Rock the Bells took over Governor’s Island this past Saturday for a dose of nostalgia, ultra. Big K.R.I.T. and Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, were two of the newest kids on the block amongst a lineup of artists that included Black Star and Cypress Hill, plus Nas and Lauryn Hill, who performed their classic albums Illmatic and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.
For our group and about 40, 000 concert goers, waiting in line for the ferry commute was a necessary evil, but skewered set times made things a bit difficult, causing us to completely miss Big K.R.I.T. in the shuffle. The talent at this year’s festival was divvied up between the Main Stage (Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Nas), the Paid Dues Stage (Big K.R.I.T., Freddie Gibbs, Immortal Technique, Slaughterhouse), the 36 Chambers Stage (Mobb Deep, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon) and the Grindhouse stage, reserved for battle rappers.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli were the first big performances of the day, delivering hits like “Respiration” and “Definition” from their 1998 album Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star. Erykah Badu took the main stage just before sundown, where she opened her set with “The Healer” from New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) and continued through a set that most fans in attendance were able to deliver line by line.
In the back-and-forth shuffle, primarily between the main stage and 36 Chambers, we got lucky enough to catch Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones,” and the saw the end of Childish Gambino’s set, for which Donald Glover decided to wear his shortest, most provocative pair of shorts.
Lauryn Hill was only a tad late for her set, but not actually late by her own standards of lateness, especially in light of the delays/schedule changes. To the dismay of some fans, Ms. Hill added her own experimental spin to the setlist from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, incorporating new elements and switching up the sound (a lot), since it’s been over a decade and all. Fugees member Pras was her special guest of the night, standing by her side for “Ready or Not,” but her final guests were pretty interesting, too. At the end of her set, asking the crowd if we could “feel her love,” Hill brought five of her six children on stage, as if saying, “Sorry, this is where my heart has been for the past decade.”
Nas was the final performance of the night, and although hits like “Life’s A Bitch” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” can never go wrong, we caught the end of his set while boarding the ferry (did we mention there were about 40k people in attendance?) Before Nas’ closer, Ghostface and Raekwon performed songs from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Ghostface’s pre-show banter was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of the night. Listening to him harass the sound and music technicians about providing the right amount of volume and blue lighting was thoroughly entertaining. Someone get this man a standup comedy show.