If Rock The Bells says one thing about the state of Hip Hop today, it’s that it damn sure ain’t dead. In fact, it’s evolving better than many other genres as it pays homage to the legends of the scene while supporting the new breed of artists. While excitement was reserved for those performing on the main stage, the Paid Dues stage had up and comers like Wiz Khalifa alongside cult artists like Immortal Technique. Once the classic albums began, it became difficult to decide which stage to post at. For the younger fans, particularly those less interested in the Golden Age albums, the second stage won, but for many the appeal of Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang and Snoop Dogg was enough to keep them rooted to the spot for hours.
Those that made the trip to Governor’s Island demonstrated the diversity of Hip Hop. Any stereotype about what typical rap fans look like may as well be forgotten after seeing crowds of people of every colour and creed. Some of which seemed as unlikely to be there as my mother*. Hip Hop fans came in every form, even celebrity. Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick was spotted, as was Chicago Bulls player, Joakim Noah who was hassled for endless pictures. Also in attendance were several local rappers including Roc Marciano and Eternia, while DJ Shortee Blitz was representing the UK.
The festival’s location made it an extra special event. Not only is New York City the home of Hip Hop, it’s also the home of more than half of the artists that performed. The view of the Manhattan skyline from the island served as a constant reminder of the location. For those performing classic albums, it was a definitive sign of how far they’d come.
In the VIP area, massive queues trailed from the Meet & Greet section as fans sacrificed good music for a chance to meet their icon. Separated by a barricade, Slick Rick let many model one of his over sized chains. But KRS 1 proved he is one of the realest in Hip Hop when he jumped the barricade and settled in the heart of the crowd to sign autographs. Tables were pushed over, beer was spilled, white trainers were ruined but complaints were scarce as he posed for pictures.
Joined on stage by Buckshot and Freddie Foxx, KRS 1 delivered one of the most high-energy performances of the day. Between songs he took shots at radio stations, “Hot 97’s wack ass” and the NYPD who flew overhead in a helicopter, “Fuck y’all, keep flying.” Discussing the state of violence in Hip Hop today, he expressed remorse towards his own influence, “I gotta blame myself because I’m so fucking gangsta with it.”
Many festival goers had low expectations when it came to Lauryn Hill’s set so when she not only showed up but did a good job, it was a bonus. Her band mixed acoustic and electronic instruments to give each track a more unique sound. When she performed To Zion, she brought all seven of her children on stage to serenade. After running through classics from The Miseducation, she performed How Many Mics, Fu-Gee-La and Ready Or Not. At the end of her show, Lauryn introduced the backstage supporters, none other than Mary J Blige, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beats, Chris Rock, Jay Z and John Legend on stage.
By the time A Tribe Called Quest graced the stage, the sun had set on Governor’s Island. Though it seemed unlikely to get better, it did. Performing Midnight Marauders, Q Tip and Phife Dawg gave a high-energy performance in which Swizz Beats manned the decks. Spotlights lit up the pair dancing. Eventually the pair played other classic songs, including Can I Kick It, Bonita Applebum and Find A Way, accompanied by a shout out to J Dilla. The crowd waited eagerly until the opening bars to Scenario floated over them and out ran Busta Rhymes, adding another surprise performance to the line up. The real shock came when Large Professor of Main Source came onto the stage to perform Looking At The Front Door.
Wu Tang performed as the full line up with Young Boy Jones taking the place of his father Ol’ Dirty Bastard. During Can It Be All So Simple, the crowd held their lighters in the air in memory of ODB. Later the group performed Triumph and other non-36th Chamber classics. But after a day filled with surprise cameos, the audience expected Redman to appear during Da Rockwilder, when he didn’t, you could sense the disappointment.
By the time Snoop Dogg’s set began, many had left to beat the crowds. To accompany Doggystyle’s skits, Snoop had recorded a set of short films, beginning with a Blaxploitation inspired piece. Snoop performed the majority of the album in order, with Lady of Rage kicking off proceedings before Gin & Juice began, but Lodi Dodi was missed out. By the time Ain’t No Fun began, hundreds of people were heading home.
* I received an angry phone call from my mum for making this comment. She reminded me that not only did she introduce me to Hip Hop, along with my older brother, but she also took me to see KRS 1 when I was eight years old. Not to mention the fact she bought me countless Parental Advisory albums that my peers parents would say no to. Thanks Ma, I take it all back.