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Familiar ring to it

Fri., Sept. 5, 2008, midnight

“Rock the Bells” festival highlights hip-hop pioneers

A Tribe Called Quest’s jazz-infused Afrocentrics.

Nas’ non-compromising rap napalm.

The Pharcyde’s bizarre, lighthearted humor.

These are just a few examples from hip-hop’s golden rule that was forged in the late 1980s and reigned into the mid-’90s – before gangsta rap’s hostile takeover.

The golden era of hip-hop’s history is encapsulated in the year’s hottest international rap festival – Rock the Bells – which makes only 10 stops in the U.S., the last of which is this weekend at The Gorge.

The fifth annual Rock the Bells points to a time when substance enhanced style. Integrity, innovation and individuality were valued over fashion, fame and fortune before “keep it real” became a mythical marketing tactic.

The festival is named after a song from a 16-year-old LL Cool J’s platinum debut, “Radio,” the first full-length album released by Def Jam in 1985.

About half of the anchoring acts have dropped off the bill for the Gorge show – including Raekwon and Ghostface, Method Man and Redman, Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa and Dead Prez – but the highly anticipated reunions of A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde are among the top draws.

The lineup is a mix of old-school rap masters and new-school firestarters and spans rap’s 30-year existence, including De La Soul, Mos Def, MF Doom, Blue Scholars, Sage Francis, Murs, Wale, Jay Electronica, Spank Rock, The Cool Kids, Kidz in the Hall, and Amanda Black, hosted by B-Real, Supernatural and DJs Scratch and Green Lantern.

Peep the techniques of two of the festival’s heavyweights:

A Tribe Called Quest

As a part of the pro-black Native Tongue rhyme collective (which also includes De La Soul, Black Sheep, Queen Latifah and Jungle Brothers), A Tribe Called Quest created a universal party-friendly vibe that always challenged the listener to think between the beats.

After several Grammy nominations and critical acclaim, Tribe called in quits in 1999 because of the changing trends in the hip-hop climate from consciousness to commercialism.

ATCQ first reunited for the inaugural Rock The Bells concert on Nov. 13, 2004 – the night Ol’ Dirty Bastard died – and opened with a tribute set to Wu-Tang Clan. Leader Q-Tip releases a new solo album, “Renaissance,” this fall.

“See, ‘nigga’ first was used back in the Deep South

Fallin’ out between the dome of the white man’s mouth

It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy

Other niggas in the community think it’s crummy

But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we embrace

Adversity it goes right with the race

And being that we use it as a term of endearment

Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went

Now the little shorties say it all of the time

And whole bunch a niggas throw the word in their rhymes”

-“Sucka Nigga,” from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” (1993)

The Pharcyde

Comedic misfits, The Pharcyde provided an alternative to the dark horrors of the hardcore hip-hop that dominated the West Coast with eccentric anthems, such as a song built entirely of yo-mama jokes, a verse delivered in the form of a twisted prank phone call and awkward tales of rejection by the opposite sex.

The charismatic quartet split due to personality conflicts over the course of the ’90s. When members Tre Hardson and Fatlip toured through Spokane last winter, Hardson said in an interview that a reunion was unlikely, so the group’s return at Rock the Bells is one of the most welcome surprises of the festival.

“Now there she goes again, the dopest Ethiopian

And now the world around me be gets movin in slow motion

Whenever she happens to walk by – why does the apple of my eye

Overlook and disregard my feelings no matter how much I try?

Wait, no, I did not really pursue my little princess with persistence;

And I was so low-key that she was unaware of my existence

From a distance I desired, secretly admired her;

Wired her a letter to get her, and it went:

‘My dear, my dear, my dear, you do not know me but I know you very well

Now let me tell you about the feelings I have for you

When I try, or make some sort of attempt, I symp

Damn I wish I wasn’t such a wimp!’

Cause then I would let you know that I love you so

And if I was your man then I would be true

The only lying I would do is in the bed with you’

Then I signed ‘Sincerely the one who loves you dearly, PS love me tender’

The letter came back three days later: Return to Sender.”

–“Passin’ Me By” from the Pharcyde’s “Bizarre Ride II …” (1992)


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