When you initially looked at this year's Rock the Bells Tour lineup, it seemed almost too good to be true. It's not like fans didn't have faith in the outing's promoters, Guerilla Union — they've delivered time and time again. Acts such as Nas, Rage Against the Machine, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and two of this year's headliners, A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan, have all set foot on the main stage in the previous six outings of RTB. Still, the tour this year is more than historic. It's a once-in-a-lifetime epic, as the artists are performing their classic albums in their entireties.
Slick Rick has been performing his The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Rakim does Paid in Full, Lauryn Hill does selections from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as well as the Fugees' The Score. Want more? KRS-One perform Boogie Down Productions' Criminal Minded, the Wu do Enter the 36 Chambers, Tribe do Midnight Marauders and Snoop Dogg closes it out with Doggystyle. To see all of those classics, all of those LPs, which could easily make up a Best 10 Rap Albums of All-Time list, be performed within a 12-hour span, is absolutely surreal. The tour kicked off on Saturday night in San Bernardino, California, and for many fans, it was like seeing the soundtrack to their lives right in front of their faces.
"This is something we had thrown around for a while," Chang Weisberg of Guerilla Union, the tour's organizer and promoter, said last week in Los Angeles. "We'd been talking about it for a while with the squad. It became a reality during last year's Smoke Out [festival]. Cypress Hill did Black Sunday in its entirety for the Smoke Out. It went over so crazy, that was the solidifying moment when we said we've definitely gotta do this for Rock the Bells. We talked to managers and artists immediately, seeing if people were really into it. Any time you're sitting around and talking about Rock the Bells, you're talking about what these kids are dreaming about. It's always a question, whose record is better? What's a top-five record? Who's the top-five MC? Then, when you throw it in all together and couple it with what are the most classic records of all time, it was undeniable.
"It's something you see classic rock bands do," Chang added. "Like, you see Pink Floyd do The Wall. Or outside of the hip-hop genre, it's something that might be a lot more common. Here, it's an opportunity to do a whole new reign. Kids are already saying, 'We wanna see Illmatic or Paul's Boutique.' People weren't thinking like that. As a promoter, I don't think I've asked artists 'Would you do this song?' as opposed to 'Would you do this whole record?' Fortunately, we were close enough to these camps that they knew we were serious and it would be an amazing thing if we could pull it off."
Snoop Dogg, who's the last act to perform every night on this year's tour, says he was excited to be a part of this event.
"I was a fan of KRS and Rakim and Eric B and Slick Rick. All the rappers that's getting down before me and whatnot. I'm thinking I'm opening up for them," Snoop, surrounded by Daz, Kurupt, Lady of Rage, DJ Battlecat, Warren G and RBX, said. "I grew up buying their records and being fans of theirs. It's an honor to be on the same stage with them. When [Guerilla Union] asked, I said I'm rolling. They told me what it was. I said I don't want to just get onstage and perform my album, I wanna make it an experience. I wanna bring out the theatrics to the album. Doggystyle is like a journey. I want people to see it and feel it and when they leave be like 'We seen a movie.' "
Snoop definitely goes hard in the paint with mini-movies, a live band and, of course, his crew from the album.
Probably the most surprising act for people to see is Lauryn Hill. For the past decade, her music releases and stage appearances have been kept at a minimum. Chang says he and his company were lucky enough to have close ties with the music legend.
"We were blessed in that we've worked with Lauryn for a number of years and we've stayed close with her and her camp," he explained. "Ultimately, she's in a space where she's excited about music. Her children are old enough where she can hit the road comfortably. We are very fortunate she decided to do it. We always hold Lauryn as one of the best MCs of all time. It was awesome when she said she would do it. She sat with it for a while. At the end of the day, we were fortunate she agreed to do it."
As huge as the talent pool of this year's Rock the Bells is, it originally had yet another timeless act scheduled for the tour.
"The first confirmation for Rock the Bells, it's no secret, it was Run-DMC," Chang revealed. "We had Run-DMC doing Raising Hell. It was going to be Raising Hell at Rock the Bells. It didn't work out, but fortunately [there were] enough other groups to pull off the vision that we felt comfortable with when we made our announcement."
Rock the Bells continued in San Francisco on Sunday night, and this Saturday, the tour stops in New York. The last day of the tour is on Sunday in Washington, D.C. Besides the pioneers on the main stage, the Clipse, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, Immortal Technique and Yelawolf are among the acts appearing on the "Paid Dues" stage.
What did you think of this year's Rock the Bells concept? Let us know in the comments!