SAN BERNARDINO, California -- Hip-hop is so spontaneous that you never know where a historic moment might take place. That wasn't the case Saturday night, however: Guerilla Union informed all of us weeks ago that history would be made on August 21, 2010, in San Bernardino.
It was the kickoff of this year's Rock the Bells Tour, and out of its six previous outings, this one was surely the most inspired and ambitious. The lineup was surreal and a fantasy wish list for hip-hop fans, including Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Slick Rick, Rakim, KRS-One and a returning Lauryn Hill.
Dope! No, this is beyond that. Unbelievable. And to raise the stakes on this outing, all the legendary artists would be performing a classic album from their catalogs. As for Ms. Hill, well, does it matter what she performs? Just seeing her for the first time in more than a decade (or for the first time period, as was the case for most fans at the concert) was a blessing. (Relive the Rock the Bells Tour kickoff minute-by-minute with our live blog over on RapFix!)
Hill stole our hearts in the mid-'90s, originally as part of the Fugees. In a genre dominated by masculinity, Lauryn stood out from her peers as rap's most unique artist. She was astonishingly talented as a vocalist and as an MC, and she could do both seamlessly. The Fugees' The Score made her an international phenomenon, and her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, turned her into an instant legend.
That was 12 years ago, and the new music (as well as concert appearances) have been infamously sparse. On Saturday, even though she came midway through the card, Hill was undoubtedly the must-see event of the night. After Slick Rick performed The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Rakim tackled Paid in Full and KRS-One dropped his Boogie Down productions masterpiece Criminal Minded, Lauryn took the stage.
Hill started with a can't-miss one-two punch of "Lost One" and "Doo-Wop (That Thing)." Backed by a six-piece band and three backup singers, just about all her selections were remixed variations of her classics, with the tempo sped up. This was not a woman who some reports had labeled "crazy." Lauryn was lucid and dancing and appeared to be enjoying herself.
"It's good to see you, everybody!" she said after "Hurts So Bad."
Then, before "Zion," Hill said: "It was 13 years ago I wrote a song about my son. August 3rd. Can you believe that? It's not necessarily easy, but it's beautiful." Lauryn then instructed the band to "make it bounce."
Hill ended where her career began -- with the Fugees -- rapping "Ready or Not" and "Fugee La." When she exited, an undercurrent of fans chanted "Lauryn, Lauryn!" (Hill's performance is igniting debate over on our RapFix blog!)
A Tribe Called Quest had fans yelling "Thank you!" Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad performed several selections from their timeless Midnight Marauders and threw in a few surprises. One of the original members, Jarobi, came out for "Can I Kick It?," and Busta Rhymes (accompanied by Spliff Star) made an appearance with his banger "Stop the Party." Q-Tip rapped his lines from "The Scenario" over the beat, then the track switched to the actual "Scenario" beat. Bust went on a rampage during his star-making verse from the song. Rhymes, Spliff and Jarobi stayed onstage for the last two numbers: "Check the Rhyme" and "Award Tour."
Wu-Tang was next with their 36 Chambers LP, and filling in for Ol' Dirty Bastard was the "Young Dirty Bastard," Dirt's eldest son Boy Jones. Jones embodied his pop's mannerisms and rebellious spirit, jumping off the stage and performing "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" with no shirt on. Jones also wore the same hairstyle as Dirty sported on his solo debut cover.
The set of the night however belonged to the last act: Snoop Dogg performed Doggystyle and brought out his DPGC family Kurupt, Daz, Warren G, Lady of Rage and RBX. The Dogg utilized the big screen onstage to unveil mini-movies for each skit on his album. Dr. Dre appeared on one skit, telling his friend to do an old-school song. Snoop took that opportunity to step out of Doggystyle and do "The Next Episode." The energy for Snoop's set was at a high pitch for every song. Even though some members of the crowd were on their feet for more than 10 hours, everyone showed love.
There was an amazing exchange during "Ain't No Fun" and "Regulate," during which everyone sang Nate Dogg's part ("you better be ready," Snoop laughed, telling Warren G, who wasn't aware the record was in the set list); the gangster crooner is still recovering from multiple strokes.
Other highlights of the Dogg's set included "Doggy Dogg World" and "What's My Name." He started with "Gin and Juice" and "ended" with "What's My Name," but we all know a Dogg Pound party don't stop, so Pharrell Williams appeared on the video screen in a tux singing his parts of "Minnie the Moocher." He then did a call-and-response of Snoop's name with the audience, before Snoop tackled "Drop It Like It's Hot" and "I Wanna Rock."
Were you at the show? What were your favorite moments? Let us know in the comments!