Classic-rock stars love to fetishize their own work in concert. There’s everything from Roger Waters’ hugely successful tour of “The Wall” to Deep Purple blowing out every track from “Machine Head” to an upcoming string of Steely Dan shows at the Beacon Theater (scattered dates from Sept. 14-23), with each devoted to a different disk from the group’s sterling catalogue.
If rockers can acknowledge the respect and awe awarded certain works, why can’t hip-hoppers? That question came to nag Chang Weisberg, wrangler of the annual Rock the Bells tour.
Starting last year, Weisberg challenged his headliners to deliver their most cohesive and resonant works in their entirety, including Snoop Dogg (who singled out “Doggystyle”) A Tribe Called Quest (lionizing “Midnight Marauders”) and Rakim (re-creating “Paid In Full”).
This year’s Bells, which came through Governors Island Saturday, ups the ante. Artists will serve up no fewer than 11 mint hip-hop touchstones, including Nas on “Illmatic,” Lauryn Hill with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Erykah Badu on “Baduizm,” Cypress Hill with “Black Sunday” and Mobb Deep rechristening “The Infamous.”
“Those albums can stand with any classic rock work,” Weisberg says. “They mean as much to the fans and they remain as relevant as when they came out, which is the sign of a classic.”
The idea for a live canonization of seminal works began three years ago with Cypress Hill (whose annual “Smoke Out” tour Weisberg also organizes). “I said to them, ‘You’re the Pink Floyd of hip hop,” he says. “So why don’t you do ‘Black Sunday’ front to back?”
At first, the guys were reluctant, since they weren’t sure they could re-create all the instrumental parts. But the result went over well enough to encourage Weisberg to pursue it further.
Not all the acts were instantly keen to play along. Mos Def and Talib Kweli told him their “Black Star” CD “was never meant to be performed live,” Weisberg recalls. “But I said, ‘At the end of the day, it’s how you interpret it.'”
Another problem, according to the promoter, is that “most hip-hop acts don’t rehearse.” And this would require lots of it. But eventually they all caved. “To see all the members of Wu-Tang rehearse ’36 Chambers’ was surreal,” Weisberg says. “Normally, I can’t get them to get together 10 minutes before a show.”
“Rock the Bells” began in 2004 with a reunited Wu-Tang as its first headliner (just four months before Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death). In the years since, Bells has focused its character on hip hop’s most lyrically ambitious, and alterna-minded, stars.
“It’s an education,” Weisberg says, “a way to learn where hip hop came from.”
In that sense, the focus often falls in the rearview mirror, with ’90s hip hop posited as the genre’s peak. At the same time, the fest has featured emerging names, some of whom have gained great currency after their appearances. Two years ago, Bells featured a then-little-known Santogold. Last year, it introduced many to B.o.B. and Wiz Khalifah. This year, Weisberg singles out Mac Miller and Curren as names to look out for, as well as the comically minded Childish Gambino.
“Next year, he’s going to have the number-one record in the country,” he predicts.
At the same time, Bell’s headliners blatantly push heritage hip hop, emphasized by all the reunions, comebacks and CD re-creations. Weisberg plans to keep that motif going. His ideal track-by-track replays?
“Jay-Z doing ‘Reasonable Doubt,’ The Fugees doing ‘The Score,’ The Beastie Boys doing either ‘Paul’s Boutique’ or ‘Ill Communication,’ and Outkast doing whatever they want.”
His ultimate coup?
“If N.W.A. reunited with Easy-E’s son,” Weisberg says without hesitation. “I’m putting that out there. It’s Chang’s dream.”
Rock the Bells: Governors Island, Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. with Lauryn Hill, Nas, Erykah Badu, Cypress Hill, Mobb Deep and more than 25 other acts.
Source: New York Daily News
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