The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest join Nas and many more at annual festival in San Bernardino
Hip-hop festival Rock the Bells has long been noted for historic reunions –the last show of the entire Wu-Tang Clan in 2004 and incendiary rockers Rage Against the Machine last year – and the August 11 show at the San Manuel Amphitheatre in San Bernardino was no different with the return of all four members of The Pharcyde.
The South L.A. collective of Fatlip, Imani, Bootie Brown and SlimKid3 came to the stage to thunderous applause and opened with their classic hit “Runnin,” as the video played on the stage monitor. It may have been more than a decade since their last show, but they performed like they had never taken time off.
In the middle of the set, Fatlip poked fun at his departure – rumored to have been spurred by drug use and jealousy – by performing a cover of Bobby Brown’s classic “My Perogative.” As he and his groupmates danced along, he sang the famous hook (“Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, Why won’t they just let me be”) as if he could relate to every word Brown said 20 years ago.
After running through their litany of hits (“Ya Mama”, “Drop” and “She Said”) Power 106 morning host Big Boy - a former bodyguard for the group – came out to get the crowd hyped as the group closed with their classic 1992 hit “Passin Me By”
They weren’t the only group reuniting as A Tribe Called Quest ended the night with their first Southern California show in four years – ironically, at Rock The Bells. Their set began with Q-Tip doing previews of his upcoming album “The Renaissance” and solo Tribe songs “Sucka N***a” and “Excursions” but soon he was joined by members Phife Dawg, Jairobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad as they went right into “Buggin Out,” from “The Low End Theory.”
The crowd may have been tired from nearly 12 hours of performance but they showed love to one of hip-hop’s best groups as they sang every word to classics like “Bonita Applebaum,” “Find A Way” and “Electric Relaxation.”
After last year’s show was dominated by sweltering heat and a crowd more suited to see the reunited Rage rather than The Roots or Public Enemy, this year’s show was sweet redemption to a crowd who came to support hip-hop and enjoy each other.
This was never truer than during Mos Def and Nas’ sets. Both artists underperformed last year, with the latter arriving late to only perform two songs with the Roots, but they redeemed themselves as the day faded into night.
Ever the Renaissance man, Mos Def combined his classic hits “Umi Says” and “Ms. Fat Booty” with soul jams and reggae tunes that kept the crowd on their feet and his stage presence was by far more engaging than last year when he appeared to go through the motions until he was joined by former Black Star mate Talib Kweli.
The same could be true for the legendary wordsmith Nas, who shed his reputation for lackluster performances with an inspired set that showcased songs from nearly every album. Although he said he cared little for politics, the theme ran high as he lit into his material from his latest chart-topping album, the politically charged “Untitled.”
Songs like “Black President,” his Tupac-sampling ode to Barack Obama, and “Sly Fox,” where he called out Fox News for their biased coverage, got the crowd hyped as much as his older hits like “N.Y. State of Mind,” “Made You Look,” and “If I Ruled the World.”
Energy was the key word for this year’s festival. From seeing Rakim deliver his classic laid-back flow to the synergetic partnership of Method Man and Redman, the crowd showered each artist with the love and respect that makes Rock the Bells more than just a concert but a celebration of all things hip-hop.
The only downer came with the day’s surprise guest: The Black Eyed Peas. While the L.A.-based group only performed songs from their first album, Behind the Front, and appeared without singer Fergie, the crowd gave them mixed reviews no doubt feeling they sold out with their pop success.
Many expected an artist that would have fit in line with the show, such as KRS-One or Common, but an earlier surprise was greeted more warmly as L.A. native Murs brought out Compton rapper/producer DJ Quik who briefly performed his 1991 classic “Tonite.”
Prior to Quik’s arrival, Murs had one of the best solo sets of the day as the dreadlocked hero of the underground ran through hits like “H-U-S-T-L-E” and his hometown anthem “L.A.” before debuting new material from his major-label debut “Murs for President” due in September.
In its fifth year, the festival, sponsored by Pomona-based Guerilla Union, has become a must-see event for those who love not just hip-hop music but the culture as well. They always seem to outdo themselves each year and one can only imagine who’ll reunite for next year.
Nas may have said “Hip Hop Is Dead” in 2006 but Rock the Bells remains the shot of adrenaline that keeps fans excited while renewing faith in a genre about too exit its third decade of influence.