Each year Rock the Bells assembles a sufficient lineup of current superstar hip hop performers, but this year the show felt dated. While the headliners Nas and Damian Marley provided a fresh look at the verging of hip hop and reggae, performances by Busta Rhymes, The Roots, and Reflection Eternal (Hi-Tek and Talib Kweli) seemed passe. With so much talk about, “Is hip hop dead?” it was bizarre that after what is one of hip hop’s most high profile music festivals, I for the first time seriously contemplated hip hop’s recent downfall.
During Busta Rhyme’s set he continuously stopped mid verse in an attempt to get the crowd involved. His reasoning, “When you got hits,” you can do what you want. Unfortunately, the last “hit” by Busta Rhyme was in 2002 with “Make it Clap.” With “Make it Clap” as his finale, Busta Rhymes followed his pause of “when you got hits,” to change songs and rap “Woo Hah! I Got You All in Check.” Unfortunately, this track is so old that most of the teenagers attending the show were probably still in diapers during its release.
It was also strange to see the “legendary Roots crew,” as Black Thought mechanically repeats whenever he’s given the mic, play before Busta Rhymes. The legendary crew used to be a headliner wherever they performed. Like Busta Rhymes, their hits were from at least three years dated.
After the event, I considered how many contemporary hip hop artists have managed to produce consecutive mainstream albums that were successful in the last four years, and all I could come up with was Lil Wayne. Damn.