Kicking off their four-city tour in San Bernandino, CA, annual hip hop festival Rock the Bells celebrated their tenth year with an usual mix of veteran pioneers and buzzing upstarts. We loved Pusha T's career-spanning set and Juicy J's hedonistic twerkfest. though had mixed reviews for hologram-filled sets from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (great!) and Wu-Tang Clan (er, less than great).
But there was so much more. Here's a rundown of some other great things we caught at the festival, with one bummer cancellation.
1. Immortal Technique's Hilariously Honest Stage Banter, Part 1
Rock the Bells schedules selected artists to talk to fans in the official Meet and Greet area, though brash New York rapper Immortal Technique wasn't having anything official. "I'm not scheduled for a VIP meet and greet," he admitted to the crowd Saturday. "My meet and greet is right out in public. Just walk your broke ass over there. I know how expensive these f-ckin' ticket are."
2. Trinidad Jame$ Has a Religious Experience
In the middle of his high-energy Sunday afternoon set, "All Gold Everything" rapper Trinidad Jame$ decided to jump into the crowd, coming back a more enlightened man. "We crowd surfing? F-ck it. We crowd surfing," said the rapper, before diving into the audience. "That was fun as f-ck," he said afterwards. "I felt like Jesus Christ for two seconds high as f-ck." Riff Raff's concerns were more material. "I damn near f-cked up my 24-karat gold pants," the rapper said after jumping into the crowd.
3. The Most Committed Men at the Festival
Saturday saw triple-digit temperatures in the beginning of the day, with most attendees opting for shorts and T-shirts. Then we saw these guys decked out in full suits outside of Riff Raff's set. Did they always dress like this? Was it a viral marketing stunt? Are they industry? We were going to ask, but sometimes the mystery is more fun.
4. Earl Sweatshirt's Surreal Stage Banter
We were originally going to make this moment about Odd Future member (and, today, Earl Sweatshirt hypeman) Hodgy Beats, who became the first rapper we've ever seen to enter the stage cradling a baby. But then Earl dropped this gem: "I tried to catch a tornado real quick. There was a tornado in the parking lot. Give it up for tornadoes. You guys proud of yourself? You just gave it up for wind."
5. A$AP Rocky Goes Hard Rock With Live Band
For his tour with Rihanna and big festival shows, A$AP Rocky utilizes a live band to augment his DJ. During his portion of A$AP Mob's Sunday afternoon set, Rocky turned the Skrillex-produced dubstep-hop "Wild for the Night" into a reggae-tinged hard rock track with electric guitars and hard-hitting drums. It's proof that Pretty Flacko isn't afraid to embrace other genres outside of hip hop.
6. Doug E. Fresh Is The Classic Definition of an MC
Rock the Bells has always took great pains to revive and celebrate hip hop's pioneers. While Slick Rick kept his movements and energy to a minimum, Doug E. Fresh regaled the crowd by leading them in singsongs of Dr. Dre's "California Love," DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat" and Luniz "I Got 5 On It." You couldn't ask for a better hypeman. Later, he beatboxed to tracks like Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" and Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See" to elation from the crowd, a surprising number of which were 25 and under.
7. Ghetto Vader Sweats For His Art
Apparently, Ghetto Vader is a Bronx-based hip hop graffiti artist and producer. We had to snap a shot because he was rocking this mask in face-melting temperatures all day. #commitment
8. Ab-Soul Brings Out Special Guest During Black Hippy Set
Early on in Black Hippy's crowded Saturday night set, Ab-Soul recruited Danny Brown for a live performance of his high-energy track "Terrorist Threats." When both rappers yelled, "I just wanna be free/I ain't tryna be nobody's chattel," the crowd went nuts.
9. Immortal Technique's Hilariously Honest Stage Banter, Part 2
After his hype man commanded the crowd to yell "F-ck you" at Immortal Technique, the rapper began a master-class in hip hop trolling. "Are you saying, 'F-ck you' because I come from the city with the best baseball and football team?," he asked to a sea of boos. "Half of y'all are from Pasadena and don't even have a football team. Y'all barely have a Dave and Buster's." Someone give this guy his own show ASAP.
And the Worst Moment:
Action Bronson Forced to Cancel Amid Freak Back Injury
We were all amped to catch Bronson on Sunday afternoon, but a freak back injury caused by a violent sneeze knocked him out of commission. The rapper tweeted that he needed to get an MRI and was in intense pain. Rest up and feel better, sir!