Rap City: Rock the Bells 2012

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Black Hippy

Dickies. Bucket hats. Carson, CA tees. Gold chains and a small flat top. Black Hippy was in the amphitheatre. The group came out one at a time, essentially in the (ascending) order that most would rank each MC.

The audience members loved Jay Rock’s homegrown anthems. Ab-Soul was in a conscious coma as he dropped bars from two of the best tracks on Control System (“Terrorist Threats” and “Pineal Gland”). Schoolboy Q took the stage while everyone sparked up and hashtagged “#BETiGOTSUMWEED.” And being that Q used the stage better than his cohorts, sprinting from one end to the other, “There He Go” was never a more appropriate chant.

Kendrick closed out the solo round, clad in his customary blood red apparel, dropping knowledge with a single filled set (“The Recipe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “A.D.H.D.”).

After Kendrick, the Cali quartet returned to shut shit down together, like a four man team that can take on your best five MCs one man down. The TDE takeover was complete.

— James Bell

 

DJ Quik

The legendary DJ Quik was in the motherfucking house. We knew that when he jumped on stage in red Adidas gear from head to toe. What we didn’t know was whether everyone’s favorite pimp-turned-rapper, Suga Free, was going to make it. Between classics like “Tonite” and “Can You Work With That,” Quik told us that his partner in rhyme was stuck on the freeway. The crowd took one big hit of the Bay air to ease the temporary stress.

As the anticipation mounted, Quik did a lap through the crowd as the portly security folks in his wake nearly had coronaries. Once back on stage, Quik let his DJ rock the one’s and two’s before he decided to jump behind the decks himself.

The two stopped bullshittin once Suga Free bounded on stage, his silky smooth ponytail swaying behind him. He performed his perennial jam, “Why You Bullshittin’” and reminisced about the time a woman literally fainted before his feet at a restaurant in Oakland.

The duo left the stage ten minutes before their set ended only to reappear minutes later for one last track. Quik and Free planned their encore in a setting that didn’t allow for it. That’s showmanship.

— James Bell

 

A$AP Mob

Dressed in runway-worthy threads and rapping with furious energy, A$AP Mob showed the audience what it really means to be “that pretty motherfucker.” The word “swag” is now a household term, but A$AP Rocky and his collective’s emergence onto the indie rap scene last year signalled the melting of some of the genre’s gender barriers with this snappy noun. It was like hip-hop and high fashion renewed their marriage vows, and rappers began to aspire to an edgy sophistication that was clean and cutting edge rather than veering towards gaudy or gangster extremes.

During the performance, one by one, members of the collective appeared on stage and performed individual songs before their most famous member, Rocky, magnetized the crowd with his forceful stage presence. His exaggerated stance, like that of a toy soldier, and his neck-vein-bulging delivery had the audience happily chanting that trendy four-letter word until the end. The high-energy performance reaffirmed that A$AP Rocky deserves the acclaim he has received so far and gave high hopes for his forthcoming projects.

— Nastia Voynovskaya

 

Salt-n-Pepa

Before Salt-n-Pepa’s set, I heard so much macho womanizer talk coming from various performers that I thought about playing a drinking game called “Ass and Titties.” Of course, if I drank every time a rapper mentioned these words, I would have missed these legendary female MCs perform due to alcohol poisoning, so I decided against it. It behooves me to point out how unfortunate it is that Salt-n-Pepa were the only female performers at the festival’s three incarnations in Southern California, the Bay Area and the East Coast. With that said, they delivered a powerful, entertaining set that proved once again that women should be included as prominent voices in hip-hop.

With two hunky male backup dancers by their sides, the ladies laid down their fast-paced raps along to nostalgia-inducing beats from the b-boy-and-girl era. Though based on a somewhat hackneyed premise, their mid-song skits brought laughs as Pepa (who was dressed in bedazzled, orange booty shorts) bragged about her play-girl antics while Salt (who donned a work-appropriate pant suit) brought her hubby on stage and reminisced about the power of monogamous love.

