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Nas, Common & The Roots Pay Homage to the Greats at Rock the Bells

As Rock the Bells hit Boston on Saturday (July 18), the star-studded line up led fans in a day dedicated to hip-hop’s past, present, and future, and honored some of the music world’s lost icons in the process. The all day affair featured two stages—a main stage, as well as the smaller Paid Dues stage—with doors opening at 1 p.m.

Early acts on the larger stage included K’Naan, who performed tracks from 2009’s Troubadour, as well as Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek in a shortened set that featured some of their past collaborations as well as a couple new tracks from their upcoming disc as Reflection Eternal, Revolutions Per Minute. Indie favorite Tech N9ne followed with an energy infused performance, bringing much of the midday crowd to its feet with his tongue-twisting rhymes, face paint, and moon walking.

Next was Common, backed by a live band, performing newer hits like “Testify” and “Universal Mind Control.” A healthy portion of the set was dedicated to some of his peers’ classic cuts, as the Chi-town MC chanted “hip-hop” in between verses from The Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By” and Dr. Dre and Snoop’s “Nothin’ But A G Thang,” among others.

Performer’s gracing the Paid Dues stage during the daytime ranged from Evidence and Alchemist, M.O.P., and Slum Village, spitting tracks from the forthcoming Villa Manifesto and crowd favorite “Selfish,” while making sure to rep the legacy of the fellow Detroit native, the late J. Dilla.

Slaughterhouse followed, rocking to a mini-mosh-pit inducing version of “Woodstock (Hood Hop).” They also paid tribute to the past, bumping snippets from Eminem, Biggie, and Dr. Dre. Wu-Tang members Raekwon and RZA were the final two acts to hit the more intimate second stage.

After a House of Pain set closed out with “Jump Around,” The Roots came on and jammed out as only they can, with Black Thought shouting out fallen greats Michael Jackson and James Brown. Big Boi followed, pleasing the nighttime crowd with a catalogue of OutKast and individual hits ranging from “Playas Ball” to “Ms. Jackson” to “The Way You Move.” The Atlanta native briefly expressed his excitement to be joining Def Jam and reuniting with L.A. Reid, hinting that his long awaited solo project, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, may no longer be in limbo.

As the marathon that was Rock the Bells came to a close, the festival’s headliners did not disappoint, with Damian Marley and Nas sharing a lengthy set. Nas’ solo performance included “The World is Yours,” for which he brought out Pete Rock, saying, “Thanks for the beat, my nigga,” as well as other hits “Nas is Like” and a Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” backed version of “One Mic.” Nas then performed Illmatic’s “One Love,” followed by Jr. Gong channeling his father Bob’s “One Love,” the first of a handful of his father’s hits. The evening came to a close with the K’Naan assisted “Africa Must Wake Up,” off of Distant Relatives.

Rock the Bells, which moved on to New York’s Jones Beach yesterday, will continue throughout the summer. Visit the official RTB website for more details. –Adam Fleischer

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