Legends Only: The 2022 Rock The Bells Festival

Legends Only: The 2022 Rock The Bells Festival

Published Mon, August 8, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT

Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, N.Y. was the site of a classic Hip-Hop renaissance this weekend. The 2022 Rock The Bells Festival blew the proverbial roof off the borough's most picturesque amphitheater, as a bevy of rap icons took the stage throughout the hot summer day.

The afternoon began with performances from Queens representative Large Professor, ripping through classics like "Lookin' At the Front Door" and "Just Hangin' Out" with fellow emcees Edo G. and Joe Fatal. The eternally-cool Digable Planets got the chill vibes cutting through the summertime heat with songs like "Jettin'" and the ever-popular "Cool Like Dat." The spectrum of classic Hip-Hop from the past several decades was well-represented, with Cam'ron and Dipset reuniting with their rivals in The LOX to showcase some of that kinetic energy from Y2K; and icons like Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe and Lil Kim only adding to their lofty legacies as titans in the game with stellar performances.

Lil Kim entered the stage like the Queen that she is; flanked by background dancers and flags affirming her status as Queen Muva of all rap divas. With Lil Cease riding shotgun and Havoc joining her onstage for their Mobb Deep anthem "Quiet Storm," Kim's set was one of the day's most memorable and her significant base was in a frenzy; both in the stadium in Forest Hills and across social media. Bussa Buss and Spliff Starr put a clinic, per usual, on how to keep the crowd amped and pure, unadulterated showmanship. Busta dropped the beat for an acapella performance of "Break Ya Neck," as he and his longtime foil ripped through his remarkable catalog.

Houston rap legend Scarface got the reception worthy a southern king, and performed his classic 2002 album The Fix in its entirety, in recognition of the acclaimed project's 20th anniversary. "This is where the Hip-Hop began," he told RTB. "New York City is where it begins. We've got to respect our culture."

"Ain't nobody really gettin' out there and rockin' it like they used to," Face said, referencing the need for classic Hip-Hop to reset a standard as the culture re-asserts itself across the industry. And that sentiment permeated the entire day.

In accordance with the credo that "it ain't Hip-Hop if there ain't no DJ," turntable superstars like Mister Cee, DJ R-Tistic, DJ Chuck Chillout and Kid Capri kept the crowd moving and kept the beats bumping throughout the day and into the late August night.

New York City is where it begins. We've GOT to respect our culture."

- Scarface

DJ Mister Cee DJ Mister Cee

The 2022 Rock The Bells Festival was presented by Procter & Gamble brands King C. Gillette and My Black Is Beautiful. King C. Gillette has the tools and care items to help every man master their style; My Black is Beautiful acknowledges, elevates, and supports all that is beautiful about Black culture.

The festival itself brought together a wide swath of fans who got to enjoy food, festivities and some of the biggest names live and direct onstage. N.O.R.E. was high energy and came ready to put on for his home turf of Queens, with a little help from his old buddy Capone and fellow NYC emcees The LOX and Cam'ron. Classics like "Superthug" and "Banned From T.V." got the crowd whipped into a frenzy, as the DRINK CHAMPS host reminded everyone that he can always rip the mic when called upon to revisit his first love.

Hip-Hop legend and Queensbridge-raised Roxanne Shante kept the show moving as host, much to the delight of the fans who packed Forest Hills Stadium. The star of RTB's Have A Nice Day showcased her skills on the mic throughout the day-long event, joking with the crowd, and keeping spirits high.

Bun B poses in front of the Trillburgers booth.

The Trill Mealz Food Court was a major hit, as Bun B hosted and fans got served some of the best cuisine from assorted rapper-owned restaurants. Featuring Nas' Sweet Chick restaurant, E-40’s Goon With A Spoon, Jadakiss and Styles P’s Juices For Life, the food court earned raves. Ghostface's Killah Koffee and Mia X's Mama Mia Foods were particular highlights. Of course, the line for Bun's own TrillBurgers seemed to stretch halfway to Rockaway.

