Some of the great albums of hip-hop will be performed in full at this year's Rock the Bells festival tour, including The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and classics by Nas, Cypress Hill, and Mos Def and Talib Kweli. The four-date, bi-coastal tour was announced Tuesday night at the House of Blues Sunset Strip and kicks off August 8 in San Bernardino, California.
"Rock the Bells isn't about who is selling the most right now," Cypress Hill's B-Real told Rolling Stone. His group will perform 1993's multiplatinum, career-defining Black Sunday. "It's about traditional hip-hop culture, and what these albums meant to people."
Nas will recreate Illmatic, Mobb Deep will play The Infamous, and Raekwon and Ghostface will perform their acclaimed Only Built for Cuban Linx for the first time ever. Others appearing at the fest include Erykah Badu, the GZA and the Souls of Mischief. "It's cool that you go through a whole album from beginning to end," Wu Tang mastermind and longtime Rock the Bells associate the RZA told Rolling Stone. "You feel it like a film -- you can see it and hear it."
The RZA will host a separate "36 Chambers Stage," where he hopes to spotlight not just music related to his work with the group, but new acts, martial arts demonstrations, film and broader areas of hip-hop culture. "Hopefully it will spawn great art," RZA said. "Maybe Cornel West will come out for a minute to speak. Maybe we'll get grand master chess players. I'm in these peer groups and these people love coming out and speaking to the youth and being part of music and hip hop. This will give a platform for that."
The 2011 Rock the Bells expands on last year's shows, which had classic albums performed by Snoop Dogg and Wu Tang Clan. "Rock acts do it all the time," said promoter Chang Weisberg, whose Guerilla Union booked the seven-year-old festival. "Those particular records are on everybody's iPod, whether they admit it or not."
This year also marks a partnership with House of Blues to bring a smaller version of the festival tour to intimate clubs in other cities, and spotlight some of the show's newer acts. "The art of A&R is dead at the label level, but it's alive and well at the live level," said Weisberg.
At the festival dates, Mobb Deep's performance of The Infamous is part of a busy summer for the reunited duo from Queens, following band member Prodigy's release from prison in March after three years on a gun-possession charge. The 1995 album catapulted the band to a long career, but they've never performed more than three songs from the album at any one show. "I would be really arrogant to say that it is going to be easy," said Mobb Deep MC Havoc. "It is going to be a challenge, and it will be fun at the same time."
Rock the Bells Festival Dates:
August 20, San Bernardino, California - San Manuel Amphitheater
August 27, Mountain View, California - Shoreline Amphitheatre
September 3, New York - Governor's Island
September 10, Boston