Last Night: Rock the Bells at Red Rocks

Rock the Bells 2009
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Better than:
ringtone rap, anything associated with Auto-Tune or listening to the self-proclaimed newly anointed "King of Pop," Kanye West, talk about himself endlessly.

Since 2003, Rock the Bells has been the premier hip-hop festival to showcase rap music. In the past, the fest leaned heavily toward Wu affiliated acts and the much celebrated and maligned genre of backpacker rap. This year was no different with usual suspects like Nas, GZA, Busta Rhymes, Reflection Eternal, Chali 2na, Supernatural, KRS-One and newcomers such as the Knux, but the tour branched out in surprising ways by including acts like Tech N9NE and Slaughterhouse.

Last Night: Rock the Bells at Red Rocks
Damian Marley (by Aaron Thackeray, click to enlarge)

A bit later, Damian joined in on tracks like "N.Y State of Mind," and they performed Nas's "One Love" and a cover of Bob Marley's "One Love" back-to-back. Marley's solo set played too much to the crowd by offering up rote covers from his father's catalogue. Nas's second solo set was top-notch but it wasn't Illmatic. Marley and Nas offered up a few hints of what the new album might sound like but it is clear that this project is still in the developmental stages.  

Rock the Bells is at a point where it might have to reinvent itself or tweak the model a bit to stay fresh. Many of the acts on the bill this year have performed in past years. That being said, the majority of these acts are still some of the best performers in hip-hop. And despite the recession and the show's high ticket costs that many cite as further evidence of the gentrification of hip-hop, the diversity of this year's crowd and relatively strong turn-out, suggest that hip-hop is still far from dead.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: As a teacher, I have had many students try to get me to listen to Tech N9ne, but I've politely declined, probably because I don't understand the Juggalo fans. But after seeing them perform for the first time, I must say I was very impressed with the stage presence.
Random Detail: KRS-One is a Vivaldi fan. The Knux like to rock Queensryche when they're in the mood.
By the Way: Reflection Eternal featuring Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek will be back in town on August 21 at the Gothic Theater as part of a stellar bill with Mos Def and Jay Electronica.

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