After my 1st year going to Rock the Bells, being the Hip Hop Head that I am, I decided it would HAVE TO BE a ritual. It was a world, waiting just for me, the 30-something Sista who lives musically in yesteryear. No disrespect but I'm still trying to figure out what in the wacka flocka is a Wacka Flocka? Soulja Boy keeps sayin “tell em” but I can't figure out if he even knows how to form complex sentences. He can't tell me nothin'. My music wasn't my mother's music & the music of today ain't for me. Sigh...I'm old enough to say that. Anyway, Rock the Bells felt like I'd returned home. The MC's of my youth, who shaped the landscape of my formative years, take turns converging on 1 stage every summer.
The 1st time I went was a dream. De La Soul (my FAVORITE hip hop group of all time), Q-Tip, Nas, & Mos Def took the stage. I was sold. I'd seen them all separately, but on 1 stage? How could you ask for more? & so it was. Hip Hop in the “park,” under summer skies, with throngs of people joined together in love. One nation under Hip Hop!! Three years later, I looked up the schedule & wasn't immediately moved. I didn't believe that all of the Wu would come back together, Rakim bored me the year before, & the rumors of Lauryn Hill's return just weren't enough to get me gung ho off the rip. The undercurrent remained: I'd decided that this would be my summer ritual. If I do nothing else, I must have my bells rocked. Despite my original partner bowing out on the new tradition, I had to connect with someone else in my circle to experience the show. A Tribe Called Quest, if no other act, was enough to get me over my self.
So, KT comes to scoop me & we triple & quadruple checked this year's list of what's allowed in & made our way out to Merriweather Post Pavillion. With lawn chairs on our backs we found our real estate above the major crowd & center to the middle monitor. We'd arrived in time to catch the end of Rakim's set. The small bit of what I caught let me know that he'd redeemed himself from the previous year. Thanks to the God MC for raising his own bar. Next came KRS-1. Somehow I'd forgotten that the man has turned more edutainer than MC. He & Freddie Foxx & Supernatural (oh how I love thee) took to the stage & started off right. I'm not sure 10 minutes passed before KRS began preaching to the choir. My attention span plunged to an all new low & I tuned out when I ceased hearing words & just identified the sound of a man's voice was coming from somewhere around me. Yeah, dude....NO! That wasn't why we bought tickets. KRS forgot that his career was not built on lecture tapes. He finally got off the stage to make room for Lauryn Hill to supposedly follow. So...
...the day before I was in Philly at a spot called PYT, enjoying a lobster burger. I can still taste it & can't wait to have another. While there, my phone rang & a friend, who was at Rock the Bells in NYC, called to try to express to me how ridiculously sad Lauryn Hill's performance was. Mind you, he neglected, at the time, to mention that Lady Hill was an hour late starting her performance. So, I'd already decided that Lauryn wasn't coming to DC. It was just a feeling I had. An hour after KRS exited the stage there was no sign of L-Boogie. I was OK with that. Nearly 2 hours later a gentleman got on the mic to inform the crowd that the object of their heart's desire was ill & wasn't going to be able to make it. I didn't even blink. The crowd became a low hum of disgust at not being able to see the still reigning queen of Hip Hop & da innanet was all a buzz about how Lauryn needed to bring her sick self out & make it do what it do. At this point my only issue is that no one was rockin' the main stage. Three hours passed with NOTHING happening on the main stage. My bells were NOT being sufficiently rocked. & then Tribe was announced. I forgave the world & got up from my deluxe lawn chair with an awning. Q-Tip is my Hip Hop love. In my mind, he's mine. I don't know another MC who approaches his performances with the love of a fan, before an artist, & gives you his rapper/rocker best. Watching him jump around excitedly to his own group's music, diggin' his verses & playin the support on Phife's verses, got me all in a frenzy. Kamaal the Abstract? Not so much. Q-Tip? All goddamn day & night. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the beauty of seeing Phife alive &....well (just not sure that's the word). On top of that, Ali Shaheed Muhammad was able to step around his ego for the reunion & Jarobi was in the house too. Heaven.
Wu Tang Clan, all 35 chambers were up next. But no. Lauryn Hill must have been handed a few Pedialyte & Gatorade cocktails because suddenly she was “well” enough to come out & perform. Like I said, I was glad previously that we'd been spared. I was a little chagrined that she bothered to show. That meant I had to listen to what I'd heard only qualified as Wack Juice. Aside from not understanding what she was wearing, I was thrown off by a few other things. It was BLAZIN HOT, upper 90's—folks passin' out from heat stroke & beer consumption all day—but this chick came out wearing a long sleeve blouse & an earth's core length skirt. Oh, don't let me forget the matching NY fitted cap & towel (all navy blue). My boy Ray Sparks described it as nouveau nursing home style. Her movements were...interesting, her lips were black & not in the way that had anything to do with her being dark skin. Her complexion was muddy & her lyrics unintelligible. Lauryn sounded as though she'd taken speed that had taken speed. As she performed I couldn't even make out what songs she was doing. I refused to stand to see any more of it & sat back down in the deluxe chair. Luckily for all us concert goers Nas & Damian Marley were performing at the 930 Club. That made Nas local enough to come save maybe....90 seconds of Lauryn Hill's show. It was the only part of her set with words I understood. The funny thing is, last year Nas was a lil' too twisted to handle his own set last year. I was disappointed then, but never so happy to see him on Sunday.
Keepin it moving...
8'ish the Wu burst on the scene, including an Old Dirty Bastard mural & 1 of his 13 kids giving you his best replicated grime. E'rybody was on stage & I poured through my memory for the last time I'd seen 'em all in 1 place. '94. Yeah. I was in full swoon over Method Man, marveled at the entity that is Raekwon the Chef's stomach, gave the RZA's Asian cropped open dashiki the side-eye, took notice that Ghostface had lost weight, U God's aging (from the stress of never getting his shine)...& so on & so on. Still the day had been a long 1, & with 3 hours of dead space in the summer heat of all summer heat & a refusal to drink my 17th bottle of water & chance having to re-enter the bathrooms...I petitioned my boy KT to make that move toward the parking lot. It wasn't a hard sell. Both of us had to be at work the next day. In the middle of the Wu's Bangers we snuck out the back way, missing Snoop Dee Oh Double Gee (my bad, Gizzle), & the chance to marvel at the Lady of Rage in 2010. Thankfully we had enough sense to leave because the highway was a parking lot even before the show let out & ALL the concert goers got on the road together. The power of wisdom & maturity.
It's now 4 days since the concert. I've decided to ride with the beauty of seeing Tribe as the highlight & ONLY necessity from the show. With that perspective, I come out on top. I've opted not to read the “news” that it was a mani/pedi appointment that prevented Lauryn Hill from making it on time—especially since I'd already decided I didn't want to see her anyway. I've given up the idea to write a letter to the organizers to cuss them out for that 3 hour gaping hole in the show. I've recommitted for next year before even seeing the line up or knowing if my usual partner is down or if I'm signing on for a new concert-going team. I simply don' t know how to miss this show.
It's Hip Hop & I just can't resist. See you on the lawn.
Watch me move.