Yesterday (Aug. 5), Hip-Hop celebrated a solid 50 years at Rock The Bells in Queens, NY, and what a celebration it was. Star-studded doesn't even begin to cover it, with a line-up that touched every decade of the genre's history. The sold-out crowd at Forest Hills Stadium were treated to performances from everyone from Rakim, Cold Crush Brothers, Roxanne Shanté, Big Daddy Kane, Ludacris, Jungle Brothers, Brand Nubian, and Swizz Beatz, to MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Slick Rick, Run DMC, LL COOL J and more. Each act took to the stage and proved once again why Hip-Hop stands tall in the music and cultural scene.
Here are 13 dope moments from the 2023 Rock The Bells Festival.
1. Swizz Beatz reminded everyone he has more hits than Refrigerator Perry.
Never forget Swizz Beatz is a hit-making machine. See him live, and you're sure to be reminded of the mega-producer's massive catalog, and in case you're still on the fence, he's happy to let you now he "could do this for two weeks," as he told the sold-out crowd at Forest Hills Stadium partway through his set. "I got 550 songs in my catalog!" he declared. His set included newcomer Scar Lip, who pummeled her way through her DMX-esque anthem, "This Is New York." Beanie Sigel also hopped on stage to deliver a few of his hits including "The Truth." In the end though, Swizz's set was mostly about honoring the legacy of his friend and one of his greatest collaborators, DMX. Swizz fittingly closed with "Ruff Ryders Anthem" and "Party Up," wrapping up his ecstatic ode to Hip-Hop's 50th.
2. LL COOL J rocked the bells.
Sometimes you forget just how many hits LL COOL J has. But the Queens legend is always game to showcase exactly why he really is the GOAT. Opening the set with "I'm Bad" and flowing through hit after hit including "Doin It," "Going Back to Cali," "The Boomin' System," "Mama Said Knock You Out," and more, LL was backed by The Roots, with always cool as a fan Black Thought backing him up on vocals. A highlight of his set came when he performed "4,3,2,1" and persevered even through technical issues, mostly because Redman and Method Man came through with explosive energy to bring the rap classic to life, while Black Thought handled DMX's vocals. De La Soul also made a surprise appearance after having their earlier set disrupted because of technical issues. They joined LL and The Roots on stage for "A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays" and "Me, Myself & I."
3. Queen Latifah reigned.
Queen Latifah's set was incredible. While these days, she spends a lot of her time catching nefarious criminals on her hit show, The Equalizer, she was ready to demonstrate that yes, she's still the Queen and a legend. She sang, rapped, and moved effortlessly through classics like “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here,” “Just Another Day,” and even the theme song to her hit sitcom, Living Single. To round off her set, Queen Latifah brought Rapsody, Remy Ma, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, and Monie Love on stage. Witnessing them all rap along to the empowering classic, especially with Remy holding her daughter on her hip, was an especially cool moment.
4. Rakim was paid in full.
The God MC wasn't just thinking of a master plan at the Rock The Bells Festival, he brought it to life with a flawless performance. A lyrical giant and Hip-Hop icon that paved the for elite lyricism, Rakim's showing at the festival perfectly rounded out a diverse celebration of the genre as he delivered hits like "Don't Sweat The Technique," "Juice" (Know The Ledge)," "My Melody," Move The Crowd," "Mahogany," "The Microphone Fiend," "Eric B Is President," "I Know You Got Soul," "I Ain't No Joke," and of course, "Paid In Full."
5. Big Daddy Kane didn't half-step.
Get it? Seriously, Big Daddy Kane remains one of the best live performers in Hip-Hop, and you've never seen him live, you're seriously missing a show. He danced, he brought his young son out, and he put a stamp on his legacy as one of the most charismatic, trendsetting lyricists Hip-Hop has ever witnessed.
6. MC Lyte's lyrical onslaught.
An incredible performer, MC Lyte is a living legend, and delivered a smooth set that brought the sun-drenched stadium to life, as they rhymed along to songs like "Cha Cha Cha" and "Ruff Neck." Lyte is a superior lyricist, and her performance showcased exactly why.
7. MC Sha-Rock got nothing but love.
Almost every act that performed — from Roxanne Shanté to Queen Latifah — made sure to show love to rap's first female MC. Of course, her set was dynamic, as she reminded everyone of her place in the game, and why Hip-Hop remains a force in culture and music.
8. “U.N.I.T.Y” -To round off her set, Queen Latifah brought Rapsody, Remy Ma, MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, and Monie Love on stage. Witnessing them all rap along to the empowering classic, especially with Remy holding her daughter on her hip, was a spectacular moment, and maybe the best of the entire festival.
9. Cold Crush Brothers crushed it.
Opening the show, the rap legends reminded fans why they're considered one of the most pivotal rap groups of all time, who helped pave the way for Hip-Hop's mainstream exposure.
10. When Grandmaster Flash dropped knowledge backstage.
When Flash speaks, listen.
11. When Redman and Method Man jumped off the stage to get closer to the crowd.
Redman and Method have long been two of the most respected live performers in Hip-Hop, and for a reason. They know how to move the crowd, and they did just that in front of a packed house, running through hits like "How High" and "Da Rockwilder" while two-stepping, throwing water on the crowd (it was hot, no worries), and generally commanding the vibe like only they can.
12. Run DMC are the kings of rock.
Run DMC are the kings of Queens and rocked the stage, running through a slew of classics like "Tricky," "My Adidas," and more, as Queen Latifah and Big Boi rapped along from the side of the stage, showing that even the biggest stars are still fans of music icons.
13. The love.
The Rock The Bells Festival is always a time to celebrate Hip-Hop music and culture, and this year's festival was no exception.