Rock the Bells 2009!

By Tuesday July 7, 2009

Rock the Bells 2009!

Rock the Bells is the highlight of the year. Known for years as one of the biggest hip hop festivals, it is THE hip hop event of the year for me. The first Rock the Bells took place in 2004 when its creator Chang Weisberg – publisher, concert promoter, and entrepreneur – held the very first one and reunited the entire Wu-Tang Clan (including ODB) in California. At that time the concert was only available to me through DVD as it had not yet become international.

It wasn’t until 2006 that Rock the Bells became a traveling tour. I have seen the tour three times now: San Bernardino, California in 2007; Boston, Massachusetts in 2008; and this year I had the honour to attend it in my own country in Toronto. The Rock the Bells tour has featured some of the best and most influential hip hop artists of all time, and astonishingly this year’s tour was even better than the last two.

My friends Kelly, Mia, and I arrived right before the gates opened, full of energy and excitement. We quickly secured our spots in the front row (right next to the speakers, which we would later pay for with hearing loss).

The first act to warm up the stage were The Knux (of California), who got the energy going with a Pharcyde sound. I’m definitely interested in checking out more of their music!

Supernatural
Supernatural

Supernat and KRS-One
Supernatural and KRS-One

Hosts Supernatural and KRS-One complimented one other with their talents and charm, entertaining the crowd between acts. For the first half of the festival, freestyle legend Supernatural (known for once freestyling for over nine hours) engaged the audience with his spontaneous freestyling that involved rapping about objects presented to him by the audience – phones, business cards, and cameras – which he cleverly rhymed about!

Slum Village
Slum Village

One of the festival’s highlights was the performance by Slum Village. J Dilla beats moved me and I was impressed by the lyrical skill of rapper T3.

Michie Mee
Michie Mee

Just when I thought: where is the female representation at this year’s Rock the Bells??? Toronto-based emcee Michie Mee (first Canadian rapper to sign a deal with an American record label) ran on stage like a beautiful firecracker in bright orange! KRS-One embraced her and she gave her blessings to the audience. I only wish she had performed… there is always next year!

RZA
RZA

RZA, founder of Wu Tang Clan, represented the entire clan with his entrancing performance. Rocking 36 Chambers hits SOLO, RZA got the audience fired up and ready to take the festival to the next level! July 5th (the day the show took place) is coincidentally the same day as RZA’s bday, so he asked the audience (over 10,000 people) to chant “Happy Birthday RZA!” When we did, he smiled coyly and thanked us, proceeding to become Bobby Digital!

EPMD
EPMD

EPMD came correct! Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith blessed the audience with classic hip hop tracks teaching us a history lesson!

Big Boi
Me & Big Boi!

Only one performer takes the crown for the one to get me most hype… BIG BOI! He had me dancing the entire time with Outkast hits including Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and his own Kryptonite!

Kweli
Talib Kweli

Hi-Tek
Hi-Tek

Another highlight was seeing Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek). The audience went crazy for Move Somethin’ and when Hi-Tek stepped down from the turntables to perform a verse.

K'Naan
K’Naan

Next was K’Naan, who is truly an inspiration and a prolific artist. His performance was engaging, thought-provoking, and brilliant. He had a full band backing him up although he did several verses acapella for the benefit of audience participation. K’Naan is an example of true artistry in hip hop music and he set the tone for Mos Def.

Blackstar
Blackstar

Mos Def then rocked a set, which included Kweli running on stage and them breaking into Definition. Like most people in the crowd, I lost it! Like seeing Reflection Eternal wasn’t enough and then Blackstar – this was my hip hop high point!

Mos Def
Mos Def

Mos Def’s attire was purely Canadian as Mia stated – full jean suit and a trucker hat! His performance was soulful and energizing, and I especially enjoyed his live Casa Bey performance. I also heard in the crowd that he flied all the way from Switzerland the day before to perform. What a powerhouse!

KRS-One
KRS-One

At one point KRS-One looked past the crowd into the night sky that hung over the festival and asked all the ladies to look at the full moon. He said that now is a big time for women to empower ourselves. KRS-One asked us to pursue our talents and write poems and songs to contribute to this world. He shared an acronym with us that I will never forget, which his wife created: LADY (Love and Develop Yourself). It was a privilege to listen to him encourage youths to stay in school, pursue our dreams now, and validate ourselves. His influence on the crowd was empowering and he shared a five-minute breakdown of the history of hip hop for the audience, which undoubtedly educated many about the roots of this influential culture.

While KRS-One engaged the crowd before Damian Marley and Nas went on, Chang, the concert organizer, ran on stage and handed KRS-One a note. KRS-One proceeded to tell us that Chang was inquiring who we would like to see perform at next year’s Rock the Bells. This resulted in a lot of cheers and screaming for Gang Starr, Outkast, Jay-Z and Wu Tang. KRS-One stated that we can expect to see these acts next year. Talk about audience feedback!

Nas
Nas

Speaking of Nas , I think he is more than half amazing - he is the best rapper alive. I have said it before and I will say it again. From One Love to The World is Yours to One Mic, Nas repeatedly mesmerizes the crowd hit after hit! I was truly moved when he told the audience that we are the future of hip hop and he encouraged all the producers, deejays, and emcees to hone our crafts and stay committed to making music. I was stirred when Nas said there needs to be a new generation of hip hop and we need to lead the way.

Damian, K'Naan, Nas
Damian Marley, K’Naan, and Nas

Damian Marley and Nas created a peace and unity among the crowd, which was comforting and surreal. Blending reggae and hip hop resulted in a very eclectic experience. Their female backup singers/dancers were unbelievable and inspiring! At one point Damian shouted “give me some energy” and they broke out into a dance spotlight which captivated all eyes!

Dancing
Damian Marley & Nas’ energetic backup singers/dancers

Lighters

It was absolutely beautiful when I turned around and saw an arena fully of lighters and cell phones illuminate the place.

I would like to recognize Chang for is his dedication to raising awareness about positivity in hip hop culture around North America. Through Rock the Bells he has brought together countless artists and fans and allowed them to engage in this unforgettable experience. I could never have imagined 10 years ago seeing Wu Tang Clan, EPMD, and Nas in one day. Chang has changed the standard of the hip hop experience and he is a leader in preserving this culture for many years to come. I look forward to next year’s festival!



  1. Cait Lafleche on Tuesday 7, 2009

    I love the pictures! You guys look so happy and summery. Summer is totally about outdoor music festivals, I love it!



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