Last Night: Rock the Bells 2008 at Bayfront Park

Categories: Concert Review
Justin Namon
Nas performs at Rock the Bells at Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami. Click here to view the full slide show.

Last Night: Rock the Bells 2008 featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Method Man & Redman, Mos Def, etc.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Bayfront Park, Downtown Miami

Better Than: Watch MTV2’s Sucker Free Sundays Countdown and asking yourself, “Who the hell are these people?”

It was a day of music nostalgia as Bayfront Park was littered with approximately 10,000 diehard hip-hop heads sweating buckets under an unrelenting August sun. Rock the Bells 2008 was back and beefier than ever. Who would’ve thought the boys from Guerilla Union could’ve topped last year’s unprecedented tour that boasted such heavy hitters as Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan? Ah but fear not young grasshopper, 2008 was indeed a line-up for hip-hop fans to skeet skeet skeet to. Do we need to repeat ourselves? A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, De La Soul, Mos Def, Method Man & Redman -- you get the point. All we needed was Jesus to ascend from heaven and b-boy to “Can I Kick It” to make last night’s festival even more memorable.

Saturday was indeed hot. Park officials confirmed that there was a point during the afternoon where temperatures reached past 100 degrees. Well, the sweltering heat did not stop the hundreds of early birds who came right smack at noon when gates officially opened, as the line for will call stretch well around the block. It was an impressive sight as so many out-of-towners came through to witness hip-hop history once again. Many even donned old ATCQ t-shirts that read “Midnight Marauders Tour 1994,” to which I secretly hoped they didn’t purchase at Urban Outfitters the day before. Regardless, the vibe was of much excitement as a reunion tour of this magnitude was far and few between. The last time we saw Tribe together on stage was during their 2006 Bounce Tour yet never on this scale, not to mention sharing the same bill with Nas, De La, Mos -- it’s no wonder why fans from as far as Tallahassee drove all the way down to Miami, even with the $4.08 a gallon gas prices.

Before we get to the meat of the event, I must express some minor disappointments. One being that Santogold was recruited to open up for Coldplay the very same night in Hartford, Conn., (only a 1,000 miles from Miami)! It’s pretty hard to say no to Chris Martin these days. It was a bummer, to say the least, seeing that Santogold is blowing up right now. And one of my personal big disappointments was The Cool Kids being a no-show. Rumor has it that they missed their flight from Chicago after playing a dope set at Lollapalooza the night before. So it goes, the life of an in-demand entertainer and their disorganized booking agent.

Nevertheless, no one was bitching too much once Murs got on stage as he officially kicked-off the concert in pure Murs fashion. This underground Los Angeles MC has been in the game for well over 10 years and only now have folks been giving him much needed mainstream attention. Often known for his fast-paced, high-energy stage presence, Murs broke an even bigger sweat as he jumped up and down, getting the crowd hyped while spitting 80 words a minute. By the tail end of his performance, Murs made a shocking announcement that he recently signed to Warner Bros. He justified his major label deal to the crowd by saying he would much rather hear his music on the radio than Soulja Boy, a reason that we all could agree with.

Up next, Immortal Technique took the stage as his first words on the mic were simply, “This heat is like slave-heat right now! Damn it’s hot!” There was no question that it was hot but once Immortal Technique got on, he set the place on fire! If you’re not familiar with his music, beware. His uber-militant, uncompromising lyrics have stirred up many controversies both on and off stage. His set-list comprised of some of his best, most heavy tracks such as “Point of No Return” and “Bin Laden” to which the crowd chanted the infamous chorus of “Bin Laden didn’t blow up the projects/It was you, nigga, tell the truth, nigga/Bush knocked down the towers!” There were some technical glitches during his 30-minute set but as he even admitted, “What’s a hip-hop show without some fuck-ups.” Good point.

By the time Immortal Technique scared the crap out of the innocent hip-hop bystanders, up-and-coming rapper Wale breezed onto the stage. This D.C. new jack is making headway in the hip-hop scene, being labeled as the next Kanye West. With such high expectations, Wale didn’t seem to let anyone down as his lyrical performance was on point. Kick starting with his own version of the Root’s “Rising Up”, Wale did point out that he’s the only MC under 24 that Black Thought works with. Sky’s the limit for this youngster as we’re sure he’ll be back for next year’s Rock the Bells with a bigger bill and a longer set.

At about 4:30 p.m., Bayfront is starting to get packed. Perfect timing as Florida’s native sons, Dead Prez, got on. By any means a favorite to all Dave Chappelle fans, Dead Prez did hip-hop justice as their conscious lyrics and their head-bopping beats made everyone in the crowd punch their fists in the air while screaming, “It’s bigger than hip-hop!”