 — Nastia Voynovskaya

Tyga

Sure, Tyga racked up (get it?) some top rap hits this year, but his true talent and street credibility seemed dubious after the release of his heavily-delayed, sort-of cliche first album, Careless World: Rise of the Last King. All doubts were dispelled, however, during his performance at Rock the Bells. The first thing you need to know is that Tyga was given a horrible mid-afternoon set time that took place before anyone really got to the festival. The second thing you need to know is that any setbacks he might have had didn’t even matter, because Tyga unquestionably turned it out.

The scrappy rapper energetically bounced around the stage — dressed in an impeccable outfit, I might add — not skipping a beat or losing his breath. His small body exuded so much positive energy that his radio hits — like the infamous “Rack City” and “Make It Nasty” — soared throughout the amphitheater, inciting pelvises to rotate and booties to bounce. Well-known Oakland rapper D-Lo even made a guest appearance on stage to perform his song “No Hoe” to many ladies’ delight.

— Nastia Voynovskaya

 

Wu-Block

The original Tony Stark didn’t get paid for his work on the silver screen. He cut his teeth on the streets of Shaolin and became the Ironman who made cream for dropping science in his dyed Wallabees.

Draped killa bee black and yellow on an early Saturday evening, Ghostface did look like  a superhero next to Sheek Louch, the (D-) Block of Wu-Block. Ghost spit classics like “Apollo Kids” and “Cherchez La Ghost,” waving his black sweat towel as if he were a matador. And the bulls obeyed, apparently, as a five person brawl (four men and one ‘tough like leather’ woman broke) out two feet from my dome midway through the set.

ODB’s son, Boy Jones, came out for “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and Raekwon did “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” among other Wu bangas (“C.R.E.A.M.” and “Ice Cream”). D-Block performed a few songs, I think. But when the Wu is in the house, it’s a Wu show.

As the beat for “Ice Cream” dropped, all the real heads put their Wu signs in the air, forming what looked like one giant Cuban link. Ghost closed by saying “This is real hip-hop. No skinny jeans shit.” In other words, Wu-Tang is forever.

— James Bell

 

Ice Cube

Though he has been cast in gimmicky Hollywood comedies, Ice Cube can channel his “straight-outta-Compton” self so convincingly that the time between his Rock the Bells set and the ’90s gangster era seemed to evaporate. Sporting shades and a short afro, the legendary West Coast rapper exuded so much badassitude that it dripped from his pores. Bodies rocked to the instantly-recognizable, funky beat of “Check Yo Self,” and Ice Cube rhymed with impeccable clarity and unbreakable hardness.

As one of the headlining acts, Ice Cube went over his allotted set time, which had already started to seem like it was longer than it needed to be. For his last two songs, he even brought his sons out on stage.

But the Cube family’s rapping to a mediocre song about fucking bitches seemed slightly awkward and maybe even slightly incestuous. The lame closing numbers notwithstanding, Ice Cube delivered the requisite hits to make the audience’s neurons fire with tasty nostalgia. His Mac Dre tribute and praise for Bay Area rap were also pluses.

— Nastia Voynovskaya


Atmosphere

Slug looked out into the crowd and he knew. The crowd wanted some of that old Atmosphere shit.

After asking the crowd to visualize him sticking a hand up a horse’s ass and pulling out some petrified shit, he dropped  “God’s Bathroom Floor,” a song he claims to have written in ‘95, making it older than the row of girls to my left singing along.

Keeping his sad clown smile on throughout the set, Slug controlled the crowd like a true road warrior. Tracks from Lucy Ford, Seven’s Travels, and God Loves Ugly  all had their place. “Guns and Cigarettes” moved hands left and right, as Slug vibed out with his producer/DJ, Tarantino look-alike, Ant. And “God Loves Ugly” beat through the speakers like heavy raindrops on wet Minneapolis pavement.

Throughout, it was clear that Atmosphere still resonates with fans just as much as they did in the early-aughts. During “Little Man,” a song about divorce and raising a child while trying to go on tour, I saw a few glassy eyed head nodders, including one girl crying her eyes out and rhyming every word. It was beautiful. It was the Atmosphere.

— James Bell