SAN BERNARDINO, California — Nas, Redman, Ghostface and Raekwon headlined the Rock the Bells concert in Southern California this weekend, where more than 9,500 fans braved the 100-plus-degree heat.
The daylong festival began just after noon Saturday at the NOS Events Center. Kicking off the show were such underground hip-hop acts as New York’s Non Phixion and California’s own Qbert. Guru, Supernatural and Sage Francis also filled in the bright, hot daylight hours as the dedicated masses stayed cool thanks to hoses and a misting tent.
As the sun started to drop, the Bay Area’s Hieroglyphics crew came on to spit early ’90s classics as well as newer indie offerings. They made way for New York underground fave O.C. to do a couple of tracks, and then Cali’s Living Legends did an hour-long set before the waiting game began.
Blame it on L.A. traffic — Redman was late getting to the venue and ran from parking lot to stage. Despite his set starting about an hour after expected, the crowd waited patiently and was rewarded with classics like “Da Rocwilder,” “Time 4 Sum Aksion” and “Da Goodness,” delivered in true showman fashion, accompanied by a DJ, keyboardist, drummer and guitar player.
Redman took the turntables himself at one point to make way for DJ Kool, who did his now mandatory party track “Let Me Clear My Throat.” He left the stage after doing his part of the Def Squad “Rapper’s Delight” cover to make way for one of the night’s special guests, Talib Kweli. Talib did a quick set that pleased the indie-hip-hop-loving crowd, including the tracks “Move Somethin’ ” and “Get By.”
Nas, in an extremely rare West Coast appearance, made it to the stage after 10 p.m. His caravan pulled right up to the steps of the stage, which throngs of people were hanging out in front of and behind. Nas ran on to the sounds of his last album’s title track, “Street’s Disciple,” moving the lyrics around a bit and repeating the phrase “this ain’t 50″ twice for added emphasis. The crowd went crazy for “Got Ur Self A … ,” followed by a medley of gems from Illmatic that included “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” “The World Is Yours,” “Represent” and “Life’s a Bitch.”
Nas kept fans up, taking them through his seemingly endless catalog of singles before finally getting to the meat of the show — a series of beefs. He did “Ether,” his classic battle track directed at Jay-Z, but asked his DJ, LES, not to play Jay’s name, saying, “Don’t say his name. We love him.” Most of the crowd screamed out “50 Cent!” in place of Jay-Z, showing support instead for his latest feud. At the conclusion of the song, Nas informed the crowd that he has another one coming out later this year about somebody else, then went into the first bars of his latest track, “MC Burial,” rapping, “They say Jada defeated him/ Joe too street for him/ What’s next, I guess, it’s for Nas to ether him.”
On a peaceful note, Nas showed that the Queensbridge/ South Bronx beef is old news as special guest KRS-One joined him onstage. KRS-One complimented Nas, saying he truly is “God’s Son,” then went on to assault the crowd with old-school bangers like “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” and “South Bronx.” After a long a cappella conclusion that showcased his “temple of hip-hop” brethren, it was time to make way for Wu-Tang.
Taking the stage almost at the midnight curfew, concert organizer Guerrilla Union allowed the show to go on well past 12:30 a.m. to give Ghostface and Raekwon time to bless the crowd. Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Raekwon’s classic album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the duo barreled through their best collabos as well as solo joints.
Ghostface hit big with Ironman’s “Daytona 500″ and Raekwon reminded us of how he cooked it up in 1995 with “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” The RZA also joined his fam onstage, running through Wu Tang tracks like “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “It’s Yourz.”
Ghostface stopped the show to remind everyone of last year’s historic Rock the Bells, for which Wu Tang Clan performed for one of the last times with the entire original lineup (see “Original Wu-Tang Clan Lineup Reunites At Cali Hip-Hop Fest” ), including the fallen ODB (see “Rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard Dies” ). To honor Dirty, they brought out one of ODB’s teenage sons to join them in doing “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”
The plug was pulled just after Ghost and his Theodore Unit gave a taste of his upcoming LP, which he promised to have out later this year. The RZA encouraged the crowd to throw up one last “W” before heading to the parking lot after more than 12 hours of music. Despite the insanely sweltering heat, the solid day of hip-hop left fans with, as Ghost would say, “happiness in globs.”
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.