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August 30, 2010

Concert review: Lauryn Hill, Tribe & Wu Tang @ Rock the Bells

tribe called quest

Sun writer John-John Williams IV was at Rock the Bells last night. Here's his review:

Rock The Bells had the potential to be epic.

The tour, which came to Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, boasted some of hip-hop's most legendary acts: Lauryn Hill, Wu Tang Clan, Rakim, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg and A Tribe Called Quest.

Instead, the sweltering heat combined with over-the top waits between acts had a fair share of ticket holders ready to rock some of the artists' bells.

Hill, undoubtedly the night's biggest draw, was a lesson in dysfunction. It's been nearly more than a decade since Hill's uber-successful album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," and Hill's recording hiatus fueled an undeniable buzz at last night's show.

So when it was announced -- just before she was about take the stage -- that Hill was in danger of not performing due to illness, it appeared the crowd was about to flip its collective lid. Audience members hurled boos, hisses and curses ...

Organizers took the stage trying to reassure the crowd that the concert was still plenty good even without Hill. The audience wasn't buying it. And for good reason: Hill's music crossed ethnic, gender, and economic lines. Hill was the "it" girl --a gifted actress, singer, poet, and rapper.

Hill was the reason why a good majority of the crowd came to Rock The Bells. She's also the reason why many of them left with bad tastes in their mouths. Hill's performance was absolutely dreadful. Finally, two hours after she was supposed to perform, Hill was on the stage for just about 20 minutes, and barely attempted to sing any of the material from her legendary solo album.

To her credit, Hill came out ripping, which she does extremely well. (Hill is considered one of the greatest female emcees of all time. And for good reason. He delivery, speed, and lyrics have always struck a chord with fans.) Her singing -- on the other hand-- wasn't striking anything. Her voice was noticeably horse. Her band drowned her out in a number of spots during her brief stage time. Her background singers didn't do anything noteworthy. The arrangement of her music made many of her songs unrecognizable, and there were feedback issues to boot.

A surprise guest appearance by rapper Nas for the hit "If I Ruled The World" couldn't save Hill's short set. Overall, it was a huge let down for her fans -- many of whom paid more than $100 a ticket in this economy to see her.

The best performance of the night came from A Tribe Called Quest. With surprise guest Busta Rhymes, the group simply ripped it up. "Bonita Applebam," "Can We Kick It?" "Award Tour" "Find A Way," were among the energy-filled set list of familiar hits.

Wu Tang Clan also put on a solid show. It was good to see all the remaining living members of the group. (Ol' Dirty Bastard's son, Boy Jones, stepped in and rapped his deceased father's lines in each song, which was a classy touch.)

KRS-One lost me and a number of folks in the crowd when he launched into these ridiculous speeches where he attacked the "Civil Rights movement of the '90s," new technology, and higher education. It made him sound foolish. (Stick to the rapping, KRS-One. Leave the intellectual discussion for those "educated" folks better equipped to do it.)

And finally, there was Snoop Dogg's laissez-faire performance, which seemed a bit tired. And don't get me started on the rapper's choice of attire: A prison-looking uniform made of bandanna material. (Seriously? Who is dressing these people?) To add insult to injury, the west coast rapper made the crowd wait an additional hour after Wu Tang performed. It was the cherry on top a spoiled cake.

(Baltimore Sun photo of Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest by Colby Ware. Editor's note: More photos are on the way.)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:17 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Concert reviews


Apparantly 12 years is nearly a decade?

Dude, did you go to the same show? For true hip-hop heads this show was legendary. Or are you just some geek masquerading to know and understand hip-hop.
Diss the teacher, seriously, put the pen down, immediately!

I have to agree in saying that anyone who disses the authority on hip-hop should have no place writing a review about rock-the-bells.
I guess you were just there to see Ms.Hill, you don't mention any of the other artists that were performing all day and then bad-mouth KRS

For Shame

This was probably one of the biggest concert let-downs that I have ever been to. With the line-up listed, it definitely had the potential to be amazing! But to only see KRS-1 and DJ Premier in a span of over 4 hours was a huge blower. I came specifically for Lauryn Hill but was excited for the other acts as well (my boyfriend is the true hip-hop head so I thought it would be a win-win situation for both of us). So she was sick. I get it. Performers are people too but the next act should have moved into that time slot. To have that many acts on a roster and have the stage empty for that long is unacceptable. So after baking in the sun for over three hours with no music, I left, with my bells UNROCKED!!
P.S. Shout out to the acts that performed on the second stage! It was jumping back there the entire time!

