Rock the Bells, the hip-hop festival that returns this weekend to San Manuel Amphitheater, has plenty of buzzworthy elements this year — ranging from highly anticipated virtual performances by Eazy-E and Ol' Dirty Bastard, plus Wu-Tang Clan's 20-year anniversary, and the festival itself ringing in 10 years.
All these stories are weaved together to mark what Chang Weisberg, Rock the Bells founder and president of concert promoter Guerilla Union, hopes will make for a historic year for the festival.
“I don't book the festival for myself but I book it for a story; something to talk about. I look at Rock the Bells like someone looks at a wedding. I try to cover the full gamut,” Weisberg said.
The two-day festival begins Saturday at San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore. Performances by Eazy-E and Ol' Dirty Bastard via hologram — like Tupac's surprise “resurrection” during the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio — are expected to last up to 10 minutes each with Eazy-E to perform with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on Saturday, while Ol' Dirty hits the stage with the Wu-Tang Clan on Sunday.
“Without giving it away, they'll do a couple of songs or a medley of songs at least,” Weisberg said.
Ol' Dirty Bastard's “return” is a momentous one for Wu-Tang Clan as the group turns 20. Ol' Dirty Bastard, who died in 2004, was one of the founding members of the New York group and was known for his gold teeth, unpredictable behavior and memorable rap hooks.
A performance by hip-hop group Jurassic 5 (the band recently reunited at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival) is also slated, along with several artists from Earl Sweatshirt to Tech N9ne who are releasing new music.
“For me, Rock the Bells has always cut its teeth on being known for '90s era hip-hop,” Weisberg said. “As the genre has evolved and young acts are capable of headlining, it's only natural for the festival to evolve.”
One of the younger acts on the festival's bill is Compton's own Kendrick Lamar of the group Black Hippy, who made news recently for a verse on the Big Sean song “Control.” Lamar verbally challenged other hip-hop artists including J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., A$AP Rocky and Pusha T who are scheduled to perform at the festival.
“What Kendrick did was great,” Weisberg said. “He definitely upped the ante for making these performances special. I'm anticipating not only positivity and community spirit, but a lot of collaborations out there. A lot of friends on stage.”
Some up-and-coming acts Weisberg recommended include Jhene Aiko, Snow Tha Product, Christian artist Lecrae, and Hit-Boy, who hails from Fontana.
In a 2012 interview with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Hit-Boy said his mother Tanisha Benford was responsible for helping him become an artist.
“She trusted my judgment and let me follow through with my plans,” said Hit-Boy, whose real name is Chauncey Hollis. “It's proof dreams can become a reality. That itself is a inspiration to all of us.”
With a passion for all things hip-hop, Weisberg said he's already in talks with artists for the Cypress Hill Smokeout, next year's Paid Dues Independent Hip-Hop Festival in Devore and a potential festival with Top Dawg Entertainment.
ROCK THE BELLS HIP-HOP FESTIVAL
Where: San Manuel Amphitheater, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore
When: Doors open at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cost: Single-day tickets $99 or single-day VIP tickets $199; two-day general admission tickets $165 or two-day VIP tickets $399
Information: www.livenation.com or 800-745-3000; more information and ticket vendors at www.rockthebells.net