Chang Weisberg: Rock the Bells

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Photo courtesy of Guerilla Union

Photo courtesy of Guerilla Union

The biggest Hip-Hop festival of all-time, Rock the Bells is back with a plethora of performers that cover nearly thirty years of Hip-Hop. Acts like the Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar and Black Hippy, Pretty Lights, Common, Kid Cudi, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Girl Talk, J. Cole, KRS-One, Big Sean, and Rakim among others are slated to perform.

The 2013 Rock the Bells festival kicks off this weekend at the San Manuel Amphitheatre in San Bernardino, California. The festival will then move to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California on September 14 and 15, the RFK Festival Grounds in Washington DC on September 28 and 29, and the New Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 4 and 5.

Rock the Bells founder Chang Weisberg spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the performances, the past, and the future of Rock the Bells.

TRHH: A lot has been made of the virtual performances at Rock the Bells this year. When Dr. Dre did the 2Pac hologram at Coachella a lot of people were split on it. I for one didn’t like it…

Chang Weisberg: Did you actually see it?

TRHH: Yeah.

Chang Weisberg: So you were there?

TRHH: No, on Youtube.

Chang Weisberg: It’s tough, man. It’s like a big sports moment. For me it was like Gibson hitting that homerun. It’s different watching it on TV than being there. So the execution of it you saw on Youtube, which by the way is a different view from actually being there. Regardless, conceptually you could have a problem with the fact that maybe you don’t appreciate that type of entertainment.

TRHH: What made you decide to go the virtual performance route this year?

Chang Weisberg: You know what, one I had been fascinated with the hologram performances with what the Gorillaz did at the Grammy’s and Madonna. I was there front row, center for what Dre was doing with the 2Pac performance and people were excited about it there. Some people freaked out but some people liked it. Up until that point at a live show it’s only been about the music—always. The authenticity, the musicianship, and the connection with the audience was pure. It was very entertaining. I was blown away and couldn’t really explain it. I think there is a lot of online evidence that people were interested in it and it caused a lot of good things to happen, especially for 2Pac’s catalog and the live part of music incorporating technology and where things might be going in the future. Those are all the main reasons for our attacking the opportunity there. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the behind the scenes knowledge of the 2Pac hologram. Are you fairly familiar with that and how it was done?

TRHH: No, I have no idea.

Chang Weisberg: Ultimately there’s an avatar, a simulation of the real thing. Holograms are projections but they come from an avatar that’s created on a computer. There are several ways to do that. I can say this and I’m not here to tear anything down or take away the musician’s tricks but there were no family members involved in the creation of the avatar for the 2Pac hologram. For the ODB and Eazy-E performance the family members have been essential. They are going to be used in the creation of the avatars, which are going to be projected on our stages. It’s been an amazing and a beautiful process to be a part of. How people respond to it is how people respond to it. It’s out of my hands. As a company and someone that is always trying to evolve, what we’re doing on the stages is an amazing opportunity to have performances that are absolutely one of a kind.

What we do on these shows will never happen anywhere else ever again. September 7, which is the first day of Rock the Bells would have been Eazy’s 50th birthday. The last time ODB performed on a stage anywhere was at Rock the Bells. The fact is that RZA, Divine, the estate of ODB, and the rest of the group members all see this as a massive opportunity to honor their brother, cousin, husband, and father. Me, I normally keep it with the managers and the groups. I’ve never had to deal with the families the way I’ve had to deal with the families in this process and it’s been a really cool thing to do–very worthwhile for me selfishly and gratifying. To be in the studio watching a widow work on her husband’s avatar for immortality so it’ll always be captured and out there is a very unique thing to watch. To watch kids who haven’t really hung out with each other hanging out with each other to honor their father is a big deal, man. Hopefully you’ll get to see it first-hand because you’re not the type of person to not show up at Rock the Bells.

TRHH: I will definitely show up at Rock the Bells in San Francisco. Rock the Bells is like Christmas for me.

Chang Weisberg: I’m glad to hear that because Rock the Bells is ever changing for people and their opinions on how we program and what we bring to the table. The biggest story is that E-40 and Too $hort are going to be in the Bay area after many years and struggles to get back in there.

TRHH: That was my next question. What does it mean to have E-40 and Too $hort performing at Rock the Bells in the Bay?

Chang Weisberg: Oh man, it was really hard last year. They were on the L.A. show and it got to a point where I had a little artist coalition for E-40 and Too $hort to be on the Bay area show. To have to ask the guys to stay home, man! Next to the hologram thing I think seeing E-40 and Too $hort rock the Shoreline Amphitheatre for the first time in 7 or 8 years is going to be good. The Bay area fan base is one of the most energetic and super-positive crowds we have. I told people I don’t have to worry about trash clean up because the fans in that area keep it so clean! It’s so awesome. I can’t say I’ve seen them on a major stage in the Bay area. I’ve seen them in smaller rooms. I wasn’t at Summer Jam when all the initial issues came up so I can’t speak for it. I can tell you that the venue and everyone who is involved in the show is ecstatic for that performance. The reasons being what they were, just proves that if you stick with something that anything can happen. People are willing to give people the opportunity under the right circumstances.

