Last Night: Rock the Bells at Red Rocks
Rock the Bells 2009
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Better than: ringtone rap, anything associated with Auto-Tune or listening to the self-proclaimed newly anointed "King of Pop," Kanye West, talk about himself endlessly.
Since 2003, Rock the Bells has been the premier hip-hop festival to showcase rap music. In the past, the fest leaned heavily toward Wu affiliated acts and the much celebrated and maligned genre of backpacker rap. This year was no different with usual suspects like Nas, GZA, Busta Rhymes, Reflection Eternal, Chali 2na, Supernatural, KRS-One and newcomers such as the Knux, but the tour branched out in surprising ways by including acts like Tech N9NE and Slaughterhouse.
|Supernatural (Aaron Thackeray)|
The show started off with the Knux, this year's sole representatives of the tight jeans wing of hip-hop. The two brothers from New Orleans (Alvin and Kentrell Lindsey) banged out tracks from their debut, Remind Me in 3 Days, with high energy and verve. Next, accompanied by a live band, Chali 2na's (of Jurassic 5) heavily syncopated flows helped get the party started, especially when he demonstrated his pop and lock skills while dancing to Rick James's "Give it To Me Baby."
Supernatural, who hosted the show with KRS-One, came out and did his thing where he asked the crowd to provide him with objects, and then he subsequently used these to build a freestyle rap (..."She gave me a twenty and I'm going to keep it as a tip").
|Slaughterhouse (by Aaron Thackeray)|
The most disappointing part of the show came when Slaughterhouse took the stage. Joell Ortiz is a ferocious MC, Crooked I and Royce Da 5'9'' are solid lyricists and Joe Budden can battle -- on paper, the group is capable of great things. And the act hinted at its potential when Ortiz took the lead, but all too often, with a shirtless Budden looking like he just came off a Jersey City street corner and seemingly more concerned with smoking a cigarette and finding his orange soda than contributing, the group lacked cohesion.
|KRS-One (Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)|
GZA filled the obligatory Wu designated slot in the set and lyrically showed why he is one of the most respected MCs amongst rappers.
|GZA (by Aaron Thackeray)|
|Talib Kweli (by Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)|
|Tech N9ne (by Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)|
|Big Boi (by Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)|
With a strong Jamaican influence, Busta Rhymes knows how to rock a crowd dancehall style and he did so with his longtime partner Spliff Star on classics like "Woo Ha!!! Got You All in Check." Unfortunately, at one point in the show he felt the need to lyrically dumb it down with derogatory remarks about the female anatomy.
|Nas (by Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)|
|Damian Marley (by Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)|
Rock the Bells is at a point where it might have to reinvent itself or tweak the model a bit to stay fresh. Many of the acts on the bill this year have performed in past years. That being said, the majority of these acts are still some of the best performers in hip-hop. And despite the recession and the show's high ticket costs that many cite as further evidence of the gentrification of hip-hop, the diversity of this year's crowd and relatively strong turn-out, suggest that hip-hop is still far from dead.
Personal Bias: As a teacher, I have had many students try to get me to listen to Tech N9ne, but I've politely declined, probably because I don't understand the Juggalo fans. But after seeing them perform for the first time, I must say I was very impressed with the stage presence.
Random Detail: KRS-One is a Vivaldi fan. The Knux like to rock Queensryche when they're in the mood.
By the Way: Reflection Eternal featuring Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek will be back in town on August 21 at the Gothic Theater as part of a stellar bill with Mos Def and Jay Electronica.