nas 3



nas 2

lauryn hill 2




jdilla back




Photos courtesy of Daniel Edwards

It's rare to have this much hip-hop in one place.

After West Coast stops earlier this summer in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Rock The Bells rolled through New York's Governor's Island yesterday (September 3) for a festival that payed homage to both hip-hop's past and its present. With four stages (Rock The Bells, 36 Chambers, Paid Dues and Grindtime), there was sure to be something for every one of the thousands of fans in attendance—sometimes overwhelmingly so, as many concertgoers found themselves constantly on the move from stage to stage, hoping to catch their favorite acts.

Early afternoon performers at the daylong event included Evidence, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Freddie Gibbs at the Paid Dues stage; Roc Marciano, GZA and Black Moon on the 36 Chambers stage; and Random Axe, Black Star and Cypress Hill on the Rock The Bells stage. Just as Erykah Badu's set was coming to a close on that main stage, 2011 XXL Freshman Big K.R.I.T. was taking the Paid Dues stage, energetically kicking songs like “Sookie Now” and “Country Shit.” Slaughterhouse followed, rapping “Sound Off,” “Onslaught 2” and other tracks from their self-titled debut, before Immortal Technique finished things up on that stage with the last set of the night.

Once they hit the 36 Chambers stage, Mobb Deep—accompanied by longtime collaborator Big Noyd— performed favorites from their seminal sophomore LP, The Infamous, like "Survival of the Fittest" and "Temperature Rising.” The Queens duo also rocked "Eye for a Eye" without Nas and "Right Back At You" without Ghostface and Raekwon— who were later performing their on sets at the festival—before venturing into classic cuts from their later projects like "The Realest" without Kool G. Rap (Murda Muzik),  "Got It Twisted" (Infamy), Keep It Thoro" from Prodigy's H.N.I.C. album and 50 Cent's "Out of Control (Remix)."

After Childish Gambino, the rap moniker of actor Donald Glover, hit the 36 Chambers stage following the Mobb, Raekwon and Ghostface ran through songs from their 1995 masterpiece, Only Build 4 Cuban Linx, though out of order. The Staten Island duo headlined the stage with their group's namesake by rapping songs like "Incarcerated Scarfaces," "Criminology," "Glacier of Ice" and "Ice Cream" and "Ice Water" with Cappadonna and Masta Killa. Ghost created a brief intermission when he went to the soundman for a mic check for roughly five minutes.

As the two Wu members' time was coming to a close, another New York native with a classic mid-90s debut, Nas, was about to grace the main stage. Esco followed up Lauryn Hill, who, while Rae and Ghost were doing their thing across the way, ran through her Grammy-winning solo debut, 1998's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with a live band. After Ms. Hill gave the crowd updated, tempo-shifted versions of hits like “Lost Ones,” “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and “To Zion.” Just when it seemed she was ready to wrap her set, the New Jersey native brought out fellow Fugee member Pras, enticing excitement from the crowd as the two treated fans to “Fu-Gee-La,” “Ready or Not' and “Killing Me Softly,” all from the group's sophomore album, 1996's The Score.

To bring the festival to a close, Nas hit the main stage and spit his classic debut, Illmatic. Performing the 1994 album from start to finish, the Queens native offered up a few treats in between the opener, “Genesis,” and the album's close, “It Ain't Hard To Tell.” With DJ Premier behind the turntables, Nas followed up “N.Y. State of Mind” by bringing out AZ for “Life's a Bitch” and then Pete Rock for “The World Is Yours.” Rock didn't depart, though, as he and Prem soon engaged in a DJ battle that lasted nearly ten minutes, as the two legendary producers alternated playing some of their most revered beats, much to the crowd's delight; later guests included MC Serch, Akinyele, and Large Professor. Once Nas reemerged, he continued with the set as planned, rocking cuts like “One Love” and “Represent” before finishing Illmatic with “It Ain't Hard to Tell.” That wasn't the end of his set, though, as the Braveheart spit his latest single, “Nasty,” brought out NBA star Steve Nash (who briefly danced for the crowd), and rocked other fan favorites like “Hate Me Now” and “Nas Is Like.” To put a fitting cap on the evening, Nas was joined on stage by Lauryn Hill, and the two collaborated on their 1996 hit “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That),” before the Queensbridge representer sent people off to "Made You Look."

Rock The Bells is set to bring its 2011 tour to a close in Boston next weekend. —Adam Fleischer