With a lineup jam packed with hip-hop artists from all across the genre’s increasingly diverse spectrum, Rock the Bells last weekend at Shoreline Amphitheater came and left Mountain View in a two-day flurry of generational hops.
The logistics: 35 acts from over two decades of hip-hop covering two stages in the span of a weekend. With just about any song, regardless of era, available via the web, this type of generational shuffling in music is becoming a normalized impulse.
Guerrilla Union makes this schizophrenic melodic-itch physically possible to scratch, manifesting a hip-hop festival where you can walk the fun 10 minutes over (as you people watch and Instagram the countless bizarre-yet-delightful festival goers the Bay Area music scene never fails to offer) from 22-year-old rapper, Tyga, to more established legends like Ice Cube.
The first day’s main stage was predominantly run by young up-and-coming artists, and the smaller Wu-Tang inspired 36 Chambers Stage housed the prevailing hip-hop royalty. A$AP Rocky, “that pretty motherfucker,” glided across stage as he chanted the sonic equivalent of liquefied codeine, fusing Harlem street-cred with his purple swag lifestyle. Rocky melted different cultural sounds and styles in a celestial, stoner pace — a pleasurable synthesis for this warm August afternoon. He was accompanied in his set by Schoolboy Q to perform “Hands On The Wheel” and “Pretty Flacko.”
Mac Miller was low energy and did not execute with a whole lot of diction. His uncomplicated performance may have worked excellently at 36 Chambers, but as the main stage at Shoreline Amphitheatre is designed to house over 25,000 people, the sheer distance between the stage and the majority of the audience understated the straightforward solo set.
The 36 Chambers Stage had no arranged seating. Instead, the proper hip-hop show codes of conduct reigned — meaning you bump n’ grind your way to the front and throw weed in place of roses on stage to show your undying appreciation. DMX, proved that his energy is and always will be legendary. The “Divine Master of the Unknown” leaped around stage and invited the enthusiastic crowd to bark along to “Ruff Ryders Anthem.”
As the sun began to set, J. Cole graced the main stage with a live band playing behind him. In “Lost Ones,” a song that documents abortion by taking on the perspectives of both involved members, Cole brought forth a surge of passionate sentiments — staging a poignant lyrical monologue and compelling the audience to emotionally engage with his words. The Grammy-nominated, platinum producing artist was completely unassuming, and seemed to be entirely thrilled by having the opportunity to perform for the ecstatic crowd. He showed his contagious reverence for music, releasing his body in between verses to the swings of 1990s jazz beats, and sitting back in the middle of his set to listen to his pianist’s solos.
The crowd for the second day of the festival did not appear to be the slightest bit tired from the full night before. Everyone’s energy was even higher (pun definitely intended) for Sunday’s line-up. Living Legends performed two sets, one after another, as Zion-I Crew, The Grouch and Eligh, and Murs and Fashawn took control of the Paid Dues Stage (formerly the 36 Chambers stage) for the collective’s fully deserved two-hour block.
Slick Rick took the cake for best wardrobe with his banana yellow jumpsuit and giant glittering chains hanging fabulously low. Penelope Cruz freaking out at the blonde Johnny Depp in the highway scene in Blow played behind him, making Slick Rick also a close contender for most interesting video display (Kid Cudi’s celestial soundscape Saturday night was also splendid).
Common seemed to not take a single breath in his entire set. In between his adrenaline-packed performances, he complimented the Bay, shouted out to the audience, responded enthusiastically, and of course, brought a pretty lady with flowery pants on stage to towel off his sweat.
The reunion of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony was hauntingly good. Their effortless ability to harmonize in super-speed, and all the while communicate cutting words on death and distress, is a phenomenon most people of my generation only hear in recordings and fantasized of one day hearing live. Hits like “Tha Cross Roads,” “1st Of Tha Month,” and “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” brought chills throughout the audience.
The festival came to a final close with headliner Nas, who was certainly the best choice for knitting together a cohesiveness to the wildly diverse styles and sounds made over those two days. Large structures of retro vanity lights radiated brightly — the talented artist himself was wearing dark shades at 10pm — and Nas blurred the line between old school and new, imprinting a memorable, dazzling end to this year’s festival.