NEW YORK — When you ask [artist id=”150232″]Lauryn Hill[/artist] what it feels like to perform in New York City again, the legendary MC/vocalist simply says it’s “something special, home.”
“I thought it was great,” she told MTV News about this year’s Rock the Bells concept , which had each act performing a classic album out of their catalog. “I just wanted to be a part of it. As soon as they asked me, I was like, ’That’s it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it.’ Joshua Boumel and Chang [Weisberg], who are promoters of this particular event, we have a little history. When they asked me, I was honored to be a part of it.”
In hip-hop, your longevity not only depends on your talent, but it also hinges on how deeply you pierce the people’s souls. Many fans don’t let an artist last a year without putting out music before they forget all about them and move on. A testament to Lauryn Hill’s opuses — The Score with the Fugees and her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill — is that everyone is still anticipating what she will do next, though she hasn’t put out a studio album since 1998.
And while Rakim, KRS-One, Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest perform classic albums from their catalog at this year’s Rock the Bells — which concludes Sunday (August 29) in Washington, D.C. — most of us have seen these icons in the past decade. Many of us haven’t seen Hill touch the stage in the past 10 years, and some have never seen her perform at all.
“Lauryn Hill, man,” Rakim said in his trailer last week at the RTB kickoff show in San Bernardino, California, when asked who he wanted to see. “I haven’t seen her in a while. I know it’s going to be a memorable thing. I’m amped. Lauryn, welcome back. We need you.”
Saturday night, when Rock the Bells touched down on New York’s Governor’s Island, tens of thousands of fans came out, and so did a multitude of celebrities. Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Swizz Beatz, Chris Rock, Alicia Keys, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael Ealy, John Legend, Tracy Morgan and Estelle were among the stars attending as fans.
“It was still amazing to watch her and her see her home in New York,” Estelle said backstage. “I’m a big kid again.”
Toward the end of her set — which included some Score songs and a few surprises, in addition to Miseducation tracks — Hill invited her children and some of the A-list attendees to the stage. During a reggae breakdown of “Fugee La,” Hill brought out Mary J. Blige. Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz and Chris Rock soon followed.
“Where’s Jay?” Hill said. “C’mon, man, this is New York.” And so the Jiggaman came out and saluted the fans. Next was John Legend and Jerry Wonder.
“It was love back. Love back. Love back,” Hill said later in her trailer about the parade of stars. Outside, Busta Rhymes — who was a guest performer of A Tribe Called Quest — came and said hello to her kids. “Reciprocity. It was wonderful to see everybody. I was so touched. I wanted everybody else to share in that moment. I wanted everybody else to see them.”
Hill said Rock the Bells was the perfect place for her to express some of her feelings, and she used the opportunity to drop some new rhymes and new variations on her classics. She also got a chance to reconnect to the fans. “I miss you. I miss you,” she repeated at the end of her set.
After Hill, A Tribe Called Quest continued the body-the-venue campaign they started in the West Coast shows — the crew from Queens was in sync like they never disbanded. They bodied the stage, killed it, with a smorgasbord of hits. The Large Professor and Busta Rhymes came out. Wu-Tang Clan also showed the tremendous energy that earns them an invitation to perform at Rock the Bells just about every year. And headliner Snoop showed why he got the closing spot. The Dogg had the most polished and elaborate sets of the tour.
“Rock the Bells is one of those few remaining hip-hop banners, concerts tours,” Hill said after the show. “We have the Summer Jams and things like that, but as far as independent festivals for hip-hop, they’re kind of some of the last people standing doing it. It’s an honor to be a part of it. Look at the company: awesome. Everybody’s doing it.”
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