With so many milestones being reached by many hip-hop legends this month, and because it’s been a while since I posted a new blog entry, I’ve decided to review two of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever been to, which happened to be within a week of each other. The year was 2010; I had just turned 21 and could legally consume alcohol south of the border. That year, the Rock The Bells festival was doing its classic album theme for the first time, getting hip-hop legends to perform specific albums from their catalogues. For me, it meant an opportunity to see my favourite hip-hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan, in their hometown New York City. Not even a week after the Rock The Bells festival, Eminem was making his triumphant return to stadium shows by going on the Home & Home Tour with Jay-Z.
For the weekend of August 28th, 2010, I flew out to New York and visited my uncle, aunt, and cousins, and of course went to the Rock The Bells festival. I had previously gone to the 2009 Rock The Bells in L.A., but this was my first time doing the festival in New York. Back then, Rock The Bells was just a single day event with two stages. When we first got off the ferry at Governor’s Island, Ill Bill was wrapping up his set on the small stage and Jedi Mind Tricks were preparing to come out. On the main stage, Rakim was performing his classic Paid In Full album, but we didn’t know that at the time and ended up missing his set. To this day I still haven’t seen Rakim perform, and although I did get to see Vinnie Paz perform with Ill Bill last year, I never did see the full Jedi Mind Tricks roster again after this show.
Back then, Jedi Mind Tricks’ live roster included Vinnie Paz, Jus Allah, DJ Kwestion, and they had Crypt The Warchild as a hypeman. After they rocked out to all their classics (and Reef The Lost Cauze came out to perform “I’m A G”), we made our way to the main stage just in time to see Rakim walking off. Up next was KRS-One, who was supposed to perform the classic Boogie Down Productions album, Criminal Minded, but ended up doing a more varied set. While he did perform classic songs off Criminal Minded like “South Bronx” and “P Is Free”, he also reached into other albums from his solo discography, and he brought out guests like DJ Premier, Buckshot, and MC Supernatural, who did his traditional freestyle set.
After KRS-One was Lauryn Hill, making a comeback of her own, although her set was a little off. All her songs were sped up and her mic was giving her a lot of feedback, plus she was like half an hour late getting to the stage. She did have a lot of celebrity guests she invited on stage though, including a very pregnant Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Lauryn Hill would come back to do Rock The Bells again in 2011.
Next was A Tribe Called Quest performing their classic Midnight Marauders album, which just turned 20 years old this month. A Tribe Called Quest is also about to have their last concert ever, as they have announced that they are retiring after they open for Kanye West in New York on Sunday. I’m thankful I got to see them perform at least once, especially at this epic set they put on at Rock The Bells. After a special “Tour Guide” intro video, they came out to “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” and rocked some classics from their first three albums. I remember at one point Q-Tip said something like “we came here to celebrate a classic album, but since we have like three of those we thought we’d give you a little more”. There were also surprise guests like Large Professor, who came out to perform “Keep It Rollin” with them, Swizz Beats performing a song I didn’t recognize, and Busta Rhymes came out for the classic “Scenario”. All that was missing was the gyal with the body paint at their recent shows on the Yeezus tour.
So how do you top a performance by A Tribe Called Quest with surprise appearances from Large Professor and Busta Rhymes? You get the Wu-Tang Clan to perform their entire Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album! This album turned 20 years old on the same day Midnight Marauders turned 20 this year. Since this show, I’ve been to many solo Wu-Tang shows, and I’m lucky to be seeing them as a group for a second time later this month. All 9 of them were there (including Cappadonna), along with Young Dirty Bastard to perform his dad’s verses. They pretty much rocked the entire 36 Chambers album front to back before diving into even more classic material off Wu-Tang Forever, Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Tical, Ironman, Supreme Clientele, The W, and of course, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.
I can’t see how you could top the Wu-Tang Clan, which is partially why we decided to leave after their set (we also wanted to skip a long lineup to get onto the ferry back to the mainland). Snoop Dogg came on afterwards to perform his Doggystyle album, but fatigue got the best of us, and we felt like we had got our money’s worth from Wu-Tang and Tribe. For someone as young as me, this was an epic experience, considering many hip-hop fans my age may never get to see some of these legends perform in the same circumstances again.
Just a couple days after I flew back to Toronto, me and my old high school buddies left for our first major road trip together to Detroit, where we would catch the very first show of Eminem and Jay-Z’s Home & Home Tour at Comerica Park on September 2nd. You can tell from the picture above that we were kind of far back (in the lower-bowl of the stadium), but at least we were able to be there. Both of these artists have had a lot to celebrate this year; Jay-Z’s The Black Album turned 10 years old just a few weeks ago, and earlier this year he made an innovative business deal with Samsung, selling a million copies of his new album before the release date. Just this month, Eminem broke a Billboard record for having the most songs on their top whatever list in the same week, and his new The Marshall Mathers LP 2 album has gone platinum (read my album review here).
Back in 2010 though, Eminem had just released his Recovery album and was just starting to make a comeback after a five-year hiatus before 2009. This would be his first major stadium show since becoming sober, and Jay-Z was just the most logical choice to co-headline the tour with him. To give you an idea of the impact this type of show has on a city like Detroit: while driving on the freeway to our hotel, we were crawling bumper-to-bumper and guys were able to walk between lanes and sell t-shirts for the show (which were a lot cheaper than the shirts we found inside Comerica Park).
When we got to the show, we had just missed B.o.B. as the opening act, but were on time to see Jay-Z come out on stage to the “Intro” off The Dynasty album. Jay went through his large discography performing hit after hit, but had a slightly bigger focus on his newest album at the time, 2009’s Blueprint 3. Of course he had Memphis Bleek with him as his hypeman, but he also brought out Young Jeezy as a surprise guest. I think we all know Jay-Z puts on a great live performance, and this show wasn’t any different. To date this is still the only time I’ve seen Jay-Z perform, although he does tour a lot and I hope to be able to see him perform again in the future (Kanye voice: wait til’ I get my money right).
Eminem’s set may be the most epic concert event I’ve ever been to. He had a large band with him, and of course lots of visuals up on the big screen. He came out to “Won’t Back Down” with Kon Artis as his hypeman, and then dove into a wide range of hits over the course of his career. Eminem had some surprise guests sprinkled between his solo hits, and I forget the exact order the they came out in, but there were a lot of them. Trick Trick came out to perform “Welcome To Detroit” with Eminem, Drake came out to perform “Forever”, and B.o.B. returned for “Airplanes”. D12 came out to perform “Fight Music”, “Purple Pills”, and “My Band” as well as give a tribute to Proof. In the middle of the set, 50 Cent came out to perform “Patiently Waiting” before Eminem gave him control of the stage for a couple more songs.
When Eminem returned, I think I remember him performing either “My Name Is” or “The Real Slim Shady”, and when he got to the lyrics “…and Dr. Dre said…”, the beat stopped and Dr. Dre came out from under the stage! Eminem played hypeman as Dr. Dre performed “Still Dre”, and he covered Snoop Dogg’s part for “G Thang”. Towards the end of the show, Jay-Z came back out to perform “Renegade” before Eminem wrapped things up with his newest hit at the time, “Not Afraid”. After a few minutes he came back out for an encore performance of “Lose Yourself”. It was truly an epic event seeing him make his return in his hometown, and we’re still waiting for that dvd to come out.