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Concert Review: Rock the Bells
by Afriyie "Free" Amankwaa

Rock the Bells, the touring hip hop festival or bonanza, I should say, never ceases to amaze me. However, this year’s edition definitely takes the cake thus far. To say the 2011 Rock the Bells concert at Governor’s Island, NYC, went well would be an understatement. As lovers of the hip hop culture, we had the opportunity to witness not 1, not 2, but 11 of the greatest hip hop albums of all time being performed by heavy hitters including Black Moon, Mobb Deep, and Nas!

The line up of albums performed in its entirety at Rock the Bells consisted of Nas’s “Illmatic”; Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”; Erykah Badu’s “Baduizm”; Black Moon’s “Enta Da Stage”; Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous”; GZA’s “Liquid Swords”; Cypress Hill’s “Black Sunday”; Killa Priest’s “Heavy Mental”; Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s “Black Star”; Raekwon and Ghostface’s “Only Built for Cuban Linx. Other non-album sets came from underground hip hop artists including Big K.R.I.T and Immortal Technique.

Black Moon, decided to cater to the jazz rap fans by performing “Enta Da Stage” with a saxophonist and an all in all group of dope live studio musicians. I noticed this set in particular opened the eyes of Rock the Bells first timers, including my older brother and Fernando Hidalgo, the new Urban Director of 90.3 the Core, and allowed them to witness right before their eyes that indeed, hip hop is more than just emceeing and djing. It’s a combined sound of different genres including jazz.

Black Moon’s set felt distinct since the stage made the switch from jazz hip hop to hardcore flows done by Prodigy and Havoc of Mobb Deep. The legendary rapper/producer/everything the RZA of Wu Tang Clan came out to introduce Mobb Deep which was a great surprise to us all. In addition, they provided us with another treat rapping to G-unit’s “Rider p.2.”

Nas, who closed the festival on the main stage, got through his critically acclaimed album by bringing out familiar faces that played an essential role throughout his career. He was joined by MC Serch, Akinyele, Large Professor, Steve Nash, Joe Fatal, AZ, DJ Premier and Pete Rock who teased the crowd by doing a live DJ battle featuring some of their greatest productions of all time. Of all time. I’m talking “Mass Appeal,” “The Joy,” “10 crack commandments,” “T.R.O.Y.”, etc. It was a time machine that took us back to the mid ‘90s where rappers weren’t focused on the bling or even social realism. They rhymed about their own skills. A paradise for hip hop lovers such as myself.