After A Tribe Called Quest's delayed surprise encore Can I Kick It? faded into the night air, it was official: hip hop history was manifested, and the bar has been raised, forever.[rssbreak] The elements of chaos fought valiantly to deny the approximately 8,000 heads in attendance their slice of heaven, but the promoters succeeded in the most crucial aspects of hip hop concert dream-making: guaranteeing your advertised line-up. This is Rock the Bells 2008: The good, bad, and ugly:
Good: Almost absolutely everything, especially the stunning fact that every single performer appeared. Even original memeber Jarobi White! (who proudly wore a "My Favorite Rapper Wears a Skirt" T-shirt, courtesy of Eternia). MURS rocked the house with skilled charisma. The Pharcyde re-united with a mystical air of incredulous, boundless joy, plus with a few new live musicians, they brought beautiful, buried memories back to life. Mos Def decided to be generous with his melodic yet mercurial spirit, pleasing most. Method Man and Redman both are way too into hip hop to not deliver an entertaining experience, their blunted wit elicited much laughing (are you ready for How High 2?). And Nas was an orator on fire, launching into five songs off his highly underrated recent album, including a scorching version of Sly Fox dedicated to "Fox noose," as well as that ol' Illmatic magic. Q-Tip's Mos Def-assisted super-charged solo set introduced A Tribe Called Quest, who completed the cipher with reckless abandon, and the satisfaction of knowing nobody does it like they do, to this day. Phife Dawg's gruff Trinidadian grandfather raps and Tip's classic finesse still sound golden, from Excursions to Lyrics To Go. Each set was well over a half-hour, to an hour, and the appreciation in the air was genuinely palpable, from artist to fan alike.
Bad: The ear-shredding speaker distortions that nearly nuked Rakim's set, as well as the unfortunate microphone malfunction that Erykah Badu's newest child's father aka Jay Electronica suffered. Rakim, who was apparently in a minor car accident on the way to the venue, obviously didn't need the extra headache of the soundman manipulating DJ Kid Capri's Tech 12's. The R almost walked off 10 minutes into his set, until Capri rigged up a miracle and made Guess Who's Back happen. And Jay Electronica is full of boundless potential, but still requires some diligent work to remove his performance imperfections. Good thing he was rapt in the shows of his legendary predecessors, hopefully taking notes on vocal projection. Finally, De La Soul, 20 year vets they are, heroically trudged through their own turntable instability, and a rare unhinged outburst by Posdnous revealed how bad the often-pristine sound could disintegrate. When they are gushing homages to J. Dilla and rocking jems like Saturdays, they have a right to be pissed.
Ugly: As I overheard a cute young lady say: "Everything's a line-up". From the Lemonade Stand to the lavatories, waiting for anything in Arrow Hall was torture. Rock the Bells obviously deserves a bigger space to satisfy its eager and patient audience. And what's up with the beer? It sold out hours before the show was over, and the convoluted process of securing access sure could have used some fine-tuning, to say the least.
Compared to the atrocious debacle Rock the Bells experienced at the Kool Haus last year, this show, though far from perfect, was a great success. It was also the closest experience to rap nirvana that I've seen here in all my years, since Guerilla Union kept their promises to deliver every legend they promised. May the Gods of Toronto Concerts allow RTB into the Molson Amphitheatre next year (and add a Canadian talent stage); it could be the hip hop heaven we've all been waiting for.