Nas, Common, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill and More “Rock The Bells” In New Jersey


“I’ve been listening to Nas since I was six years old.”

“When were you born?”


Every so often, I’d catch him peeking over. I think he wanted me to know that he knew the lyrics to classic bars like “Live At The BBQ” [actually a hit from Main Source]. He knew every line. We talked about the absurdity of some of the Hip-Hop conversations that rattled in the background. Somebody better than Nas? Come on, son. I don’t know his name, but this 23-year-old and I kind of bonded at “Rock The Bells” as Nas headlined the Hip-Hop festival at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. And, despite potentially upstaging performances by Common and J. Cole, Nas put the put on an astounding show for the 17,000 in attendance.

The rain pummeled those in attendance, but not even nearly torrential rains could stop the power of Hip-Hop on this day. My wingman C.L. Brown and I found ourselves barreling though the elements only to realize it didn’t matter. We were soaked as we jetted past the second stage, which would eventually get rained out. It was all worth it, and we’d soon discover why.

Nas body-bagged his set, and he brought along a couple friends to go in for the kill. Midway through his set, he brought out Scarface of the Geto Boys and Ms. Lauryn Hill. Even the man that put Nas on was there – Large Professor of Main Source. The crowd was enthralled by both, but Lauryn put on a performance that had everybody thinking what she said from the stage: “I have been gone for a long time but I’m back again.” The 37-year-old, reclusive phenomenon gave a performance so spirited, it was like a Hip-Hop version of “Inception,” a concert within a concert.

Nas was not to be trifled with, though. He held the crowd captive playing with a band an eclectic diverse mix of his hits, past and present. The show showed his growth as a man and entertainer. He changed lyrics at times. “I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus” turned into “I went to hell for lovin’ Jesus.” Even monster hit “Hate Me Now” was close to meaningless, set to the backdrop of Nas’ present masterwork, Life Is Good. Nas unified the seemingly 18-80 crowd by sharing his life through song. And it was good.

He wasn’t the only one, though.

Common, admit it or not, must be in Hip-Hop’s collective Top 10 list. The Chicago vet did it all, even broke out a couple breakdance moves. He broke out a freestyle that even included the writer of this text. (Look for him mention “chain,” and that’s me waving a dookie rope in front of him.) J. Cole could have headlined the concert based on his performance that was more energetic than a P90X workout regiment. He wriggled all over the stage, sometimes seeming to reel from emotion. He offered an intricate balance of commercial must-haves to his underground sensibilities. Speaking of underground, Immortal Technique – after being rained out – took to the main stage and spewed some acapella verses that were momentarily as effective as Nas, Common, and J. Cole with full band.

Oh yeah. Shout out to the lil’ homie that’s been listening to Nas since he was a kid. Long Live Hip-Hop!

Photo Credit: Chuck Creekmur, unless otherwise noted.

J. Cole showing a lot of passion.

Hiding in the box office from the rain.

Rocking The Bells

Lauryn Hill and Nas – Call It A Comeback

All he needs is “One Mic”.

Large Professor looks at Nas with affinity, like a proud poppa.

L. Boogie seemed rejuvenated (photo by C.L. Brown)

Just a pair of living legends. (photo by C.L. Brown)

Common scooped one.

Common admires his handy work.

Immortal Technique didn’t need a band.

Cole World.

Bye Bye, Baby!