Back onstage, the Bronx was definitely represented; as Fat Joe took the stage with Remy Ma to perform beloved Terror Squad classics and some of their more smashes like the ubiquitous "All The Way Up." Remy even brought out the fam: with hubby Papoose and baby daughter Reminisce MacKenzie (aka The Golden Child) briefly stealing the show. Trina, aka The Diamond Princess, took centerstage just as the weather began to cool off in the early evening; and Rick Ross brought the energy of a bawse fresh out of the port of Miami; running through bangers like "Aston Martin Music" and "B.M.F."

West Coast superstar Ice Cube came out just after the sun went down, showing love to New York City and LL COOL J, before poking a little fun and calling out his partner-in-rhyme W.C. to help him rep for Cali.

Ice Cube onstage.

"Can he still get on the mic and do what we like?" Cube sarcastically questioned at point during his set, looking over at W.C. "I mean, the nigga might be a little too movie'd out. Or, he might be doing too many of them dumbass beer commercials, or he's too into basketball, he ain't into rapping no more."

He paused, letting the crowd react. "I knew what you were thinking. But let me tell you something, when I say I started this gangsta shit, I wasn't lying..." he announced, referencing his forever jam with Dr. Dre and MC Ren, "Hello," before seamlessly moving into the head-bobbing classic, "Check Yo Self," from The Predator.

2022 Rock The Bells Festival

(L-R) Rappers LL COOL J, MC Sha Rock, and Grandmaster Caz at the 2022 Rock The Bells Festival at Forest Hills Stadium, in Forest Hills, Queens, N.Y. Aug. 6, 2022

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Roxanne Shante onstage at the 2022 Rock The Bells Festival at Forest Hills Stadium in Forest Hills, Queens, NYC. Aug. 6 2022

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'Can he still get on the mic and do what we like?'"

- Ice Cube mocking his naysayers

The man of the hour, LL COOL J, emerged late Saturday night, to close things out in proper fashion. Draped in the flyest of Dolce & Gabbana-designed tracksuits, and rocking his trademark "LL COOL J" four-finger ring on a stage adorned with boomboxes, the man who grew up on Farmers Blvd got to give a performance of the ages for his home borough. Tearing through his catalog of hits, from "I Need Love" to "Jack The Ripper," to "Luv U Better"; rocking classics like "I Need A Beat" and "Goin' Back To Cali" with a slightly trap-influenced update, a live band queued up for "Mama Said Knock You Out" and smoothing things out with "Hey Lover," the legend made it clear that he has a repertoire that is virtually peerless in his genre.

LL engaged the crowds with backstories for his tracks like the infamous "Pink Cookies In A Plastic Bag" ("Don't ask me what it means. I was high") while also surprising fans with a look at a new track called "Run It Back" from his forthcoming album. "In life, what you wanna do is, you wanna run it back. You wanna run the numbers up, you wanna run it back. You win a championship, you wanna run it back. We did Rock The Bells this year, we wanna do it next year! We wanna run it back."

Throughout his set, LL made it clear why Rock The Bells exists and why it was necessary to bring things back. "One word: timeless," he repeated constantly throughout his performance. Speaking to the crowd, he passionately conveyed that he wants Hip-Hop greats to get the reverence of a Paul McCartney, a Mick Jagger or a Bob Dylan. And he brought out some fellow legends to drive the point home; as Brand Nubian took the stage to rock "Slow Down," the Ultramagnetic MCs beamed down to perform "Ego Trippin'" and Audio Two roared through "Top Billin.'" And the highlight of the segment was Queens legend Kool G Rap kicking those nimble bars from "Road To the Riches," as LL served up amens as G Rap's hypeman.

James Todd Smith closed out the night appropriately enough, ripping an explosive rendition of "Rock The Bells," effectively reminding the crowd where we've been, why we're here, and where we're going.

The 2022 Rock The Bells Festival was more than a just a victory for Classic Hip-Hop; it was a showcase and a celebration for generations of greatness in rap music and Hip-Hop culture. Onyx and Brand Nubian. Ultramags and Digable Planets. The LOX and Dipset. Fat Joe and Remy, Trina, Rozay, Ice Cube, and Busta rocking the crowd. Legends like Masta Ace, Hank Shocklee, Keith Murray, Eric B. and more; amongst the people, shaking hands and taking pictures. Mia X serving great cuisine; with Bun B holding down the food court and Roxanne Shanté keeping the show moving onstage. This was greatness. This was legendary.

This was Hip-Hop.