I'm confused. I went to Howard University in the 90s, took part in the Million Man March, remember Rodney King, Tawana Brawley, Virginia Beach, and what happened in Bensonhurst and even saw "Do The Right Thing" in theaters. However, I don't remember the "civil rights movement" of the 90s. Do you mean the 60s? Get your facts straight, man!

The author made some good points. I personally thought Lauryn Hill brought the house down. Her band was loud but tight and even though I would have preferred a more honest rendition of her classic songs I could see why she would want to mix it up. As far as being late and almost not performing - there's a reason Lauryn Hill hasn't been in the spot light for 10 years - she's pretty crazy. I expected nothing less.

Wu Tang and Tribe alone made this show epic. My biggest complaint was that the camera crew was inept - they could never seem to show the Wu-Tang Emcee who was actually rapping, which was annoying for those of us on the lawn.

I think everyone was pretty burnt out after Wu-Tang and we could have gone without waiting a whole hour to see Snoop. Can someone tell me why he was headlining? Wu or Tribe would have been a better ending.

On the Paid Dues stage Brother Ali rocked the crowd. I would rank his performance third best of the day after Wu and Tribe.

I agree with everything in the original review. It was harsh, and appropriately so. While Lauryn Hill wasn't my only reason for attending, her name on the bill definitely tipped me in favor of going since I had some doubts at the outset. Maybe that reveals that I'm not enough of a hip hop head to "get it" when it comes to this event, but she was definitely a draw.

As it turns out, I actually felt sad/confused to see Lauryn Hill's performance. Her appearance and delivery made me question not just her physical health, but her mental health as well.

Overall, I can authoritatively say that I will never attend a RTB event again - it was too disorganized, there were too many delays, and it was way too expensive for what was ultimately delivered. I left after Lauryn Hill because I was worn out from a long day of sitting in the sun, and I still faced a 40 minute drive back to DC. I couldn't risk another 60-90 minute wait between acts for Wu Tang go on. Overall, I give this concert a D, and again, the original review captures my sentiments precisely.

This was the worst concert review I've ever read. Not that the concert was the worst, I went to the one in NY and it was a good time, but that this review barely mentions music. Were you extremely rushed when you wrote the last 4 paragraphs or did you leave halfway through the show?

Hey Robert!

As a fellow Howard University grad, former features editor and staff writer of the year for The Hilltop, and African American studies minor, I do in fact know when the civil rights movement happened. KRS-One on the other hand does not. He was referring to the censorship fight led by C. Delores Tucker. (The 90s Civil Rights movement was a direct quote from him. Not me.) See ya at homecoming, Robert. LOL.
And other commentors, I'm not easily swayed or star struck. It is unacceptable to give someone an "A+" for simply showing up on stage. Between Lauryn and Snoop there was a three hour wait! That is unacceptable by any standards. Did you forget that the two hour wait for Lauryn featured virtually no entertainment AT ALL. Maybe that meets your definition of a stellar show. When folks are shelling out more than a hundred bucks for a show they deserve better. And KRS-One's performance was fine. His long speeches weren't. They were off base, and ridiculous.
I've covered my fair share of concerts. Over all, this one was a disappointment. Lauryn Hill was the MAIN ATTRACTION. We've had more than a decade to see these other artists. She's been off the grid. If you think that Lauryn Hill's contributions to hip hop are insignificant, than I really think you all need to reevaluate your definition of true "hip hop heads."

The author is on point! Call me a fake hip hop head but this show was a complete let down!

Three hours of dead time on stage is a travesty especially for a price tag that was not cheap. I too made a final decision to attend to see the potentially 'once in a lifetime' gift of seeing Ms. Lauryn Hill! She appears to be 'on' something which was pathetically apparent.

As others have said, the line up should have been altered to fill in the time slots instead of having us wait in the sweltering heat.

Snoop appeared to be lip syncin to me and my group. Not only was his mouth at times not matching the words but the rapping was purely 'studio quality'! C'mon!!!

Overall, the concert gets a Fat 'F' in my book!

I enjoyed the concert! I am a bit surprised at people complaining about the price.... the line up was awesome and the price was very fair. Most rap concerts will have 3 mediocre performers with prices starting at $60.

I was annoyed at the long waits but that is also not surprising at a rap concert. I do not know what everyone expected from Lauryn. We all know that she is a bit "eccentric" and hasn't performed in awhile. Anyone that attended specifically for Lauryn should not be surprised by her revised arrangements and rap heavy performance. This is a hip hop show, not a neo-soul line up!

