As you may have heard the long standing, now traveling, Rock The Bells hip hop festival announced it’s lineup this week. Most of it is predictably cargo shorts friendly -a reunited Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Rakim, Ghost & Rae (performing tOMGether as Cuban Linx), Red & Meth, De La, Rakim and The Pharcyde alongside talented newcomers like Wale, Jay Electronica & BOB. As usual it’s a pretty great lineup, and, as usual, it’s not great enough to justify eight hours of frat boy mud wrestling.
But what’s most surprising is the small pocket of weirdly ambiguous hipster artists that were invited to the party – Spank Rock, Kid Sister, Flosstradamus, Amanda Blank, Santogold. While I won’t get into any qualitative issues surrounding these acts, their presence alone says a lot. Either Rock The Bell’s organizers are making a shallow attempt to diversify their draw or the true hip hop gatekeepers have actually grown receptive to the Urb x Hollertronix community. If it’s the former. They Sold Out, Homie. (Though I guess if somebody has to get booed off the RTB stage in the name of diversity it’s better these guys than, say, Crime Mob.) If it’s the latter, then things are beginning to get interesting. That is if you find classism interesting, because it seems like that same silent fuel that powered the first wave of underground haterdom is again coming into play. Only rather than completely dismissing the music of present day poverty (you know, where this little thing called hip hop came from) these artists have adapted it to their needs by putting a wealthy/worldly/well educated/internet savvy twist on the records that the Rock The Bells scene developed in direct opposition to. They espouse values that several of the shows headliners built their fanbase by rallying against – namely dancing, looking fly and partying (you know, where this little thing called hip hop came from).
That this axis of hipsterdom seems to fill the gap left by the Paid Dues underground stage that was held at previous Rock The Bells is also telling. This year, instead of Sage Francis and MF Doom patrons will be blessed by the soothing sounds of Flosstradamus and Spank Rock. So is this the final blow in the battle for genre dominance amongst college kids who sort of like rap but not really? Are flamboyant keffiyehs officially the new fisherman hats? And is Jay Elect’s album seriously going to be called called Abracadabra: Let There Be Light? These questions and more will be answered at the Rock The Bells festival. You bring the woodpecker I’ll bring the wood (ayo!).