Festival Guide

25 Must-See Artists at Rock the Bells 2013

From old school vets to rising rappers, check out the can't-miss acts at this fall's traveling hip hop extravaganza
 / August 27, 2013

Keep Their Heads Ringin'

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This September and October, touring hip hop fest Rock the Bells celebrates its 10th anniversary with events in four different cities—Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York. Fittingly, organizers are going all-out for the lineup, booking old school veterans like Wu-Tang Clan, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and KRS-One, plus relative newcomers like A$AP Mob, Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator.

And that's just the beginning—the bill features a Who's Who of hip hop in 2013. To help plan your itinerary for a Rock the Bells show near your hometown, Fuse picked the 25 must-see acts performing this year. Grab a highlighter and a setlist, and thank us later.

J. Cole (Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York City)

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Want a good spot up front for the North Carolina MC's set? Then get there early. Expect a packed crowd following the massive success of J. Cole's latest album, Born Sinner, which outsold its release date rival, Kanye West's Yeezus. Sinner is jam-packed with unforgettable Cole-produced beats and lyrics about complex relationships, like Top 20 single "Power Trip," that’s sure to have everyone shouting along. Cole is headlining each Rock the Bells date, except San Francisco. Sorry guys! 

Girl Talk (All Dates)

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While Rock the Bells is loaded with hip hop all-stars, those looking for something slightly outside the genre should check out the Pittsburgh mash-up DJ. At a live show earlier this year, Girl Talk premiered a brilliant mix of Kanye West's "New Slaves" and Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People." What else has he got up his sleeve? 

Curren$y (All Dates)

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New Orleans rapper Curren$y is one of the most consistent spitters in the game. From his major label debut Pilot Talk to his last album The Stoned Immaculate, he proves you can be laid back on the mic without sacrificing any urgency. Catch him at all of the dates on Rock the Bells 2013.

Kid Cudi (All Dates)

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Cudi parted ways with Kanye's G.O.O.D. Music label, but the MC's career is stronger than ever: The Cleveland native is headlining each Rock the Bells date, performing material from his latest LP Indicud. He's known to premiere new material live, too, so have your cell phones ready to record.

Jhene Aiko (All Dates)

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You might have heard the Los Angeles R&B singer on Big Sean's "Beware" single, but it's high time to check out her silky-smooth solo material live. The 25-year-old singer has a new EP and album coming out, so expect her to preview loads of unreleased R&B material, like new track "Mirrors."

Wale (Washington, D.C. and New York City)

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Expect a lively performance from the Washington D.C. native when Rock the Bells rolls into his hometown. Earlier this month, Kendrick Lamar brought fierce competition to hip hop, dissing an array of leading rappers in his "Control" verse. Wale not-so-subtly responded with, "I'm the best rapper on the planet." Boom. See if the MC's sentiment holds weight when he performs material off his No. 1 album The Gifted.

Jurassic 5 (Los Angeles)

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Six years after splitting, old school rap crew Jurassic 5 are back—and we couldn't be more excited. With a knockout catalog and no new material to promote, their Rock the Bells sets will probably be one classic J5 track after another. Get ready to move your a$$.

Flatbush Zombies (All Dates)

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With three magnetic MCs and an "anything goes" approach to music (one of their song samples Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), Brooklyn's Flatbush Zombies always command the stage. They can be woozily laid back or tough-as-hell on the mic, but they always entertain. 

Tech N9ne (All Dates)

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For his 13th studio album, Kansas City, Missouri rap vet Tech N9ne recruited an eclectic roster of collaborators, including B.o.B, Big K.R.I.T., Cee Lo Green, Game, Kendrick Lamar, Serj Tankian, T-Pain, Wiz Khalifa and even Ray Manzarek, the recently deceased keyboardist for '60s rock legends the Doors. Still, N9ne spits his rapid-fire verses with an unrivaled passion and aggression. See the video for his Tankian collabo "Straight Out the Gate" above for proof. 

The Internet (All Dates)

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Whether she's rapping like Missy Elliott or crooning airily like she belongs in Cocteau Twins, Syd the Kyd, aka Odd Future's resident DJ, is a dynamic talent to keep an eye on. And as part of duo The Internet, she delivers some of the funkiest leftfield R&B you've heard in years. 

Wu-Tang Clan (All Dates)

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It's true: Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin' to f-ck with. The Staten Island, NY rap collective are a cornerstone of modern hip hop, and their live performances are unrivaled, as members hang back to puff and party, then attack with their turn on the mic. It's more akin to a hip hop house party than a typical concert. Not to be missed.

Big K.R.I.T. (All Dates)

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Mississippi mixtape master Big KRIT finally dropped his debut album last year and it was well worth the wait. Rock the Bells 2013 might be a victory lap for him, but given his hard-hitting beats and commanding flow, don't expect K.R.I.T. to take it easy.

