Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: Rock the Bells 2009

Please welcome special guest reviewer and avid hip hop fan, Jason Tomassini, for his take on Sunday's Rock the Bells.

If there was one thing to take away from Rock the Bells at Merriweather yesterday, it's that Wu Tang Clan is, indeed, not something to fuck with. And for that matter, neither is the slew of early 90s rap veterans that joined Wu members in the name of "real hip-hop" at the annual summer rap smorgasbord.

If you're not sure what real hip hop actually is, almost everyone at RTB would like you to believe it's them. Talib Kweli, Common, Big Boi, The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Nas -- one-by-one on the main stage, they all extolled the virtues of their own authenticity, as opposed to the new school of half-singing, half-rapping, always-Polo-sweatering, post Kanye Auto-tuners who the OGs believe are ruining the game.

It's a rift that's been growing in hip-hop for a minute now, but Jay-Z's recent "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" track has seemingly given old-school rappers the go-ahead to bash the new whippersnappers in broad daylight.

KRS-One called out Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy and laughed when he asked the crowd if they wanted to see Kanye West on next year's Rock the Bells and they all booed.

And in possibly the most overt defense of "real hip hop," Wu Tang member Inspectah Deck -- during a cameo on the second stage to join Raekwon for riot-inciting versions of Wu classics "C.R.E.A.M." and "Triumph" -- absolutely punked Joe Budden, who had played on the same stage just minutes before. Budden, a part Slaughterhouse, a new rap "super" group (as super as you consider talented, but B-list rappers, Royce Da 5-9, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I to be), has been in a minor feud with fellow Wu Tang-er Method Man. So from the original rap supergroup to one that surely doesn't belong, Inspectah told Budden in no uncertain terms, to go fuck himself. And the crowd, even though they had given a nice ovation to Slaughterhouse when they played the second stage minutes before, ate it up.

Raekwon's set, despite being relegated to the second stage, was the best of the day, but few tunes you've heard on the radio in the past three months... or years.

Common played an amazing set, including classics like "I Used to Love H.E.R." and a killer freestyle over Be closer "It's Your World," but played one song from his past two albums, thankfully so because they are atrocious. Busta Rhymes ran through abbreviated versions of at least 15 of his hits with veteran swagger that had a sun/weed/beer soaked crowd hyped, but only one off an album that he released last month. Headliner Nas, in absence of last-minute cancellation Damian Marley, played about half of his masterpiece, Illmatic, even enlisting surprise appearances from AZ, Styles P and Pharoah Monche. But he too pandered to the nostalgic crowd, playing only one song each from his past two albums.

And in one of most exhilirating moments I've ever seen at a rap concert, M.O.P. played their firestarter "Ante Up" causing an actual mosh pit of about 20 amped dudes at 4 p.m. outside the second stage. But, the 2001 hit was the most recent song they played.

Not that I'm complaining, the day featured at least 20 bona fide, all-time hip hop classics, but judging by RTB, "real hip hop" may just be a code term for "old hip hop." And with it becoming harder and harder for rappers not named Lil Wayne or Kanye to make any actual money from record sales, you also have to wonder if these hip hop legends don't stop living off their 90s classics, whether RTB will become a sort of touring hip-hop museum. A place where fans can go to wile out to the hits from their childhood and where "real hip hop" artists are insulated from the "real hip hop" industry. But only until the haze of smoke clears and everyone is bumping T-Pain in the parking lot.

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