Were the bells rockin’?

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By Jonathan Duran

By Jonathan Duran

It was a hot day; hellish. It was one huge square of molten asphalt with a stage at one end and overpriced drinks at the other. The stage blocked the toilets, the live art was minimalized, but attendance was up.

Apart from the drink prices and live art by Chor, which I experienced firsthand, the rest is hearsay. My girl bought VIP tickets to the annual Hip Hop show, Rock the Bells, which combusted on Aug. 5 at the Nos Events Center, formerly the Orange Show.

For the record, VIP means VIP. Giant awnings. Leather couches. Huge fans with misters built in. Buffet line with real chefs. Private bars. Free T-shirt, poster, drink tickets, and a backpack which my girl refuses to take off (she feels special in it).

And best of all, a private room with Rock the Bells host Supernatural attempting to break the Guinness world record for worlds longest freestyle (previously set at 8 hours 45 minutes by MC D.O.)

For those of you who didn’t have your head deep enough in the ground to pick up the vibe, here’s the lineup: MP3 band, Dirty Heads, Planet Asia from Fresno, Murs 3:16 from LA, Self Scientific, the Visionaries, and B Real of Cypress Hill.

Also, there was the once underground Dilated Peoples, Del the Funky Homosapien, Immortal Technique from NY/Peru, Aesop Rock, the Living Legends, the legendary De La Soul, Redman, Special Guest Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and finally, Wu Tang with tribute to ODB.

Here’s my breakdown.

The show itself began late, (who would have thunk it), and was slow building steam. I relaxed on private bleachers with friends and a way too strong Hennessey and Coke which I coerced from a bartender.

Did MP3 and Dirty Heads even play? Sorry, I don’t recall.

Planet Asia managed to shift the gears from neutral to first with his vicious intelligence and Fresno reminiscences, with follow up Self Scientific maintaining the pace.

Murs 3:16 came on and was kind enough to remind everyone not to mix any illegal substances and to drink alcohol only after it cooled down. It never cooled down. Then he rocked the stage the way one would imagine and we were in second gear as I cruised the artist’s booths looking for freebees. I found contraceptives. Nice.

The Visionaries are always the Visionaries. I’ve never seen them do a bad show. They make it easy to shout, “I don’t give a __ ’cause I love hip hop.”

Who’s next? Hmm? Oh yeah, B Real. For the life of me I can’t remember what B Real did, but I do remember seeing Psycho Realm on stage gesturing and postulating violently with ski masks on.


Dilated held on to its underground heads by playing classics while advancing its pop-rap aspirations with its “new” stuff. At least we’ll always have the Platform.

Next up: Del, who I have personally seen at raves with little people and transvestite go-go dancers. He pimped out his classics sounding as fresh and as raw as ever. I just don’t know why he did his hygiene cut. “Or else your ass’ll be funky, hell yeah.” Regardless, we were in third gear.

Barely half way through the lineup and I hate to admit it but we may have topped out.

Immortal Technique, the Peruvian military hospital born, New York-based Revolutionary rapper seriously wrecked the audience’s mindset by confronting them with a lot of the realities people don’t want to see.

With lyrics like, “I calculate planet alignment like Mayan astronomy/Discovering atrocities worst than Aristotle/Subjecting children to sodomy/Your theory of the galaxy is primitive like Telome/The truth about the universe stuck up like Aztec pottery,” he had the place ringing.

From my position in the VIP (yes, VIP) area you could make out the in-migration of the majority of attendees looking for a spot at the stage while he was there.

Aesop Rock, whom I personally love, failed to impress me as did his wingman, his DJ, and his set. Are you as mad about this as I am? Look there, the crowd, dispersing.

For the record, from here on in, my memory is a bit hazy, clouded, possibly even lost. It was late. We were tired. There were leather couches. Drinks. But we’ll try.

I recall the Living Legends handling business. With indisputable classics ‘banging like hood rides’ the audience had no choice but to throw a hand up and bob their heads.

I’ve never seen them live and I was impressed, even singing along to the cut Loose Cannon:

“He wanted to be an astronaut but he failed/He’s headed to the roof though didn’t want to see jail/barrel in the mouth with no doubts blown out skull/no bull Johnny had his full/Rule number one you can’t spot him/If you think you got him then tell us about him. Tell us about him.”

For the rest of it, you had to be there or call someone who stayed all night. I only know one self described “chica” who did.

I’ve seen Wu Tang before, with Redman, while Ol’ Dirty was still making babies and kicking raps, and I think the CD’s suffice. Killah Priest was at Tremors a few weeks before Rock the Bells and that was dope.

Talib Kweli was cool but I wasn’t as interested as I should have been, and I left while Mos Def was doing his thing; Cheli’s birthday party was that night. But you don’t know Cheli.

I do regret missing Lauryn Hill. I heard she was “awesome.” Maybe next year.

And for the record, Supernatural took that world record with a time somewhere around 9 hours 10 minutes after which he did a “victory lap” by kicking a freestyle and even making an appearance on the main stage to do the same.

He snatched the record from a Canadian so I guess, at least, they’ll always have hockey to keep them cool. We’ll keep the hip hop.

Oh, and the bells WERE rockin’. Peace.

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