Rock the Bells is weird. In many different ways. First, the main stage should really be called the “Nostalgia Stage” as it was completely devoted to past glories. DJ Premier’s opening set was a tribute to J. Dilla. Slick Rick, Rakim, and KRS-ONE performed most of The Great Adventures of…, Paid in Full, and Criminal Minded, respectively. Lauryn Hill did tracks off The Miseducation and The Score, almost exclusively (more on that in a minute). A Tribe Called Quest was joined by Busta Rhymes to recreate Midnight Marauders, Wu-Tang did Enter the 39 Chambers (ODB’s son came out, ostensibly to do his dad’s parts), and Snoop did every song off Doggystyle, filmed recreations of the album skits and all. He was wearing a floor length, Crip-blue bandana print dress. The guy dancing around on stage in a big dog costume was blue bandana-ed as well. The set highlight for me was The Lady of Rage, who sounded great. Has she been working all this time? Some of the other rappers who have been out of the limelight were a l’il rusty, but she was on her game. She also doubled the day’s previous tally of female rappers on stage (“Cock the Bells”, indeed).
Also, for me, personally, “Ain’t no fun”, as expected, lived up to its name. I also want to take a moment to appreciate Slick Rick’s reassurance that he meant “no disrespect” by performing his classic track, “treat her like a prostitute”. Unclear if he meant towards prostitutes or the women discussed in the song, who are not actually prostitutes. Sadly, his advice regarding women who are not prostitutes was not to give them money.
I saw Public Enemy a few weeks ago in Central Park and the Hip Hop nostalgia circuit thing is weirding me out. I don’t have some big analysis of it, it’s just weird. Or maybe it’s just continually weird to me that I’m old.
The second, or “Paid Dues” stage was the place to hear any remotely recent music. I was mostly soaking in “whoa, La-di-da-di…twice in one day!” over at the big stage, so I missed Immortal Technique, Murs, and other people I’d like to have seen but have seen before and will likely see again. I did catch Brother Ali, who I haven’t listened to before and was great, and Street Sweeper Social Club who, as I’d hoped, put on a hell of a show. Most of the crowd bolted after Brother Ali’s set. The remainder seemed both largely confused as to who SSSC were and angry that they took so fucking long to set up (it wasn’t actually long at all, but in the blazing sun, it sure felt like it.) Once Boots Riley and Tom Morello and their quite capable band took the stage, all was forgiven, the crowd was wowed and won over. A few dudes were so moved by the raucous rocking that they exploded into a real live mosh pit, which was kind of charming but kind of annoyingly, aggro-ly executed and impinged on my ability to focus on the Paper Planes cover that had just begun, seeing as I was suddenly, nonconsensually on the front lines and having to mind my Mosh Safety. Still, it’s a testament to how thoroughly SSSC rawks live, bursting with energy, immediacy, and joy that gets lost in the music’s translation through the studio. If you can see them live, do it.
Everyone else was fun. Lauryn Hill: the songs had such drastically new arrangements (and I was so far away and mostly unable to see shit) that it took a bit for me to really connect with the material. Then she did “Ready or Not” and I started to cry.
I wish she’s rap again. Her singing voice isn’t what it was–whose could be, unless maintaining said voice was still your full-time job–but she still brings it. Her set and that just-released song off Corin Tucker’s new album got me thinking about how unfriendly the music industry is to parents who are primary caretakers. Usually mothers.