The 22,000-capacity Shoreline Amphitheatre was packed with all kinds of people—bros with flip-flops, gang members with greasy hair, Caucasian babies—for Sunday’s Rock the Bells festival to watch Lauryn Hill, Rakim, Slick Rick, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg and a bunch of other hip-hop icons.
So, let’s start with the good—actually, great. A Tribe Called Quest performed their 1993 Midnight Marauders album in its entirety, and they absolutely killed every other performer at the festival.
Tribe’s Marauders album was groundbreaking because it tweaked Tribe’s organic, jazz-based sound and gave it a ’90s makeover. The result was the difference between an acoustic and electric guitar. Producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad knew exactly how to add energy to the group without losing its base audience of conscious-street-rap fanatics. And rappers Phife and Q-Tip, even after more than 25 years of tumultuous times as a group, carried that energy through to their fans, who mostly sat slack-jawed in amazement at the spectacle. Even the boozed-up arena slut stopped grinding strangers for an hour.
If that wasn’t enough, Busta Rhymes showed up halfway through Tribe’s set to join them for a rendition of party-rocking jam “Scenario,” which sent the amphitheater into an uproar.
On to the bad: I hate to say it, but Lauryn Hill was a hot mess. She finally took to the stage after an hour of technical difficulties. And something tells me she loves when shit goes wrong. You know, for the drama. Once on the stage, Hill looked sloppy, like she had just gone on a shopping spree at The Salvation Army. She wore oversized slacks, a big Army jacket, a black-and-white-striped blouse, a pair of brown-framed glasses, a bejeweled beanie and a crooked wig. I almost thought she was Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
The saddest part was that Hill sounded like she attended the Whitney Houston School of Forgetting How the Fuck to Sing. The telltale sign of her failed voice was that she didn’t even attempt her trademark Roberta Flack cover “Killing Me Softly.”
Wu-Tang was OK. Too many people crowded the stage, sound was choppy and ODB’s son was a poor, if enthusiastic, replacement for his father. However, there were times during the set—they performed Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in its entirety—when the Wu reached that perfect level of frenzied calmness that made their debut album so shockingly great.
Snoop Dogg headlined. Snoop, who has the ability to be the cheesiest rapper since Vanilla Ice, stripped away the Hollywood and performed Doggystyle, with RBX, the Lady of Rage, Daz Dillinger and Kurupt helping out. It was a surprisingly great set that, at times, left me with chills.
I could go on for days: KRS-One’s performance of Criminal Minded, DJ Premier’s lackluster turntable skills, Brother Ali’s albino joke about himself, the drunk guy who stood in the bathroom peeing on his own leg. But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll just remind you not to miss next year’s Rock the Bells festival.