If you scan the upper reaches of this year's Rock the Bells lineup, you won't see major young stars like Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$ flying solo atop the bill. Instead, you'll see actual band names - Black Hippy, A$AP Mob, Pro Era.
One of the many coups of this year's fest is that they corralled the full posses of these major stars and billed them as singular events. Sure, if you're a rapper and you have to beat the 100-degree heat in San Bernardino this weekend, better to do it with all your friends in tow. But it also suggests that both RTB's organizer, Guerilla Union, and a host of young stars see a benefit in sharing the spotlight.
Rock the Bells was founded with a reunited Wu-Tang Clan, so the fest has this sort of group-identity thing in its DNA. But it's also good for winning over over audiences - Kendrick and Rocky have played several major L.A. solo shows in recent months, and billed alone they might not have the same crowd-pulling power. Billed as full-crew sets, they makes the fest more of a must-see destination show.
But it's also interesting that while older rap titans seem locked in an Olympian battle of ego and stardom-siphoning, these younger stars seem ready and eager to pull their peers up with them. Even "Watch The Throne" wasn't pitched as a band of collaborative equals so much as a hip-hop Justice League consisting solely of Jay and Kanye. Black Hippy and A$AP Mob earned notice on the strength of its stars, but they feel more like genuine groups under a single mantle.
Other crew fixtures are quickly rising in their ranks - A$AP Ferg and ScHoolboy Q have garnered major accolades for recent releases and tours, and are set to become prime genre figures in their own right. The teenaged Joey Bada$$ has made a point of taking his Pro Era crew out for most of his major tours - an egalitarian gesture from an MC with every reason to claim the spotlight for himself.
And that's not even counting the reunited-via-hologram Easy-E with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and ODB with Wu-Tang Clan. Not even death can keep these crews apart at RTB this year.
If a rising tide lifts all boats, then Rock the Bells is doing a lot of very compelling heavy lifting for these extended crews of young MCs.
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