When LL Cool J penned the lyrics to his classic track “Rock the Bells,” he could not have imagined that almost 40 years later that the phrase would evolve into his own radio station ,and also one of hip hop’s premiere festivals that he would curate.
On August 6, 2022, over 14,000 hip hop heads attended the inaugural Rock the Bells festival at the Forest Hills Stadium in LL’s hometown of Queens. In addition to LL's headlining performance with DJ Z-Trip, other performers including Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Scarface, Rick Ross, Lil Kim, The Diplomats ft. Cam’ron, Jim Jones & Juelz Santana, Fat Joe & Remy Ma, Jadakiss, Scarface, Trina, N.O.R.E, Digable Planets, Onyx, Havoc, Kid Capri, and Large Professor. LL also brought out surprise guests Brand Nubian, Audio Two, Ultra Magnetic MCs, and Kool G Rap to perform their classic songs to the sold-out crowd.
Hip hop pioneer Roxanne Shanté hosted the highly-anticipated event and DJ Mister Cee & DJ provided the sounds on the “1 and 2s.” The festival also featured breaking, graffiti and DJing.
While on stage, LL was honored with a key to the city as Speaker of the NYC Council, Adrienne Adams presented the rap legend with a proclamation acknowledging his influence and impact on the culture. Additionally, the Empire State Building lit up the evening sky in Cyan Blue, which was the festival’s official color, to commemorate the momentous occasion.
LL spoke with EBONY about the importance of launching the festival in his hometown and the significant impact of hiphop culture.
"I feel like hip hop is indispensable. I feel like, the same reverence and deference in the way Paul McCartney gets celebrated, the way Bob Dylan gets celebrated or Mick Jagger, I feel like these artists, these kings and queens, deserve that same treatment for this art form," he said.
Houston legend Bun B hosted The Trill Mealz Food Court, the first ever hip hop infused food court experience with with food and beverage from Nas' Sweet Chick, E-40's Goon with the Spoon, Jadakiss & Styles P's Juices for Life, Ghostface Killah's Killah Koffee, Mia X's Team Whip Them Pots and, of course, Bun B's Trill Burgers.
“I didn’t think it would happen this fast but I know it would eventually happen,” Bun B said of the hip hop food court and of enormous success of his Trill Burgers, which recently was named Good Morning America's Best Burger Competition. “I know the restaurant business is a long grind and we're prepared. We've been very blessed to have amazing opportunities presented to us and we presented amazing opportunities as well like Trill Mealz Food Court. This is an idea that I brought to Rock the Bells. They gave us everything we needed to facilitate it, and now we're looking to take this concept on the road to have hip hop food courts at places where hip hop may not even be performed.”
Styles P of The Lox was in attendance with his Juices For Life brand and he spoke about how healthy living is essential for the culture.
“Health is wealth and movement as medicine,” Styles said. “On top of that, what's happening today is pretty iconic for me because this is a hiphop festival. Shout out the Rock the Bells and Uncle L. Most of the people today will be getting food and drinks from Black- and Latino-owned companies, It's a festival where you can say that hip hop was all the way around the board. So your food and drinks were handled by people who give a damn about hip hop.”
Acclaimed producer and MC Large Professor who inaugurated the festival as the opening act, expressed his excitement about participating in the festival and how the culture continues to grow.
“This is beautiful man. To be the first performer of the festival and to be in my hometown of Queens, New York, representing Rock the Bells, it was amazing,” he said. “We used to listen to “Rock the Bells” drinking 40's, you know what I’m saying? Today is a beautiful moment and a beautiful memory.”
Ladybug Mecca of the Digable Planets talked about the significance of the Rock the Bells brand providing opportunities to hip-hop legends.
“It’s truly an honor and blessing to be a part of the festival because the pioneers have equity in Rock the Bells, which should be normalized,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”
After over 30 years of being one of the most revered MCs in rap music, Scarface gave a thrilling performance—his first since he received a kidney transplant from his son Chris Jordan last year. He paid homage to all of the trailblazing women who helped to make hip hop the most recognized cultural expression in the world.
"Had it not been for the female MC there would be no male MCs… now ponder on that for a moment. Thank you to all the mothers of hip hop. We appreciate you,” Scarface said.
“This festival puts hip hop back on that platform where it deserves to be. This is where hip hop began in New York City,” he added. “We have to respect this.”