SAN BERNARDINO, California — Southern Californians are notorious for arriving late and leaving early, but an estimated 20,000 hip-hop fans didn’t want to miss a second of Saturday’s Rock the Bells festival.
Tributes were paid and history was made, as hip-hop living legends, surprise guests and a record-breaking performance gave the fans a whole lot more than they could have ever imagined.
Fans have come to expect the unexpected from Rock the Bells, now in its third year. But when special guest Lauryn Hill took the stage, fan reaction was lukewarm, to be kind.
Earlier, Talib Kweli got the crowd moving to his blend of street poetry and socially conscious flow. Mos Def followed, serving up a satisfying but extra-long performance, which left many in the audience starving for the headlining heavyweights, Wu-Tang Clan.
So when a live band began playing smoothed-out jazz grooves, many fans unwillingly put down their “W” hand signals. Hill emerged onstage to light applause and “Wu-Tang!” chants — not exactly the raucous ovation expected for the woman many regard as the greatest female MC of all time. She told the crowd that she just wanted to come by and do a song or two, delivering “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Lost Ones” and the Fugees’ “How Many Mics.”
Then the fans got what they’d been waiting for. Wu-Tang’s rabid army of fans didn’t need any cues to thrust their “W” hand signs proudly into the air, as sirens wailed and the Shaolin warriors brought the ruckus as hungrily as ever.
Before assaulting the stage, Method Man called this show a “Dirty-versary,” dedicating it to the late Wu soldier, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (see “RZA Eulogizes At ODB’s Funeral: ’He Was A Unique Soul’ “ ). The fans waved and nodded to every beat and verse, as Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am and onetime tourmate Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine joined in.
The day had already featured several surprises. Earlier, De La Soul’s Posdnuos and Trugoy had brought out some fellow backpacker vets not on the lineup. Dres of Black Sheep joined De La Soul for “The Choice Is Yours” and Phife Dawg came out for a medley of A Tribe Called Quest hits, including “Buggin’ Out,” “Check the Rhime” and “Award Tour.”
De La gave way to Redman, who, in between moving the crowd with hits like “Time 4 Sum Aksion” and “Diggy Doc,” told the crowd he had partied too much and left his luggage in Brick City. He asked whoever could spare some “extra drawers and socks” to meet him at his dressing room. Upon finishing his set and returning to his trailer, Red was later seen smiling broadly with women’s thongs draped over his head.
Not counting Red’s dressing-room antics and the mainstage performers, much of the festival’s action came from the adjacent VIP ballroom, where rapper Supernatural set out to make history by breaking the “Guinness Book of World Records” mark for longest freestyle. Supernat’s goal was to break the standing record of eight hours and 45 minutes and flow for nine hours. He designed the stage to match his living room — complete with coffee table, leather couches, bottles of Heineken and Hennessy — and a dictionary for inspiration.
With DJs Rhettmatic, Icy Ice and Rocky Rock among others rotating turntable responsibilities throughout the day, Supernat looked to the crowd to keep him going. He placed a dry-erase board by the stage for audience members to jot down ideas and even asked some to hand him items in their pockets that he could work into his rhymes. Fans gave him money, fake cannabis and even batteries.
Supernatural didn’t need the batteries, as he spit then spit some more, building up a serious rasp in his voice while pumping up the swelling audience as it witnessed history. When the beat ended, Supernatural had his record — freestyling straight for nine hours and 12 minutes.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.