2008 Rock The Bells Chicago (Part 1) – [Live]

Friday, 25 July 2008

Murs almost didn't make the plane.

My Rock The Bells adventure started long before I made it to Chicago. It started in the security line at the Long Beach Airport, when the courtesy announcements read a list of names—mine and few others, including one Nick Carter. Those of us listed named were in danger of missing the evening flight to Chicago. This was a problem on more levels than one, since Nick Carter is the birth name of rapper Murs and he was standing behind me, waiting for our respective bags and persons to get searched. It wasn't hard to notice the foot and a half of forelock behind me, and fanboyism overtook me for a second as I told him I was flying to Chicago to see him perform.

Fast forward through a long, aggravating flight (which may have had an effect on the next day's performance, but more about that later) and a short drive out to Tinley Park, and hip-hop heaven was upon us. The show had already started, and if they weren't already running behind, I would have missed Murs and become a defacto liar. Instead, as I settled into the pit during the last two songs of B.O.B's set, I got a chance to look around, see the sights—like the white dude with the Vanilla Ice fade complete with racing stripe—smell the smells—mainly vomit in the mostly empty pit—and duck under the overhang out of the on-and-off drizzle of the afternoon.

Between sets, the ten foot JumboTron alternated flashing the names of performers and sponsors, Scratch of The Roots and MC Supernatural entertained the crowd, and the set breaks—which were supposed to last ten minutes each, according to the schedule—sometimes stretched to twenty minutes or more. Finally, Jay Electronica marched on stage in knee-length purple gaiters, gold warmup pants, a purple t-shirt with military trim, and a drum major's staff. His high-energy, shortened set gave way to a giddy Murs, who skipped on stage, waving like a little kid to the assembled crowd.

The self-described “happy emo rapper” launched into “Better Than the Best,” and while the refrain “the best to ever do it / the best that ever did it / Murs is better than your favorite rapper, admit it” may be true on most days, it wasn't on this one. Maybe it was the turbulent flight or the delay on the tarmac the night before that did it (for some reason, they sent us in an circle around the entire airport once we touched down, only to give our gate away to a flight arriving later than us) but Murs and his DJ (who was on the flight as well, and like me was plagued with a seatback TV that didn't want to work) ran into all sorts of bad luck. A turntable broke mere seconds into the next song, and a flustered Murs struggled to recuperate as the technical difficulties never abated. A few tracks were abruptly stopped when they would get to the point where the fader would normally switch over to the 2nd record, and the tracks that did run their full course were punctuated by bass that often drowned out the vocals. The L.A. native ran through a decent cross-section of his catalog, pulling out tracks from Felt Vol. 2 (“Early Mornin' Tony”), Murray's Revenge (“Silly Girl,” “Yesterday & Today”) and a few off of his forthcoming Murs for President (“Better Than the Best,” “Looking Fly”), which he plugged throughout the set. He also did us a favor by bringing out Kidz in the Hall—who performed before we arrived—to do a guest spot, albeit one that was pretty unintelligible—thanks soundguy! But the Murs that bounced onto the stage and the Murs that stalked off were two different performers, and the very public, mic'd up argument with his DJ mid-set over the inability to perform a full track left a bitter taste in the mouths of all involved.

As the roadies geared up for Dead Prez to take the stage, Supernatural came out to freestyle for the crowd. His “Chi-town Love” took two steps towards the amazing after he left off rapping about Chicago and told the crowd “Don't you understand / I'll rap about anything you put in my hand.” He then proceeded to rap about cameras, Bulls jerseys and NBA Jam, the Cubs, Starbucks, Sleestacks and my personal favorite, a bag of trailmix. Talking about it doesn't do it justice, and while this fuzzy YouTube video doesn't do much better, Supernatural's freestyle must be observed.

The rain, which had stopped early, started back up a little bit as Dead Prez took the stage. The duo made no bones about their political tendencies, urging the crowd to say "fuck the police” and to “take one more shit on the White House lawn.” Their DJ for the day, DJ Beverly Bond, seemed to run into the same technical troubles as Murs' DJ, but took it in stride, with only one noticeable gaffe during the set. As they pimped their new album Information Age, and M-1 growled through one of the shortest sets of the afternoon; the six songs they performed as they paced back and forth across stage included “They Schools,” “That's War!” and “We Need a Revolution.” Then they left the platform to Immortal Technique, who we skipped in favor of feeding ourselves. Sorry guys, it was just that time.

But following the longest line ever (apparently much of the now near-capacity crowd had the same idea), a mega-mix of all the most overused hip-hop beats started blasting forth—honestly, it was kind of a head scratcher. It may have just been the fact that now they're overused, because rappers from here to eternity will be biting Rakim's style. Kid Capri supplied the beats, and played the role of the first real hype-man of the day, pumping up the crowd before Rakim sauntered out with a towel around his head. Immediately Kid Capri dropped the needle and “Don't Sweat the Technique” got the crowd screaming. With the show now running almost two hours behind, yet another set was trimmed to just six songs. No stage acrobatics, no crazed antics, just the slow simmer of history and a man with black-framed glasses showing why he's still one of the greatest rappers alive as he ran through “Pump Up The Volume,” “Juice” and “It's Been A Long Time” before slipping back into the shadows.

Side note: There was a running theme for the afternoon—a tribute to J Dilla. It speaks to the breadth of the man's back catalog that a large cross-section of the performers could claim at least a few Dilla-produced tracks in their repetoires, and almost every artist mentioned him at some point during their performances.

De La Soul fed off the buzz that Rakim had built, bouncing across the stage with a set that included Stakes Is High's “Supa Emcees” and title track, as well as 3 Feet High…'s “Potholes On My Lawn.” Unlike the previous sets, the DJ wasn't relegated to the platform above the Jumbotron. Instead, roadies wheeled out a table with decks in front of the giant screen, allowing Maseo to step out from behind the mixer and spit his verses on Art Official Intelligence's “Ooh” and a few others. In an announcement that made most of the crowd feel old, they announced that this year marked the 20th anniversary of De La Soul as a group, which meant that some of the other acts were pushing that number as well. Then it was back to the beats. The one odd thing about the performance was this: the final two songs, “Buddy” and the aforementioned “Ooh,” both feature—in their album versions—other artists who were backstage. But Q-Tip didn't show up for “Buddy,” and Redman—who was up next on deck—didn't join in for “Ooh.” Then again, neither did Dorthy or Toto.

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