(This review, in edited form along with pictures, will appear on The Bowery Presents The House List tomorrow)
With less than a month left in the summer, hip-hop’s living legends and cunning contemporaries assembled on Governors Island for the 7th annual Rock the Bells. Thousands dressed in Wu-Tang Clan t-shirts and tank tops took the short ferry ride to the festival grounds where thousands more crowded around two stages to share in the American pastime of hot dogs, lemonade, and blunts. With so many great acts to see and ridiculous people to people-watch, the following is a list of the best moments at this year’s Rock the Bells:
Best Underdog: Brother Ali. The self-proclaimed, “Fat ass, Muslim, albino rapper,” used his competing set time with KRS-ONE to captivate his loyal audience. Although the suns unforgiving rays seemed to deep fry the fair skinned MC, Brother Ali fought back with fierce rhymes, preaching tolerance and thoughtfulness. You came for the Minnesota rapper, you stayed for DJ Snuggles, the multi-talented twenty-two-year-old who spun, beat boxed, and even rapped on Brother Ali’s beats.
Best Looking Tent Food: Sweet corn cakes with mozzarella. I didn’t get them but I’ll be damned if I didn’t ogle the precarious sounding treats every time I walked by the tent.
Best Extended Break Down: Ms. Lauryn Hill. More than a decade after The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Hill returned to Rock the Bell’s main stage with a full band, back singers, and an outfit somewhere in between little miss muffet and a church lady. It was a teat to see Hill perform songs such as The Fugee’s “Ready or Not” and “How Many Mics,” however the best moments came when versions of “To Zion” and “Fu-Gee-La” spun into a pageant for friends and family members. Highlights included Hill calling all her children to the stage as well as Chris Rock, and Jay-Z, and a very pregnant Alicia Keys.
Best in Show: A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan (tied). Call me biased, but how can you top New York’s two legendary hip-hop groups playing their classic albums? You can’t and that is why the Queens and Staten Island natives drew the largest and most devoted crowds at the festival. Q-Tip and Method Man played front man to their respective groups’ sets, both coming out into the crowd for their go-for-broke performances. Personally, I give the slight edge to A Tribe Called Quest solely for Busta Rhymes ground-shaking cameo during “Scenario.” However, the late ODB’s son Boy Jones’ flawless impersonation of his father during Wu-Tang Clan’s set is a very close second.