Hip-hop newcomers, veterans, and even the deceased, aligned for this year’s Rock the Bells festival returning back to the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA Saturday (Sept. 7). With more than two dozen acts on the bill, day one was all about shuffling between three stages to see the likes of Common, Chief Keef, Earl Sweatshirt, Riff Raff, Pusha T, Hit-Boy, Big K.R.I.T. Black Hippy, plus the heavily anticipated Eazy-E hologram performance helmed by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Among the lineup Keef, 18, made for a big draw as a upcoming artist, being that the Chicago native was a no show last year, and has had a bunch of legal drama as of late. He took the Fools Gold stage supported by tons of hype men but lacked enough enthusiasm, even during “I Don’t Like,” to hold the crowd too long after Earl Sweatshirt’s run on the rival Hip Hop DX stage.
But the night really belonged to Eazy-E.
Introducing his posthumous return, Bone Thugs zoomed through their classics (“1st of tha Month,” “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” “Days of Our Lives,” and “Tha Crossroads” ) and tested out new material, amid cutting into the dedication phase. On what would’ve been his 50th birthday, the N.W.A. leader’s digital reincarnation casually appeared asking, “What’s up L.A.?” The voiceover sent the crowd into a tense, albeit excited round of applause — if at times uncomfortable and jittery. He launched into “Boyz In the Hood” and ended with “Straight Out of Compton.”
Winding down the list of headliners was TDE collective Black Hippy (Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock), all of whom performed one by one, commencing with Kendrick Lamar and a montage of his singles and features.
Kid Cudi closed out the festival with an electrifying set of hits from his “Man on the Moon” series to his latest “Indicud” album. Cudi left ragers out of breath.
Night two of RTB will include a second hologram set, this time of O.D.B. with the Wu-Tang Clan.