Wu-Tang had the best performance of the night in my opinion, and Snoop disappointed me by not performing Doggystyle in its entirety. Where was Doggy Dogg World or Lodi Dodi? And why is the author complaining about his attire? Have you ever seen Snoop in concert? That is typical Snoopwear, did you want him to wear a suit or an extremely oversized and long white tee?

Dear Sam Sessa.... You have no business writing Hip Hop reviews! And it doesn't surprise me that DC area crowd will slander & disrespect Lauryn to the fullest extent. DC doesn't deserve to have a venue or event like RTB. DC as an overall city/area has no roots to Hip Hop nor the culture. Howard University is the deepest rooted entity/organization that could have any claim to Hip Hop and even that is weak in comparison to cities/areas like NY, NJ, Philly, LA, Chicago, etc... And speaking of the civil rights movement of the 90's??? The only civil rights issues of the 90's were the LA Riots from Rodney King, but nothing like the 60's! That was a movement!

Dear PTownWah ... Uh, I didn't write it. John-John did.

For several reasons, I question whether this writer has ever listened to hip hop before.

The concert overall was decent. I think that all the Focus from concert goers on
The mainstage could have ruined for most. The back stage was jumping good performances from, immortal technique, wiz khalifa, and all of the other artist that performed back there. A smart person would have went to the second stage during mainstage down time. They would have seen solid performances, and also had the luxury of an abundance of shade.
While i can understand that people could be unhappy, but those people are those that made no attempt to see the other acts on the second stage

The author spent six paragraphs griping about Lauryn Hill (undoubtedly the only artist they are familiar with) as compared to one paragraph a piece on the two biggest draws of the show.

I agree that they wait and the heat were bad, but after the unfortunate choice to have Lauryn Hill play these shows was over for good, the rest of the night was a lot of fun.

Oh, and I bailed on Snoop after 'Gin and Juice'. Sitting through 5 minute movies between songs isn't my thing.

It was worth it for Slick Rick, Tribe, Street Sweeper Social Club, Wu-Tang, and Lauryn Hill's set, which I assume was thrown together to accommodate her lack of a singing voice. But after seeing Nas, Tribe, Mos, De La, Dead Prez, Meth and Red, and Ghost and Rae two years prior, I gotta say I was a little disappointed. Better luck next year guys. Don't stop coming to DC.

If Slick Rick was in the house I can see why Snoop didn't do Ladi Dadi. I'm glad I didn't go I would of been heated. Literally and figuratively

anyone who thought last night's show was good or decent obviously has low standards. it was terrible. i'm never going to a rock the bells concert again. i was at the one at jones beach last year and it was much much better. paying $66 plus service charges plus expensive ass foods and drinks entitles me to a show with sets that start on time (or at least in the ballpark of that hour!) with artists giving their best effort. for those of you who feel that you don't deserve that, i pity you.

this review is spot on. i can't comment on the krs-1 situation, because i couldn't hear a flipping thing from the side of the lawn i was sitting on.

tribe was the best, by far. that's that qb work ethic right there. :)

the wu was great, too. i've seen both tribe and the wu live before, and they never disappoint.

the winners of the day were the ones that went to the smaller stage. those people were rocking out all day long, and they had proper sound the entire time. i wished i had known premier was on the smaller stage beforehand because i would have went to listen.

Was time for me to head back to philly after waiting for 2+ hours for SOMEONE to get on the main stage. This was the only clue I needed that the rest of this concert was gonna be a mess. Artists LOVE not showing up on time - I get that. It happens at just about every show I been to - just NOT 3 hours like yesterday.

What happened to "performing the albums in their entire"? The only acts I seen this yr were Rakim and KRS and neither Paid in full or criminal minded were performed in their entire......

I seen the Tribe and Wu-Tang many times before so no need to really stick around anyway. I had zero interest in seeing Lauren Hill. I cant even believe she was the main draw as people are saying? People are crowning her and for what? One solo album?

Looks like the author confirms I didnt miss anything by leaving early - other than my $75 and my 5 hours in driving to and from.

I do wish I could have got in earlier and seen Slick but I had to pass on the 1/2 mile line....

Although disappointed, I'll prob still head back down next yr as this has been the staple event in ending my summer each of the last three years. Gotta say the 2008 show was the best.....and best performances I seen have been Buckshot, De La, Tribe, and Nas. One of the worst was Busta - last yr.

Whew, now I'm glad I actually missed the show after hearing all this. I don't see how you can credit Lauryn Hill for being good at anything except for under-achieving and squandering talent.

