One of the best things to ever happen to live Hip Hop was
the creation of Rock The Bells. Founded by promotions company Guerilla
Union, which had collaborated with Cypress Hill on their annual
multi-act Smokeout concert, Rock The Bells began as a single-day music
festival in Southern California in 2004, headlined by Wu-Tang Clan and
featuring “alternative” Hip Hop artists like Eyedea & Abilities,
Sage Francis and Dilated Peoples. That fall, Rock The Bells also
presented a fest in Anaheim featuring A Tribe Called Quest at the top of
the bill. From there, the festival has grown and extended its brand,
presenting a club tour in 2006 and, in 2007, making the festival a
package tour in the spirit of the original Lollapalooza (it went
international the following year).
Last year, Rock The Bells’ “Festival Series” was scaled
back to just four dates (two on each coast) and introduced one of its
strongest selling points — classic artists performing classic albums in
Among the highlights — Snoop Dogg performing Doggystyle with the late Warren G and other Dogg Pound members; Wu-Tang doing Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, Boy Jones; and KRS-One, Rakim and Slick
Rick re-creating their albums that helped shape Hip Hop to come. The
four-date 2011 fest series (which began last weekend) features more
heavyweight artists playing their legendary full-lengths, including
Lauryn Hill, Nas and Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s Black Star.
This year’s club tour version of RTB showcases two other
acts performing on the 2011 fest dates — Wu-Tang’s Raekwon, who is
joined by Wu pal/collaborator Ghostface to re-create his 1995 solo
debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and Mobb Deep, who will deliver its breakthrough ’95 set The Infamous from start to finish.
The full-album-live concept is a cool twist to shake
things up for fans and artists’ touring regimens, but is there a danger
that the trend might trap some acts in nostalgia at the cost of new
material? Maybe. While Mobb Deep is working on a new release, Raekwon is
coming off touring duties for his latest release — Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt. II.
And his other big project? A movie about his past (starring Cee Lo
Green as his father). Seems The Chef’s future will have to wait until
his legacy victory lap runs its course.