Joey Bada$$ (All Dates)

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Proving "age ain't nothing but a number," 18-year-old Joey Bada$$ is one of the most promising rappers of 2013. A member of Brooklyn’s rap crew Pro Era, Joey's buzz has been building ever since his 1999 mixtape dropped in 2012. This might be your last chance to see Pro Era in concert before they blow up to Odd Future levels of popularity.

Juicy J (All Dates)

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Five years after the last Three 6 Mafia album, Juicy J has experienced a career resurgence of sorts, partnering with Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang and preparing to release Stay Trippy, his first solo album since 2009's Hustle Till I Die. Powered by the Mike Will Made It-produced "Bandz A Make Her Dance," the rapper's post-Three 6 career has nearly overshadowed his group's influence. Expect lots of twerking whether you like it or not.

Brother Ali (All Dates)

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True artists channel their inner turmoil and make the personal universal. Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali has made a career of this, balancing poignant, meditative work with thoughtful, blunt observations on the socioeconomic and political systems entrenched in America. But as a student of hip hop, dude has listened to the greats and can rap his ass off. Ali counters stereotypical live hip hop complaints with a ferocious live band and intelligent ad-libs.

Pusha T (All Dates)

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Since signing with Kanye West's GOOD Music, Pusha T—one half of Virginia Beach, VA brother rap duo Clipse—has become vital to 'Ye's operation. He guested on Ye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the blockbuster Cruel Summer compilation. Now he's prepping to drop his debut studio LP, My Name Is My Name, which is sure to be a fall hip hop must-have, with production from Kanye and Swizz Beatz and guest spots from 2 Chainz, The-Dream, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown and more. Check out the arty-aggressive LP gem "Numbers on the Boards" above.

Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh (All Dates)

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The most famous (only?) British rapper you know, Slick Rick damn near invented storytelling rap, weaving intricate tales of urban life while retaining a smart, wry sense of humor. Doug E. Fresh, aka the Human Beatbox, is fascinating to watch live, creating better beats with his mouth than most producers can do with a studio. The duo have been performing live for more than 20 years, so they’re seasoned vets at this point.

Rakim (All Dates)

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It's hard to overstate the importance of pioneering rapper Rakim to the development of hip hop. In fact, the genre can be demarcated "before" and "after" the rapper's arrival. Before Paid in Full, Rakim's debut with producer Eric B, most rappers' flows were still rudimentary, never veering from AABB style (see all of Licensed to Ill as Exhibit A). Rakim's internal rhymes and extended metaphors set the bar for everyone who came after him.

Freeway (All Dates)

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Philadelphia rapper Freeway, born Leslie Pridgen, has worked with the titans of hip hop, including under the guiding force of Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel Roc-A-Fella, and later with Lil Wayne's Cash Money Records. And for good reason: The devout Muslim is ferocious on the mic, pouring himself into the street-wise verses he's know for. Expect an intense set at Rock the Bells.

Mimosa (San Francisco)

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L.A. based DJ Tigran Mimosa started his own record label in 2011 as a means of getting his music to the masses, and these days he's hitting up huge festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Outside Lands and Ultra. Check out his latest mixtape Future Trill Vol. 1 for an overview of his hip hop-meets-EDM style.

Riff Raff (San Francisco)

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What can we say that hasn’t already been said? The rap anomaly/reality TV star/performance artist is definitely fun (and slightly terrifying) to watch, but is he just as entertaining to listen to? It's worth stopping by his set to find out.

Dilated Peoples (San Francisco)

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The L.A. hip hop trio have been active since 1992 with five studio albums under their belt and another, Directors of Photography, on the way in 2014. You've probably heard their highest charting hit, "This Way" featuring Kanye West, but be sure to get their classic second album, 2001's Expansion Team.

Black Hippy (All Dates)

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They have yet to release a full-length project as a group, but the South Central L.A. foursome is comprised of some of the most talked about acts in hip-hop today: Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. Lamar’s debut, Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City dropped late last year and has since gone platinum.

Stalley (All Dates)

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With three mixtapes under his belt, ‘Self Made’ Volumes 1, 2 and 3, the Ohio rapper already has a major player in his corner: Maybach Music. Shortly after he attended the 2010 Iron Mic competition in Beijing as the featured emcee, Stalley was signed to Rick Ross’ label.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (All Dates)

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No one raps faster or smoother than this reunited Cleveland collective, who celebrate their 21st anniversary this summer at Rock the Bells. Expect '90s classics ("Crossroads," "First of the Month"), deep cuts and perhaps even a few never-before-heard gems recently unearthed for Lost Archives Vol. 1, a compilation of unreleased Bone Thugs-N-Harmony material from the mid to late '90s and 2000s.

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