I swear, it seems like every two years, some Lauryn Hill stans whine about scraping together $100+ dollars and flying from Abu Dhabi to wait for this broad to show up three hours late to perform for 20 minutes. What do they say about a fool and his money...?

I'm sorry, but asking KRS-One to lay off the philosophical speeches is like asking Peyton Manning to stop throwing so many passes; it's what he does, and it's what he's always done. You don't have to like it, but it's nonsensical to tell him he shouldn't be doing it.

@Kristin, I agree they might as well had Tupac on the bill

To suggest that Lauryn Hill was the reason why a good majority of the crowd went to the show may be a stretch. How is that sort of thing even qualified?

While I agree that the long lapses btwn some of the acts were unacceptable, I think the performances were stellar. Tribe ripped it, Wu was amazing, and everyone, L Boogie included (it seemed obvious she wasnt bullsh*tting about being sick. She barely sang, mostly rapped), brought some great MUSIC. There are some legit issues to be had with the show, but you can't deny the music that was on stage last night. My biggest gripe (besides the ridic ticket price) is Snoop closing an east coast show. Wu should’ve had that billing.

As for KRS-One…“foolish”? Really? I can understand if you didn’t agree with what he said, but there was a lot of unfoolish truth to it. And it would be fair to provide some context to his “civil rights mov't of the 90s” comment.

This is an odd review. Like several others, the chance to see Lauryn and Quest years after they'd stopped performing regularly, helped sell me on going, and L-Boogie was the big story. But there was way too much good about the show to harp on that. And I arrived after Slick Rick performed and left before Snoop.

Quest was definitely the big-stage highlight among Wu-Tang, KRS, Primo and Rakim Allah, but what made my day was the back stage. If you respect the above artists, you should already be listening to Murs, Brother Ali and the like, but I think those two and Jedi Mind Tricks and Immortal Technique brought so much energy that you didn't even have to know their stuff to like it. Ali was inspiring, Murs and 9th Wonder were playful and Street Sweeper Social Club was the absolute highlight ... and they were on during the first Lauryn delay. If you sat in your lawn chair the whole time you could have missed the Paid Dues stage, but the press tent was right there ... no way you could miss it. There were some memorable moments on the big stage too.

I probably would have paid what I paid for the opportunity to see Wu and Quest and KRS and Rakim and Slick Rick all at once. To be blown away by the varying styles each preaching the messages of hip-hop -- unity, be who you are and be proud, don't just stand there, do something -- on the Paid Dues stage left me more than pleased with my decision to attend. And is yet another reminder that hip-hop is as good as it ever was.

@ KR-- What's foolish is telling people that a college education is essentially worthless. What's foolish is suggesting that a rap or entertainment career is more dependable than an entertainment career. What's foolish is dissing the work of civil rights-era leaders like C. Delores Tucker, and company, while saying that hip hop was triumpant because folks like Snoop Dogg were still on top. That's foolish.
Also, you can make a point about the crowd being there in large part because of Lauryn by the reaction they had when it was announced that she might not come out. People were down right MAD. The reaction of the crowd was most def. an indicator. In addition, there were a number of females in the audience who likely would not have been there to watch Snoop Dogg or Wu. That's real.
@ ocia-- i feel you. When folks have low to no expectations-- or haven't been to a number of shows, they don't know what the standard is. Simply being star struck by seeing your favorite celebs doesn't cut it. I came as a critic-- not as a fan. Could you imagine the type of coverage we would get if "fans" were allowed to live out their fantasies about pumping up the heads of their idols. Ugh! You need folks who are going to tell it like it is. Folks who despite appreciating the talent that folks have can still have the ability, and guts to call folks out when stuff is not up to par. That's real talk...
@ D3Keith-- I wasn't in the lawn seats. Wasn't at the press tent. i was actually by the main stage. That's where my seat was. I didn't want to miss the main attraction-- Lauryn Hill.

how completely insulting to us females to suggest we were only there for L. I was there for everyone really, but she wasn't even top on my list, it was Wu. I would bet a mil that if you polled the audience, they'd say Wu or Tribe.

Big up to everyone who showed love to the Paid Dues stage. If you sat @ the main stage w/ no music for 2 hours while missing the livest area of the festival, you are a chump. Jedi Mind, Immortal Tech & Street Sweeper Social Club murdered it. Heard Brother Ali was dope too, but I was checkin KRS at that point.

Which brings me to my final point - don't dis the Teacha. You lack the credentials, my dude. My crew full of emcees were mad inspired by him & that's what he was going for. He's trying to keep this real hiphop alive for generations. Maybe his speech wasn't directed towards you.

