I entered the San Bernardino Paid Dues Hip-Hop Festival never having been to a festival that features rap and hip-hop exclusively, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. My first stop was Kosha Dillz. He opened the set with his signature “Everything is Kosher” and was free styling in spots during his songs whether the audience noticed or not because he made no announcement that he was doing so. Since it was Passover he took out some Matzoh and threw some into the crowd then invited everyone to a Seder that he was holding at his tent later that night. As usual for his last song he had people throw objects onto the stage and ended with his “object freestyle” where he raps about whatever the crowd ends up throwing onto the stage that show.
Next up was the hip-hop group Swim Team. Since it was still early in the day, the set was a little short. Swim Team used this to its advantage by having their members come out one by one and pick up where the other left off without missing a beat.
On the same stage was LA Symphony. Their beats were extremely clubby and the five members all rapped about money obnoxiously. It was too flashy and felt like a record company constructed a hip-hop version of the Backstreet Boys. Instead catching the end of Rah Digga – who easily had more balls than all the guys in LA Symphony put together – proved a wiser decision.
Fortunately Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were on time right after Rah Digga. Macklemore had the most energy out of anyone in that day and was running and jumping across the stage with a manic energy that flowed into his lyrical style.
On top of that Ryan Lewis was playing the saxophone, complimenting his DJ extraordinarily well. The two engaged with the crowd and gave an A+ performance all around.
The key to seeing Wu-Tang is knowing that its set will be running late. This is part of the magic of seeing Wu-Tang, the hype man stalling for time saying things to the crowd like, “Oh my god, I think I just saw Method Man, this is going to be crazy!” while already being twenty minutes into the set. Naturally they played through most of their classics and every single person in the crowd was singing along and flashing the Wu-Tang “W” with their hands the entire time. The only drawback to seeing Wu-Tang at an enormous festival is that unless you wait all day for a spot, you’re not going to be able to see the members perform and it almost feels like you’re just listening to a CD in your living room.
Doomtree was a must-see as their two DJ/sample artists are extremely fun to watch in addition to the other four jumping around on stage. They are a hip-hop group that gives you more to do than just nod your head with the beat of the songs. You can actually dance to a Doomtree set and have a blast, not to mention they’re an extremely positive group in terms of hip-hop. You feel good after hearing their songs. They all went into the crowd during the end of their set despite a huge chunk of the front left side of the stage being blocked off for VIP.
Fortunately Mac Lethal played right after Doomtree. His set-up got pushed back twenty minutes because of some faulty wires and he personally apologized to the crowd and said that after the show if anybody wanted to come up and get a free CD and have him sign it or draw a doddle on it that they were welcome to it which started the show with some great vibes. He came out with a hype man and said, “This is Albi; he just got out of jail and he’s not even a rapper, show him some love” and even though he claimed he wasn’t a rapper you wouldn’t know the difference. Mac Lethal played mostly darker songs and kept telling the crowd that he wanted to be the most depressing rapper at Paid Dues because everyone else was out being happy and he needed to change it up, which was great because those self-deprecating songs of catharsis didn’t get played by other artists and it changed the mood from just a “fun show” to a moving performance.
The hype surrounding La Crea made him a can’t-miss performance. Luckily, he proved to be a mind blowing hip-hop artist.
La Crea went above and beyond the DJ/rapper combo. His vibe was dark and a bit scary, but having your own sound in hip-hop is hard enough. He was rapping so fast that there was no way you could take it in in one listen, but he only used it on certain faster songs that gave his set a dynamic feel where you didn’t have to try to tell one song from another. On top of all of that his DJ and live drummer combo resulted in, hands down, the best rhythm performance of the entire festival, while some of the bass beats were so deep and loud that the plastic cups on the ground were buzzing and sliding across the floor.
As the day wound down, Three Six Mafia seemed mandatory. The warehouse-size room the group played had smoke coming out the doors – literally. Between each song one of the members would tell everyone to light up (again) or ask “who the real weed smokers were” and everyone would scream. It is safe to say that even if you weren’t smoking you probably got a contact high. Fortunately, as Wu-Tang did, they played some of their more popular songs to please the crowd like “Poppin’ My Collar.” The end of their set featured a strange remix of the techno classic “Zombie Nation” where the build-up exploded into the beat for “Stay High.” Again it was a bit like listening to Three Six in your living room, except with almost a thousand people smoking blunts all at once.
With only a few acts left, people had to choose who to see, Odd Future was necessary. If for no other reason than to see if it could live up to the hype. Playing “Yonkers” fairly early on in the set, proved to be the highlight. The energy was lacking and the only crowd interaction was telling the audience how they wished they could go see DJ Quik instead of performing. The jumbo-screen above them showed close ups of someone barbequing on stage. At the end of the set Tyler said, “Well you guys were…awesome?” in a condescending way to the crowd, like he was searching for something better to say, but that was all he could come up with. The best part of their show was the end when they set the giant balloon archway they’d put on stage up into the air, which isn’t saying that much.
For a headlining act at a festival called Paid Dues, where they shared the same stage with Wu-Tang, Odd Future felt like a ripoff by neglecting their songs. At the very least OFWGKTA could have Tyler commit some sort of felony that gave the audience a story they we could say, “Yeah, I was there for that.”