Much like on day one of the festivities, the California heat was present for Rock the Bells on the second day of the event. Where 2 Chainz, J. Cole and Kid Cudi finished the night out on Saturday, Atmosphere, Ice Cube, Wiz Khalifa and Nas ended the show on Sunday. Seeing those names alone shows the range and diversity found at Rock the Bells, mirrored by the multicultural crowd of all ages.
As the afternoon began to unfold, Psycho Realm made sure it got wild. The Psycho faithful withstood the rays to rhyme along with Sick Jacken and Cynic. Meanwhile, the main stage welcomed DJ Lance Rock & Friends, which included a special appearance by Biz Markie.
Soon after, Virginia’s own Pusha T entered the Paid Dues stage sporting a Patrick Ewing tee and a New York Knicks themed fit. The VA native rocked through songs from his Clipse days before venturing into solo territory. Soon, he began shouting out lyrics seemingly aimed at Lil Wayne before going into his Dream assisted track, which he delivered the same way he did his others: with passion.
That passion was also on display as Big Daddy Kane performed. Taking the main stage, Kane seemed to control the diverse crowd with his first two songs. When he took a short intermission to ask questions, fans listened. It was clear that Kane’s command behind the microphone is still strong as he ran through hits that included “Raw,” “Set it Off” and “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.” Whether the songs were nostalgic or an introduction to Hip Hop history, fans were in tune with each punchline and Kane’s delivery proved why many consider him one of the best.
The old school met the new as soon, Murs and Fashawn came to the Paid Dues stage. For those unaware, the two performed as a duo in support of their upcoming album together, This Generation. This performance showed why the two came together in the first place as they displayed an undeniable chemistry, delivering back-and-forth rhymes with ease before breaking into solo cuts from time to time. While the two performed songs like Slash Gordon (off their album together), they also independently did “The Ecology” and “Bad Man.” Their performance certainly let the uninitiated know about their joint album but they also seemed to please longtime supporters.
The nostalgia factor was present beyond the Kane performance. Salt-N-Pepa certainly added to this as the duo ran through crowd favorites in the late afternoon. Hieroglyphics did the same for their fans, performing together on the Paid Dues stage. Soon, DJ Quik added to this, while also bringing El DeBarge along for the show. To keep with the old school/new school formula, Quik also gave some of his stage time to YG. Still, the nostalgia resonated as The Hit Squad joined forces, doing some solo work along the way (which included Redman’s instructions and a vintage how-to cut for the crowd). Atmosphere dug up crowd favorites from their Lucy Ford work and even threw it back to their “God’s Bathroom Floor” days. Del the Funky Homosapien did more of this with Deltron 3030, while also offering some of his old work with The Gorillaz. More vintage Rap could be heard with the melodic and hit-drive Bone Thugs & Harmony performance. The acts showed that while the festival can present much of the new in the culture, it can still be a platform for respected veterans to showcase what they’ve done and what they are still contributing to Hip Hop.
The first night ended with newer acts J. Cole and Kid Cudi making headlines. The second night’s closure, however, belonged mostly to the vets. Of the last four sets, only Wiz Khalifa could be considered of the newer generation of rappers. E-40 & Too Short performed a joint set, adding hits from different eras to their performance. E-40 brought his unorthodox flow while Short elaborated on his favorite word. Soon, Ice Cube stepped on stage with WC, both dressed in all black. Cube, with his vintage ‘fro picked out, said he might not perform anything beyond 1995 before going into early hits and N.W.A. favorites. He paid tribute to Nate Dogg after lamenting only having one song with the late great and then made fans throw Ws in the air as one of Los Angeles’ most respected emcees shut down the Paid Dues stage for the night. On the other stage, Wiz Khalifa performed many of his hits including “Black & Yellow” and his more recent “Work Hard” anthem. Wiz set the stage for Nas’ performance in support of his Life is Good project. While celebrating his new album, Nas also paid tribute to his first, making sure to still give Illmatic fans something to walk home with.
Earlier, when it was mentioned that Big Daddy Kane spoke with the crowd, he seemed to hone in on what Rock the Bells was about. He asked the crowd to cheer if they were younger than 25. A large percentage of the crowd soon roared with applause and screams. He paused. He then asked those over 25 to do the same and they did. He smiled. Kane explained that he was happy to see the generations coming together for Hip Hop before adding that he didn’t care if fans were 5 years old as long as they loved the culture. What he may or may not have known was that there were kids about that age in the crowd too. The festival seemed to bring all of these generations, races and tastes together in a manner that made many smile the way Kane did. From 5 to 25 and beyond, Rock the Bells kicked off its two-day venture with a dose of both old school and new school, mainstream and underground, major label and independent. It presented all of this with all of the differences and it made it all come together, sharing the growth while giving light to what has allowed the culture to grow in the first place.