Rock the Bells heads to San Bernardino with retro hip-hop vibes firmly in place.
When the Rock the Bells concert series debuted in 2004, it was already steeped in nostalgia for the “golden age” of 1980s and '90s hip-hop. Not only did it take its name from LL Cool J's 1985 hit single, but the two shows that year featured headliners such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, A Tribe Called Quest and Xzibit — artists whose greatest imprints were crafted in the previous decade.
Seven years later and Rock the Bells — stopping at San Bernardino's San Manuel Amphitheater on Saturday — has doubled-down on its retrospective focus. Twelve of its 30-plus acts are slated to perform signature albums in their entirety. That includes Lauryn Hill performing her Grammy-winning 1998 debut, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Nas revisiting his 1994 debut “Illmatic,” and Mobb Deep returning to 1993's “The Infamous.” In fact, only one of those dozen album-based performances was recorded from the last 10 years (Common's 2005 LP, “Be”).
So-called “classic album” shows have become a fast-growing niche. In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and Steely Dan made industry headlines with concerts based around performances of “Born to Run” and “Aja,” respectively. That same year, Public Enemy performed “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” as part of the ironically named Don't Look Back series (this September, Public Enemy is following up by performing “Fear of a Black Planet”). In 2010, Rock the Bells dipped its toes in too, with classic album performances of Snoop's “Doggystyle,” A Tribe Called Quest's “Midnight Marauders” and the Wu-Tang Clan's “Enter the 36 Chambers,” plus three others.