By Lathleen Ade-Brown
Although Rock the Bells 2012 shared the same weekend schedule (Sept 1-2) as Jay-Z’s Budweiser-sponsored Made in America Festival, a massive crowd of staunch hip-hop lovers still flocked to the PNC Arts Center in New Jersey. Boasting a line-up of some of hip-hop’s most revered artists such as Nas, Big Daddy Kane and Ice Cube the two-day festival managed to attract concert goers mostly in their 20’s. This proves the longevity of the genre.
“What did Biggie say?” RZA, the mastermind behind Wu-Tang quizzed the audience on the festival’s opening night, after an impressive set on the main-stage with Wu-Block. “Remember Rappin’ Dukes, duh-ha duh-ha, you never thought that hip-hop would take it this far,” he stretched one arm out to the crowd to briefly chat about hip-hop’s progression. “Yo! We came from the streets of poverty, now you see us on stages and stadiums,” he went on to say, “I’m about to take hip-hop to one more chamber, I’m going to take it to the silver screen.” RZA couldn’t resist plugging in his directorial debut "The Man with The Iron Fists" due out November 2. Expect more future films from your favorite hip-hop artists; Ice Cube who simultaneously performed on the 36 Chambers stage donned in all black and rocking an Afro announced the NWA biopic film he has in the works.
Just a few hours before Wu-Block, Salt-N-Pepa took the main-stage; their performance was impressive yet preachy, the legendary duo made sure to declare their love for God and encourage everyone to attend church. Jersey natives Naughty by Nature performed on the 36 Chambers stage curated by RZA while 2 Chainz, Jadakiss and Future were other artists who performed on the main stage.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony took to the main stage—putting on a lengthy performance later closing their set with their 1996 hit ‘Tha Crossroads,’ while a slideshow of the late rapper Eazy-E projected across the screen. Without question, the best performance of day 1 was Method Man and Redman who were a comical burst of energy. The duo expressed their frustrations with hip-hop today; Method Man claimed the younger generation of rappers are more concerned with themselves instead of the consumer. He even poked fun at the word ‘swag’ and suggested that there shouldn’t be a slew of hype-men on stage during a performance. He compared today’s performances with back-in-the-day, “it was just an emcee, a microphone and two turntables,” he said. Redman revealed that he and Method Man were planning the sequel to their film "How High" and were fresh out of a meeting for it.
DMX closed out day 1 sans a hype-man with surprise guest Drag-on who simply sauntered across the stage for what seemed like two minutes before disappearing.
Day 2 (Sept 2) was murky as the rain left the amphitheatre inundated with water. The lower level was flooded and fans were agitated. The long intermission between acts added to the agitation but once Slaughterhouse, Common, J.Cole & Nas (in that order) illuminated the stage—all was forgiven. Common rocked the stage—also sans a hype-man, performing records off Universal Mind Control and Be. He also serenaded a lucky audience member who had the pleasure of having Common nibble on her cheeks. J.Cole demonstrated a lot of growth in his stage presence when he took the stage. He was in awe at the fact that Nas would soon be touching the same stage as him.
Nas did the honors of closing the final stop of the Rock the Bells tour. With a backdrop of Queensbridge Housing Projects Nas gave his set his all—performing songs from his catalog ranging from Illmatic to Life is Good. He summoned Large Professor and Scarface to the stage, but the real treat came when he brought out Lauryn Hill midway through his performance. The crowd erupted when pint-sized Hill joined Nas on ‘If I Rule the World.’ Despite her tax troubles the singer appeared happy and full of energy. Nas took off to change clothes while Hill took over—the crowd didn’t mind. Adorned in flowing pink pants and a fitted leather coat Hill performed ‘Lost Ones,’ ‘Fu-Gee-La,’ & ‘Doo Wop That Thing.’ Like Hill often does, she reminded the crowd that she’s been gone for a long time but she is back now. “Love you, miss you,’ said Hill before taking off.
Hip-hop mogul Chris Lighty was the closing subject to most of the artists who performed during the two-day festival. Common, Raekwon, Nas & others paid tribute to Lighty by instructing the crowd to throw a peace sign in the air. Method Man & Redman even remembered they were in the hometown of singer Whitney Houston and shouted a rest-in-peace to her.
@Lathleen is a New York City Based Freelance Writer