5 ‘o’ clock and the sun is getting a bit more gracious now as De La Soul takes the stage. Oh the nostalgic vibrations of the early ‘90s come fluttering in as Pos, Maseo and Trugoy made all us 30-something year olds feel like we’re back in high school. De La Soul, to this day, knows how to work the crowd. If we weren’t hyped up enough from Dead Prez’s last set, De La took us to another level. Hit after hit, songs from “3 Feet High and Rising” to “AOI: Mosaic Thump,” it was a non-stop house party. But to top it all off, Dres from Black Sheep made a special appearance as “The Choice is Yours” came blaring through the speakers.

As fast as the energy level shot up with De La’s high-octane performance, the vibe quickly mellowed to a cool haze once Raekwon and Ghostface Killah came on deck. Without even a hitch, the scent of -- well, you know -- filled the amphitheatre as the grimy bassline of old classic Wu joints came buzzing through. Both Rae and Ghost have distinguished solo careers yet together, they brought their former Wu-ness to the stage, regardless if they’re still beefing with Wu-master Rza. Nonetheless, as quickly as one’s joint puffs out, Raekwon and Ghostface disappeared. Not the best that I’ve seen those two but who are they kidding; you can only do so much when you’re that blazed.

Up next: Mos Def! As much as I love Mos, his stage show is almost like a dress rehearsal. “Yo, play track 10 on this shit,” as he hands his DJ a freshly burned CD-R. Talk about improv. Mos is notorious for being a bit too “freestyle” for his own good but can we blame him? The brother is a bona fide legend right now and he’s making half-a-million a motion picture, to the point where he might just be a better actor than an MC but let’s not go there just yet. All in all, his 35-minute set was like if Miles Davis was a rapper. He did, however, play some old-school Black Star joints yet no “Umi Says” which was a disappointment, to say the least. If only Talib Kweli bum-rushed the stage. Maybe next year.

Okay so we’re getting closer to the finish line as the sun is almost set and the park is starting to get packed. The long-loved west coast hip-hop group Pharcyde was more than happy to be back together as their stage performance was pure positive energy. Their classic hit “Passin Me By” was well received as, to my surprise, the audience sang along, word for word. At one point during their set, I literally thought I was in Los Angeles instead of Miami. Boy, was that a scary moment.

And to get me back to Miami via Staten Island and Newark, New Jersey, it was only fitting that Method Man and Redman got on stage. Aside from the constant plugging of their upcoming sequel, “How High 2”, Meth and Red are a comedic duo that, needless to say, can entertain the hell out of anyone. They plugged away from their classic debut album, “Blackout!” to which Meth made everyone in the crowd yell, “Fuck You, Redman!” with pleasure.

Next up, Nas took center stage to let y’all know “Hip Hop is Dead”. From the looks of the 10,000 screaming fans, hip-hop is far from dead as Nas, always a pro, delivers a solid 45-minute set. His brief quips of politics (he supports Obama) to his diatribe on being a pro-active citizen of the world were quite commendable. Whether or not his set inspired the crowd to register to vote is uncertain but the vibe of his performance was of maturity and a sense of hip-hop’s accountability.

Finally, after baking in the hot Miami sun for 10 hours straight, ladies and gentlemen: A Tribe Called Quest! Folks tend to forget how ATCQ was so influential back then and how many classic hits they scored: “Can I Kick It,” “Bonita Applebum,” “Check the Rhime,” “Electric Relaxation,” “Oh My God;” the list goes on. It was reliving the glory days of New York City, early ‘90s, in the middle of downtown Miami in 2008. It was a wonderful feeling for those who lived during that era and even a more rewarding feeling to see a new generation appreciating the sounds. Unbelievably, Tribe’s set closed out at 11:50 p.m., 10 minutes short of midnight, as no encore was allowed due to strict city-park regulations.

Critic’s Notebook

Personal Bias: I always knew Immortal Technique was one to not mess with but dear lord, did he scare the be’jesus out of me! I mean, he makes Louis Farrakhan look like Steve Urkel. Besides hating on police (which is typical hip-hop) and the government (another hip-hop trait), his stance on supporting local MCs to take down the corporate major labels and its greedy-evil-white-man label owners and in turn supporting the 3rd World revolution was rather convincing. Who knew that you buying that $10 mixtape from that no-name rapper on South Beach was helping to overthrow the U.S. government?

Random Detail: Only at a hip-hop show like this (and maybe the Marley Fest) can you smoke weed right next to an off-duty police officer and not feel intimidated. Oh and it doesn’t hurt when half of the rappers on stage are telling you to “Light it up!” -- and they don’t mean incense.

By the way: $4 for warm, bottled water during a miniature heat wave? Man, I know people need to make some loot during these hard economic times, but come on, that’s robbery. I don’t know what’s worst, this or getting charged $10 for a Heineken at club Mansion.

– Esther Park

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