Guerilla Union founder and Rock The Bells creator, Chang Weisberg, started off the first ever East Coast Rock The Bells Festival Series Press Conference by introducing Supernatural, the gifted MC who has hosted Rock The Bells since its inception in 2004. Now in its ninth year, Rock The Bells is the premier hip hop festival in the United States and has been getting bigger and better as each year comes to pass.
Weisberg settled into his assigned seat at the panel table alongside Hot 97 FM’s DJ Peter Rosenberg and several hip hop legends that were assembled at Santos Party House to discuss this year’s incarnation of the RTB Festival Series coming to New Jersey this September. Also known as SuperNat, the freestyle king announced the newest additions to the RTB 2012 festival lineup via his colorful “Rock The Bells” freestyle. Backed by the “Ten Crack Commandments” instrumental, SuperNat incorporated the star studded lineup into his imaginative, off the top of the head verses sprinkled with new additions, Big Sean, Curren$y, M.O.P., Sean Price, and Action Bronson.
These additions strengthened an already strong lineup of hip hop heavyweights featured on this bill, covering the entire spectrum of rich and diverse musical styles that hip hop offers. Stars scheduled to perform include Nas, Slick Rick, J. Cole, Pusha T, Common, Eve, Ice Cube, Method Man, Redman, 2 Chainz and Dipset, among many others, further establishing Rock The Bells as the definitive hip hop festival in the United States.
The press conference was attended by several artists representing the East Coast contingent. DMX, Prodigy, Immortal Technique, Jadakiss, Erick Sermon, Sean Price, Billy Danze, Jim Jones and Freekey Zekey all shared the spotlight and fielded questions from the media, discussing the magnitude of Rock The Bells festival. A common thread was the importance of unity and respect in a music genre that has been plagued by negativity and beefs that take away attention from the music at the heart of hip hop culture.
Weisberg, now very much in control of the huge RTB Festival Series which plays several shows on both coasts of the country, contrasted with the Chang Weisberg that many saw for the first time in the chaotic Rock The Bells documentary that chronicled the mayhem that accompanied the very first California show in 2004. Confident that he has assembled one of the best lineups ever to touch a stage, he fielded a question about the seemingly large number of West Coast artists on the bill.
“I never think of hip hop in terms of East and West, especially when it comes to Rock The Bells. I think every year, the spirit of Rock the Bells really strives to evoke the desire of a world class hip hop lineup to bring everything together, not to separate, not to be negative. When we announce the bill, we’ve never had that much negativity, because we have so many hardcore… you know RTB is built on 90’s era hip hop and especially 90’s era hip hop from the East Coast. But it was never supposed to be just that.”
Chang continued. “In order for it to grow and continue to do what it’s doing, it gives everybody up on this platform… It’s the only touring hip hop festival in the world. I really wish I had more stages and more days. I would love to book a three day or four day festival, but at the end of the day, we put together what we feel is the finest collection of hip hop artists. At the end of the day, people are going to say what they want to say, but like Supernatural said, I feel like these are The Avengers. Truthfully, the New York show, with Dipset, with Hit Squad reunion, with the Ruff Ryders in the house, you’re going to tell me you’re worried about West Coast hip hop? But don’t front, I hope everybody gives Ice Cube and DJ Quik some love, because they don’t normally get booked out here and so I feel like New York is going to be representative of people who love good music despite what coast you come from.”
For other artists like socially conscious Immortal Technique, who has rocked the RTB stage several times, these shows offers an opportunity to rap alongside the greats of the game.
“It’s an honor for me to be on the stage with these legends. I appreciate everything they’ve done for the game and continue to do for the game. Hip Hop’s great strength is diversity. That’s what we see on this stage. That’s what we see on this lineup and hopefully we will continue to see more of that in hip hop.”
For Rosenberg, those in attendance may have expected him to be asked about the controversial comments that led to YMCMB’s abrupt departure from HOT 97’s Summer Jam. Sure enough the loaded question came as he was asked about whether he thought there was any “BS on this Rock The Bells roster’?
“First of all, I did not think anyone was wack on the Summer Jam roster. I thought one song by one of the artists was wack on the Summer Jam roster. I still think that. I think she’s a dope artist. I just don’t like that song. For [Rock The Bells], I’ll be honest. I took a double take at Tyga. I took a double take at Future, but Tyga was on this stage a few years ago. A lot of people just associate Tyga with YMCMB and I’m probably guilty of doing the same thing, but he’s just a popular artist from Compton. He’s done his thing. He got signed to YMCMB. The fact is he fits in nicely with the Don Kennedys and the Fashawns…”
DMX provided much of the laughter throughout the conference with his zany behavior on stage, including bringing out what looked like a glass of Hennessey from underneath the table and then lighting a cigarette without a care in the world as to who might object. Clearly, DMX lives by his own set of rules, but remains a fascinating character, seemingly oblivious to the going ons in the everyday hip hop world. Despite years of personal strife and a stint in jail, the return of DMX to the performance stage after being one the 90’s most elite MCs is one of the most anticipated acts on the bill. When asked who he was checking for at the event, X claimed to not be a fan of watching live shows, stating that he doesn’t want to be “influenced in any way,” but admitted that he would watch the entire show and enjoy it. When asked about what the current state of hip hop, he answered in true DMX fashion.
“I don’t really be concerned about what’s fresh and what’s current… I don’t want any type of influence whatsoever. I don’t want to feel that ‘this is the direction the game is going in, so I gotta go that way…’ I keep my shades on, the shades that allow me to see things the way I see things. My interpretation has evidently been a good one, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fucking fix it.”
Jadakiss, sitting to the left of his past Ruff Ryder collaborator, emphasized that this isn’t that boring show with a bunch of filler.
“You go to a lot of shows that have parts in the show that you might want to go to the concession stand and go to the bathroom or something,” the gravel-voiced MC admitted. “But this is one of those shows that the energy is going to be up from the curtain opening to the curtain closing, so I’m just going to get me a nice spot on the side of the stage and enjoy it.”
M.O.P.’s Billy Danze, while having huge respect for the lineup, made it clear who he would like to see light up the RTB stage.
“For DMX to be here in NY… I’m a huge fucking DMX fan. I don’t know if you have ever seen DMX perform. We M.O.P., and we get on stage and we go hard as hell, but this dude actually gets on the stage an hour and a half and burn that shit down by himself, no hype man or nothing, and then he got the nerve to go into a prayer toward the end of the show.”
For Erick Sermon, this is an opportunity for the famed EPMD and Hit Squad lyricist/producer to educate the younger generation as to what Hit Squad is all about.
“People coming to Rock The Bells know what Rock the Bells is. Rock The Bells is 90’s hip hop. I’m not going to try to jake you for no reason. For the young kids, they come to learn, and I’m going to show them what the Hit Squad is. They don’t know, but they’ll understand when they leave.”
This year’s “New York” show, presented by Boost Mobile in association with Guerrilla Union, will actually be held in New Jersey at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on September 1 and 2. Trying to avoid the conflict of last year’s shows which had two stages, each competing for the fan’s attention, Chang will roll out the entire lineup over two days.
“Two days, one ticket, and hopefully the dopest hip hop show on earth,” he said.
To see an updated list of the full roster, and all other information about the 2012 Rock The Bells music festival, visit www.rockthebells.net.