Posted by: thecyberkrib | July 24, 2008

Rock The Bells 2008 Toronto: To The Point

Review by Neil Acharya
Photography courtesy of Dope-A-Lot ( and

Sunday, July 19th marked Rock the Bells second go around in Toronto. Many Torontonians remember the infamous first Rock the Bells tour as an outright disaster. With Live Nation coming in like the cavalry, hip hop fans in the Big Smoke got their money’s worth – when it came it to the performances. has compiled a list of high and low points to mark what may be deemed the first “real” Rock the Bells show in Canada.


Ticket Prices – that started at $77.00, with hip-hop shows being the modern day highway robbery with ticket prices averaging anywhere for $30.00 – $50.00 for one emcee and a DJ with no opener, seeing De La Soul, Pharcyde, Mos Def, Meth & Red, Nas, Tribe and Rakim for an average of about $10 – $15 was a tremendous deal. Will this have a lasting effect on the prices commanded by individual performers – probably not. This shows two things, that hip hop fans and Leafs fans have something in common, they are gluttons for pocket book punishment. Secondly, that hip hop has a lot to learn from other genres of music when it comes to respect for fans (i.e. punk).

Security and Staff – Were all friendly and apologetic for some of the inconveniences that were beyond their control and the fault of the venue. (Please see lows.)

Pharcyde – not only rocked the crowd using tracks predominantly from an album that is over 15 years old, they actually wore out some of the kids that were toddlers when the album came out.

Rakim – Many of the people that paid to see Rock the Bells were not even born when Rakim was rockin’ a New York City that resembled Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy far more than Autumn in New York. It was the good fortune of everyone in attendance, especially those that were too young to experience his impact on the game first hand, to have a chance to see the greatest MC of all time. Much Respect for his attempts to salvage the set during technical problems related to audio.

Mos Def – Yes Toronto, we caught him on a good day. Even though he always performs well, he seemed visibly happy to be on stage, which can’t be said for his pervious appearances: early 2008 at the Phoenix, 2005’s Getting up Festival, and The New Danger Tour which rolled through Toronto in October 2004 (the same night the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years). Big up to Mos for:

  • Not shying away from performing tracks that don’t have the same commercial appeal as track like Ms. Phat Booty, i.e. anything off of the New Danger
  • Shouting out South Asians as well as to all the people of the world – did someone tell him he was in Mississauga?
  • Jamming on stage to Zunga Zeng and No! No! No!

Meth and Red – Tied with Tribe for the most energetic and well received performance of the evening. These two catered perfectly to the demographic in attendance and didn’t stop dealing it to the crowd for even one moment.

Nas – emerging in his Adidas Muhammad Ali Shirt, showing once again how much he has matured since the turn of the century, cycling through hit after hit while intermittently sprinkling in political/uplifting messages to the crowd. The Sly Fox campaign was definitely in effect, even though he was North of the border.

A Tribe Called Quest – To top their September 2006 performance at Kool Haus on their reunion tour seemed near impossible and then they took to the stage as headliners of RTB and stole the show, no easy task but proof that after a lengthy absence, time together has made A Tribe Called Quest that much better. Can they still kick it? You are damn right they can.

Spank Rock – did not perform.


De La Soul – performed an early set, around 4pm, and these true gentlemen of hip hop ripped shit. I’d seen Pos, Dave, and Maseo on a few occasions, but the command these guys had over the crowd was remarkable, especially with many younger faces in the crowd. De La ran through a great mix of recent material and classics – and in a manner that was well rehearsed and humorous. Props to those that kept it serious during their set (Nas, Rakim, Mos to some point), but it’s always great to have some jokers on stage and that’s what you get from De La Soul – one of my favorite performances of Rock The Bells.


Venue – Arrow Hall was a little far out for the city folk and perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing for those so used to having to drive downtown from Mississauga, Scarborough and Markham for shows in the city’s core. However, a converted airport hanger with a leaky roof didn’t exactly add to the show.

Organization – A ludicrous wrist band policy to enter the beer tent which had concert goers that arrived anytime after De La Soul’s set (which ended around 4:30pm) out of luck when it came to obtaining one. It turns out they ran out (or it seemed, poor communication marred the event as workers did not seem to know why they weren’t available). However, later on they did magically appear again but by the time they were handing them out, the beer ticketing kiosk (just off to the side of the beer tent had stopped selling tickets. Word was passed around to patrons that the venue was worried about running out of alcohol which begs the question – how the hell do you run out of booze half way through a festival? It gets better, if you inched along through a one hour line up to get a slice of Pizza Pizza you should have counted yourself as lucky if you actually got to bite into one, because they ran out of that too.

It seemed the only person that may have been happy about the beer shortage may have been DJ Scratch who didn’t have any Heinekens launched at him this year. Then again, he was perched high up and away from the front of the stage (backing A Tribe Called Quest) which led some to speculate in jest that would be the only way he would perform this time around. Still, it was quite evident that he didn’t take 20 minutes to set up his computer which was in part what lead to a bottle being thrown his way last year.

Sound Bwoy Bureill – Sound problems were nearly the death of this show. While Pharcyde was able to skirt around the issue, Kid Capri wasn’t as fortunate and while the audio technicians tried some emergency maneuvers’ on his deck’s, it wasn’t enough and the crowd was robbed of a full set from the God MC – Rakim. After his set, there were lengthy delays in fixing the problems which seemed to work as the show progressed but added to lack of organization on the whole. This was highlighted by the arduous wait in which the crowd was treated to a full sound check from the time between when Nas left the stage till Tribe began their set.

Generation Next? While it was an all day event and people are bound to get tired, there was an embarrassingly large number of people under approximately 21 that had a problem standing all day. Many of these hard core hip hop heads took to sitting on the floor towards the side of the crowd. In fact, one young man who could have been no older than 19 was sleeping with his head rested on his back pack during Rakim’s set – What a joke. Furthermore, it is safe to say that if you can’t stand longer than those in the crowd 30 and up, you should be embarrassed.

While the roadies and sound men were busy trying to figure out what was wrong with the sound on Kid Capri’s decks, Rakim attempted to perform an acapella of “Make ‘Em Clap To This” with crowd interaction. While a spattering of people played along, the crowd showed its age and moreover its hip hop IQ by starring in silence, leaving Rakim to groan and abort the track.

The All – Star cast saved Rock the Bells with their skills, talents and abilities in crowd rockin’. However it is going to have to be a third time’s a charm scenario for RTB as there are some issues that need to be ironed out for next year. As for performers for next year’s bill, no one can be certain, but LL should not be discounted. No one can argue that he wouldn’t’ be able to pack a 50 minute set with fire such as ‘Boomin System’, “Mama Said Knock You Out”, “I Can’t live without my Radio” and many others including of course, “Rock The Bells”.


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