KRS One is called the teacher for a reason. I think that the baltimore sun should send someone who understands hip hop next time they decide review a hip hop show

JJW said: “What's foolish is telling people that a college education is essentially worthless. What's foolish is suggesting that a rap or entertainment career is more dependable than an entertainment career. What's foolish is dissing the work of civil rights-era leaders like C. Delores Tucker, and company, while saying that hip hop was triumpant because folks like Snoop Dogg were still on top. That's foolish.”

I agree. But that was certainly not my interpretation of what he said. He stressed “taking the culture seriously” and drawing inspiration from people who came from nothing and made names for themselves. And I believe on more than one occasion he spoke directly to MCs and DJs, etc. Criticism of Tucker and Gore and others can be construed as “dissing” or as a viable and legitimate debate about the First Amendment. Again, I understand that you disagree with him, and based on your interpretation of it, I would too. But I’m open to considering that a pioneer who has been on the front lines of cultural, political and religious institutions that insisted hip hop was a silly and dangerous fad, has a perspective that is passionate, extreme and even sprinkled with truth.
When I saw the guys come back out and break down LH’s stage I was LIVID. I paid $150 so I wanted to see everyone on the bill. That anger was also fueled by the fact that Primo finished his set ahead of schedule so there was no reason for LH to need ANOTHER 2 hours to figure out she wasn’t ready to go on. That was compounded by the stellar reviews I had heard from the previous 3 shows. That anger snowballed into resentment of her reputation as a flake. Could it be that the “down right MADness” could have been emotional indicators similar to mine, and not necessarily a gauge of preferential hierarchy? Listen, you could be right that everyone was there for Lauryn but you haven’t given any indication that you spoke to enough people (or any at all) to give credence to your theory. I also find it hard to believe that so many people paid so much money for mostly one act. And frankly, I’m a bit offended by the simplicity of your assumption about who the women - or anyone for that matter - were there to see. I’m a woman and I was equally amped for Wu and Tribe. If you had based your observations on me, as I exhibited everything you described, you would have been flat wrong.

I was there for A Tribe Called Quest. I would have paid more than the $150 for them, and their show made my money worth it. L-Boogie (and others) was icing on my ATCQ cake, and I was glad she was able to come out and give her fans something. It wasn't her best, but I was glad she did take the stage.

I mean, other than the delays, (which only affected people who were too lazy to go see what was happening on the second stage), I'd say it was pretty awesome of a show. I personally don't care for Lauryn Hill. She seemed like a stone-cold b***h onstage, yelling over and over for a mic. But I mean seriously, DJ Muggs & La Coka Nostra, Jedi Mind Tricks (With guest Reef the Lost Cauze), Immortal Technique, Brother Ali, Street Sweeper Social Club, Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang, Snoop Dogg? (and if you enjoy them, wiz with a guest appearance from wale)
You guys obviously have very poor taste in hip hop. Or none at all.

I didn't go because I could have told you Lauryn would act the fool, but more importantly, who is John-John Williams IV? His cluelessness about 90s and earlier hip hop should have eliminated him from the running to have written this article. What does KRS1 do, but speak about politics, Afrocentricity and black life? John-John doesn't know. I am not even going to assume he is some white kid who got "into" 90s hop hop because I have head plenty of black under-30s who are just as clueless. Put it down, John-John. Put it down and not in a good way.

The Lauryn Hill show at music hall of williamsburg tonight (12/28) sucked ... She came out 4 hours late and responded by telling the entire crowd that stuff happens and that if we didn't like it then we could screw ourselves and get a refund!!! After waiting 12 long years for her return, she slapped the audience in the face. Save your $$ and sell you tix. Over 75 loyal fans left the audience deeply disappointed.


I don't even know where to start.....not worth $90 I wish I could get a refund. I've been a fan of Lauryn Hill ever since she was in the movie Sister Act 2(1992), The Fugees, and her solo. I love her voice BUT not worth the wait. When you pay $90 for a ticket to a concert titled "Mrs. Lauryn Hill" you expect to get what you paid for. With her...doors opened at 8pm and she didn't even come on stage until 11:15!!!! WHAT?!?!?!?! For an hour and a half a Dj played for the audience, saying she would be right on in a few that went on for an hour. If I wanted to listen to radio played music I would of stayed home and listened to my radio. There were people around me that were leaving because they were sick of waiting. (I would say about 15 people left)I know every song by heart Lauryn Hill I hope you read this!!!! I am NOT a fan of yours anymore, lucky for you your career is almost over. Maybe your concert would of been different if you were in your prime.


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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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