Rock The Bells Music Festival Rocks The San Manuel Amphitheater

Danny Brown during his set at Rock the Bells
Danny Brown during his set at Rock the Bells.

Rock the Bells is a 2-day annual rap music festival that was held in San Bernardino at the San Manuel Amphitheater this year September 7 & 8 and featured over 50 performers.

The first day I arrived somewhat late but managed to catch Chief Keef’s performance when he began his set at least 20 minutes later than scheduled. He performed his hits such as “I Don’t Like,” “Understand Me,” and “Hate Bein’ Sober.” Although he brought out many other members of GBE (Glory Boyz Entertainment, his label), the crowd did not seem very hyped and it was a shortened and disappointing set.

Next I went to Currensy on the Hip Hop Dx stage and chilled out to some mellow rap, however the crowd was much more into the performance than at Chief Keef. He performed the ever popular “Jet Life” and “Chasin’ Papers” among others.

While waiting for Black Hippy to begin, I walked around to the other stages to discover something new. The Fool’s Gold stage featured Chase & Status whom I had surprisingly never heard of but whom have many celebrity fans such as Pharrell Williams and Rihanna. They are a rising electronic music duo from the UK however the crowd was so small that it seemed silly for the MC to be consistently trying to hype up the disappointing turnout but the music was very entertaining to listen and dance to.

Next on the Fool’s Gold stage, A-Trak came out and continued the fun for those wanting to dance as he is another DJ but from Canada. He is also the owner of the record label Fool’s Gold.  Personally I enjoyed this performance more since he incorporated more rap music into his mix whereas Chase & Status was more strictly electronic music.

Finally it was time for Black Hippy, which features rappers Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Schoolboy Q. For Ab-Soul’s “Terrorist Threats,” Danny Brown made a guest appearance. Then Schoolboy Q came on and did “Yay Yay,” “Hands on the Wheel,” and my personal favorite “There He Go” along a few others. Q joked about the crowd getting too excited over the fact that Kendrick is next and that he gets all the attention. When Kendrick came out, he only did a few of his popular songs leaving out “Poetic Justice” among others. Most complaints I heard were that people wished Kendrick had done more songs but since he was not a solo headliner the time was shared with the fellow Black Hippy rappers.

The crowd for Kid Cudi was massive due to both his popularity and the fact that there was only one other show going on simultaneously. His stage setup was a very intricate mountain-like installment that I believe was supposed to represent another planet. The small screens around the stage often showed stars so there was a kind of celestial space concept going on. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about his set was that at the very beginning he laid down a set of rules.

Rule No. 1: No pictures or video of Kid Cudi’s performance allowed.

Rule No. 2: No throwing things onto the stage.

Rule No. 3: No pushing and shoving.

Rule No. 4: Keep partying alive.

However I really enjoyed ending the fun but exhausting day with a mellow act like his.

Day 2

Arriving a few hours earlier than the first day, I made my first appearance at the stage for Danny Brown. Even showing up a half an hour early could not get me front row for one of my favorite rappers but I dealt with second. Since I’ve seen him live two other times in 2013 I knew to expect many of the songs off his upcoming album Old which meant the crowd was about to get crazy and that it did. The entire crowd almost was jumping and singing the words to the annoyance of some stuck in the middle of it all. It got even wilder when he jumped offstage to walk right up to the middle of the fence and everyone tried to get to him. Overall I thought the performance was fantastic and full of energy. It was definitely my favorite performance.

Next we recovered from the craziness at the Dizzy Wright set. He had an autograph signing at the LRG Clothing booth earlier in the day which was very cool because usually if you want to meet one of your favorite performers you are forced to buy the $399 VIP weekend pass.

Then it was time for Trinidad James, the rapper known for his popular song “All Gold Everything.” Although I didn’t really dig his live performance, he kept the crowd interested by saying he may give away a pair of shoes at the end of his set. He posted on Instagram that he was thinking about giving away his pairs of Nike Penny 5 “Volt”, Nike Air Max 1 “Germany Camo” and the Nike LeBron 11 “Gamma Blue.” However, I’m not sure if this happened but I do know he took off whatever shoes he had worn during the performance and was holding them up in the air right before I headed over to the next stage.

Next I went to see my personal favorite A$AP Rocky when he performed with A$AP Mob on the Rock the Bells stage. Although basically only those who buy VIP tickets can actually see the performers, there were big television screens and extreme volume so that the large audience could enjoy the set. A$AP Rocky performed a few of his songs solo to start off the set. The first was “Long Live A$AP” from his new album. He then brought out A$AP Ferg for both “Work” and “Shabba Ranks.” He then continued to bring out the fellow members of the A$AP Mob such as A$AP Twelvy and A$AP Nast but I went to catch the end of E-40 and Too Short.

When I arrived at E-40, Danny Brown made an appearance for his verse on “All My N****s” one of their newer songs. However most of the songs such as “U and Dat” and “Snap Yo Fingers” took me back in time to my middle school years when I first heard all of these songs.

Juicy J kept the crowd extremely entertained by promising to bring some females up on the stage yet this didn’t happen until near the end of his set when he performed “Bandz A Make Her Dance” and he only had one girl onstage for about 45 seconds to a minute (but this may have been due to the fact that she seemed more than a little under the influence). He performed newer songs as well such as “Show Out” and some off his new album Stay Trippy such as “Bounce” and “Scholarship.” For “Scholarship,” A$AP Rocky made an appearance for his verse and Juicy J claimed after the song that he had no idea that was going to happen and said “That’s hip-hop.”

Finally, the Wu-Tang Clan closed out the weekend with an hour and fifteen minute long set. At the first Rock the Bells ever festival Wu-Tang Clan performed here shortly before Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death so in honor of the 10th year anniversary of Rock the Bells this year featured the Wu-Tang Clan with a hologram performance featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard. It was strange because Raekwon and Ghostface Killah never showed up but the rest of the members carried on with the show and performed some of their classics such as “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F*** Wit.” However after some time, the sound began to cut out and there was a full 10 minutes of no music. Method Man tried relentlessly to keep the crowd entertained and when the music started again told everyone to forget it ever happened. On top of that, there were also technical issues getting the hologram to work and it was easy to see that the wait was irritating for both the performers and the audience. However, it was awesome to end the weekend with some old school rap that continues to be influential to up and coming rappers.

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