Rock the Bells featuring Raekwon

August 31 • Bogarts'

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 their entirety. 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.