Lauryn Hill, Nas, Cypress Hill, Black Star, Mobb Deep to perform classic albums at Rock the Bells 2011
Traveling hip-hop festival Rock the Bells is taking a page out of the genre’s history books by focusing on a set of game-changing albums for this year's showcase.
Though still relatively downsized from lineups of the past, a who’s who of rap royalty, including Lauryn Hill, Nas, Cypress Hill, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Mobb Deep, Raekwon and Ghostface and the GZA, headline the bill for the eighth year of the multi-city festival that begins Aug. 20 at San Bernardino’s San Manuel Amphitheater.
Continuing last year’s move to highlight influential albums, this year’s batch of headliners will take on entire sets from the albums that made them respected giants in the game: Hill performs “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Nas tackles “Illmatic,” Cypress Hill will do “Black Sunday,” and fans pining for Mos Def and Talib Kweli to reunite as Black Star will be rewarded as they performs their 1998 self-titled debut album.
At a launch party for the concert at House of Blues on Tuesday night, the excitement from eager reporters was matched by the batch of performers who assembled onstage for the announcement.
“To see Souls of Mischief do ‘93 'til Infinity’ [will be] classic for me. For Lauryn to do ‘Miseducation” … you can’t lose with none of these records,” said RZA, who will co-host along with rappers Murs and Supernatural. “Rock the Bells brings the unexpected. Look over the whole list. … This is crazy.”
Chang Weisberg, festival co-founder and head of concert promotions and marketing firm Guerilla Union, said he’s still pinching himself over the lineup.
“If you’re a fan of hip-hop, you’re dreaming of ... the ultimate bill,” he said.
Founded in 2004, the festival has solidified itself as the go-to showcase for hip-hop heads to see their favorite veteran MCs hit the stage alongside buzzy up-and-comers.
Also slated to perform at the festival is Erykah Badu, Immortal Technique, Slaughterhouse,
Mac Miller, Curren$y, Black Moon, “Community” star Donald Glover’s rap-alterego Childish Gambino, Blu and Exile, Fashawn, Random Axe, Masta Killa (performing “No Said Date” in its entirety), Evidence, Macklemore, Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano with more performers expected to be announced soon.
Rock the Bells will feature three (or four, depending on the city) main stages, including the new RZA-curated 36 Chambers stage, which will primarily feature members of the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as artists selected by the rapper. A fourth setup, the Grindtime Now stage, will feature battle-style performances at certain dates that have yet to be confirmed.
After kicking off Aug. 20, the festival heads to San Francisco (Aug. 27), New York (Sept. 3) and wraps up in Boston (Sept. 10).
After the concert industry was rocked (pun very much intended) last year with a number of growing pains, mainly declining ticket sales, Weisberg decided to downsize the show by limiting it to a small cluster of markets.
Weisberg is hoping to change that by aligning with partner House of Blues and Live Nation for an extended tour this year.
He said they hoped to "produce 150 shows over the next 18 months. These are a more intimate Rock the Bells experience because, unfortunately, a festival the size of [this] … the audience just isn’t there for us to do 30 or 40 festivals.
“There’s one Lollapalooza, there’s one Bonnaroo, there’s one Coachella," Weisberg said. "I feel blessed we have four Rock the Bells as the festival itself.”
Cypress Hill’s B-Real said the format of performing influential albums will offer an unmatchable moment in time.
“The way this is going to play, with these classics albums that were influential to a lot of people, you don’t see that in a festival setting,” B-Real said. “That’s what sets Rock the Bells apart from any other so-called hip-hop festival. Its dedicated to hip-hop, and it really preserves the value of these albums, these artists and these songs. There is no experience like that.”
A pre-sale is set for June 3 at 10 a.m. through Guerilla Union, with tickets going on sale to the general public June 4. More info can be found at RockTheBells.net.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos, from left: Nas. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times. Lauryn Hill. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times. Mos Def. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press