TRHH: You recently added A$AP Mob, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, and Trinidad Jame$ to the bill. In many ways they are leading the pack for the next generation of Hip-Hop’s great acts…

Chang Weisberg: I’m hopeful. I think one of the more fascinating stories of the last year is A$AP representing from Harlem. They have the knowledge of where Hip-Hop came from and they’re spinning it their way now. Between A$AP, the Black Hippy crew, and Cudi they all represent how Hip-Hop has evolved over time. Nineties era Rock the Bells fans are getting a nice glimpse at what Hip-Hop will look like in 2013, 2014, and 2015 this year.

TRHH: You added Pretty Lights and Girl Talk to Rock the Bells. What do you say to those that say those acts aren’t Hip-Hop?

Chang Weisberg: They are so Hip-Hop that they dig deeper than a lot of beat junkies I know. They’re just Hip-Hop heads caught in a dance world. A-Trak is a DMC champ, he holds down Kanye but I’m not mad at him going to EDC and crushing it in front of 15,000 kids. People are open and expanding. Good music is good music. Pretty Lights is big fat dubby trippy beats. He’s got a great track with Kweli and a lot of people don’t know that. The electronic dance movement and Hip-Hop started together. Deep House in Detroit has its roots in Hip-Hop. Having Chase & Status on the bill; they’re the biggest dub crew in England. They’ve got the number 2 record on the BBC. They’re gigantic and they’re Hip-Hop heads. Their live show is crazy. They’re at Rock the Bells because they’re Hip-Hop guys and they wanted to be in front of a Hip-Hop audience and I wanted them to be. There are so many versions of Hip-Hop and we’re trying to embrace all of it. Classic 90’s era Hip-Hop is still on the bill but it’s time to open it up to something that’s going to be unique for now and the future.

TRHH: Have artists doing full albums run their course for Rock the Bells?

Chang Weisberg: No. There are a lot of albums that I still want to see happen and acts that I want to see. We just want to try to play with that as it develops. The last couple of years have been the 20th anniversary of a lot of great albums. We had that embarrassment of riches in 2010 with Doggy Style, 36 Chambers, The Miseducation [of Lauryn Hill], and Criminal Minded. We did so many records.

TRHH: Midnight Marauders, Paid in Full

Chang Weisberg: Yeah, that’s why people did it and that’s why I told people then that it may never happen again. I don’t mean to be redundant but this year’s show will be a unique show unlike anything that’s happened previous to Rock the Bells or anything that will happen in the future. You can’t recreate the ODB and Eazy-E holograms at Rock the Bells ever again. I was excited because two-thirds of the bill just put out new music. Tech N9ne just put out a great record I feel. Wale and J. Cole have awesome records out. Cudi had a number one record.  Dom Kennedy will have new music. Deltron is finally putting out the album I said was coming out last year. I have no control over those things but the record is ridiculous and I know Deltron 3030 is near and dear to a lot of Bay area heads and when that plays out a lot of people are going to be happy.

TRHH: Although you’re the boss I’ve seen you at times enjoying the performances at Rock the Bells. Who are you excited to see this year at Rock the Bells?

Chang Weisberg: Sometimes when I’m not caught up in the drama of making sure everybody stays on time on our stages I love to watch our show. Didn’t we watch Deltron a little bit together last year?

TRHH: No, it was Bone Thugs.

Chang Weisberg: Bone, yeah on the main stage. First and foremost E-40 & Too Short. Number two I want to see Black Hippy. Kendrick has one of the best records of the last couple years. Schoolboy Q is getting ready to drop and I know they got some surprises, also Prof, Kweli, Slick Rick & Doug E Fresh, and Girl Talk. Who are you excited for? A lot of people are bummed out that Tribe is not performing or asking me why KRS is not headlining. I hate the whole billing of a show with names and where they have to be. The first act Snow Tha Product will be worth getting there early to check out. Jhene Aiko has a little bit of Lauryn in her. That’s where her inspiration comes from, I strongly believe it. You gotta get there early, man.

TRHH: I’m excited to see Sean Price. Common is my favorite emcee of all-time. I think Rakim is the greatest emcee of all-time and KRS-One is number two so those are my guys.

Chang Weisberg: I knocked it out for you! How you gonna get away and watch A$AP? It’s gonna be tough. The sets are long enough that you can catch two things in one hour. You can get a lot in if you have tennis shoes on. I feel bad for the ladies that dress up and have the big girl shoes on.

Purchase tickets to Rock the Bells

September 7-8 San Bernardino, California – San Manuel Amphitheater

September 14-15 Mountain View, California – Shoreline Amphitheater

September 28-29 Washington DC – RFK Festival Grounds

October 4-5 East Rutherford, New Jersey – New Meadowlands Racetrack


ACTION BRONSON (now performing in ALL MARKETS)
A$AP MOB (featuring A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, A$AP Ant, A$AP Twelvy, and A$AP Nast)
A-TRAK (performing in Los Angeles and Washington DC only)
BIG SEAN (performing in Washington DC and New York only)
BLACK HIPPY (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock)
BIG DADDY KANE (performing in Washington DC only)
DELTRON 3030 (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
IAMSU (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
J. COLE (performing in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York only)
JURASSIC 5 (performing in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York only)
LOGIC (performing in Washington DC and New York only)
PRETTY LIGHTS (performing in New York only)
RAPSODY & 9TH WONDER (performing in Los Angeles and Washington DC only)
TALIB KWELI (performing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC only)
TRINIDAD JAMES (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
TYLER THE CREATOR (performing in San Francisco, Washington DC, and New York only)
WALE (performing in Washington DC and New York only)
YG (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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