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Thursday, October 25, 2012



Old School Is In Session: Wu-Tang's RZA, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa, Rock the Bells, at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo Flores

This year's Rock the Bells festival is bringing it back to 1993, with an impressive slate of hip-hop greats set to perform classic records in their entirety. More than 20 acts throw down on two stages at Merriweather Post Pavilion Sunday: Lauryn Hill appears on her first tour in more than a decade, Snoop Dogg reprises the G-Funk era sound with Tha Dogg Pound, Q-Tip performs jazzy-infused hip-hop jams with A Tribe Called Quest, and hip-hop pioneers Slick Rick, KRS-One and Rakim re-enact their respective landmark '90s recordings. Hip-hop had a watershed year in 1993. A single two-week span in November of that year saw the release of three of the genre's most critically acclaimed and influential albums, all by Rock the Bells headliners: Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, and A Tribe Called Quest. "These albums are my some of my favorite albums," said Wu-Tang Clan's RZA. "It feels like a road map to hip-hop history, show people some of the hip-hop revolution." This year's lineup — the seventh time around for Rock the Bells — is arguably the festival's most ambitious. The tour marks the first time Wu's "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," Snoop's "Doggystyle" and Tribe's "Midnight Marauders" are being performed straight through live. But it's not the first Rock the Bells for Wu Tang. Back in 2004 — when members of a divided Clan were notorious no-shows at their own concerts — a reunited nine-member Wu was the big draw for the inaugural RTB. Guerilla Union concert promoter Chang Weisberg had just pulled together the fledgling fest, encouraged by the fanatical reaction to hip-hop heroes Mos Def, Talib Kweli and others when they popped up for a few tiny, underground club shows in Los Angeles. Rock the Bells was a smash that first time out — in what also turned out to be the late Wu-Tang member Ol' Dirty Bastard's final performance. The fest now tours internationally, bringing together alternative and indie hip-hop artists with mainstream performers. It also birthed the offshoot SmokeOut music festival, where Cypress Hill's beginning-to-end performance of its seminal 1993 album "Black Sunday" was met with a tremendous response. So, it was only natural to take that concept and expand it for RTB. "I like what this tour is doing, bringing together the O.G.s of rap, the foundation of the '90s," said Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck. "These songs are what influenced and inspired a generation of hip-hop." Nurturing hip-hop's next generation has been RTB's mission from the start, said Vinnie Paz of festival veterans Jedi Mind Tricks. "[Rock the Bells] provides a venue for independent hip-hop artists like us to open people's eyes," Paz said. "Because we don't have million-dollar videos doesn't mean we can't play. People often say, 'Yo, I never heard of these guys before, but their stuff is raw.'" Like Jedi Mind Tricks, Wu-Tang were once independent artists who combined mythological imagery with hardcore raps. The Wu found an escape from the violence of early-'90s New York City in their vision of feudal Asia. Their samurai daydreams — where honor was valued above all and wrongs could be avenged — converted Staten Island's Park Hill Projects into "Shaolin." Their grimy lyrics of anger and urban struggle were a judo chop to the decadent club-bangers that dominated late-'80s hip-hop. Gone were the flashy gold chains of the previous decade; in were the Wu, brandishing baseball bats along with piano loops, soul-music samples and kung fu-flick dialogue. "It was the sword style of rhyming, where your tongue is a sword — karate to the empire world. It came at a time when people were starving for a Wu-Tang song, people hungry for true hip-hop," explained Deck. "Put the Beatles and the Rolling Stones together and you might have close to what the Wu is capable of manifesting to the world," added Wu's Masta Killa. "There has never been a concert of this size and magnitude with so much talent from one source, one movement," said Wu's RZA in closing. "It's a historic concert I'm proud to be a part of, and I'm also proud to witness. That's how the RZA feels. Bong bong." » Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.; Sun., doors open at 11 a.m., $66-$150. 410-715-5550 begin_of_the_skype_highlighti

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