Category: Rock the Bells

Rock the Bells 2012 taps Missy Elliott, A$AP Rocky, J. Cole, more

Traveling hip-hop festival Rock the Bells is taking a cue from Coachella’s recent experiment with déjà vu and has announced that this year's event will be held on two consecutive days in each of its three host cities.

Guerilla Union, the promoters of the annual hip-hop festival, announced the change when it unveiled the lineup of its upcoming ninth edition late Tuesday.

The big news is that this year's festival will see Missy Elliott, who is making a much-anticipated comeback after a few years away from the scene, at least partly due to health concerns.

After a couple years in which the festival devoted headlining slots to veteran lyricists performing seminal albums in their entirety (Lauryn Hill, Nas, Cypress Hill, Slick Rick and Wu-Tang Clan have all performed classic works), this year's Rock the Bells leans heavily toward more agile voices and a slew of buzzy upstarts and current chart-toppers.

A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Tyga, 2 Chainz and Yelawolf, Dom Kennedy –- virtually a who’s-who of the freshman class of buzzed-about MCs -- are all slated to perform at the festival, which kicks off in San Bernardino on Aug. 18 and Aug. 19.

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Review: Rock the Bells gazes back while looking ahead

Don’t ask me about Rock the Bells. Ask Ron Artest. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers forward was ubiquitous at San Manuel Amphitheatre on Saturday: ebulliently rapping along to every word of Mobb Deep’s “Infamous” and bouncing onstage alongside Nas to help foster nostalgia for “Memory Lane.”

The sometime rapper/full-time fan represents the demographic sweet spot for the traveling hip-hop festival: 31 years old, weaned on rugged '90s boom-bap rap and unabashedly nostalgic for the era when its raw and uncompromised iteration received a spot on the throne. The aesthetic defined by Q-Tip’s declaration, “Rap is not pop. If you call it that then stop.”

To its credit, festival promoter Guerilla Union put in a yeoman’s effort at booking young guns such as Curren$y, Mac Miller, Blu & Exile, Freddie Gibbs and even Childish Gambino, the project from “Community” star Donald Glover. But it was clear from the massive crowds clustered around the Rock the Bells stage and the smaller Wu Tang Clan-branded Enter the 36 Chambers stage that more people loved the '90s than VH1 could ever guess.

Photos: Rock the Bells 2011

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Commentary: Rock the Bells' classic fixation

Rock the Bells heads to San Bernardino with retro hip-hop vibes firmly in place.

Rapper Common

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.

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