main Source, the latter the emcee that “put him on the song,” said Nas, referring to Main Source’s 1991 “Live at the Barbeque”; Nas’ featured spot was his first-ever recording.
The crowd did not want to let go of Nas when he once again returned to the stage. But with his band’s help, he gave a heartfelt, satisfying performance for his final songs of the night, including “Got Urself A…,” “Made You Look” and “One Mic” and soon, Rock the Bells 2012 was a wrap.