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October 7, 2022

‘100 percent hip-hop’: LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells emerges in Queens, New York

Thousands of fans swarmed into Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York, on Saturday for the Rock The Bells Festival, which showcased a lineup of hip-hop royalty deemed a coronation of the culture by spectators and artists alike.

Founder LL Cool J reignited the festival after he won a court battle for its name. “Rock The Bells” is also the title of his 1985 smash hit.

The all-day festival rolled out an ensemble of hip-hop superstars such as Ice Cube, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Lil’ Kim, Busta Rhymes and Scarface. It also touted the Trill Mealz Food Court, curated by rapper Bun B, which offered grub from rappers’ eateries such as Bun B’s Trill Burgers, Nas’ Sweet Chick and Ghostface Killah’s Killah Koffee.

Styles P, of the hip-hop group The Lox, who runs Juices for Life with group member Jadakiss, said it’s a beautiful thing to have artists collaborate and do more for hip-hop than move a crowd with their music.

Ice Cube performs Saturday at Rock The Bells at Forest Hills Stadium in New York.Johnny Nunez / WireImage

“We are unifying. We are using our brains. We are using our energy and our synergy to do more together besides just the music,” he said. “We are supplying the food and the meals for the day. This is going back to the hip-hop community, all the way around. So today is 100% hip-hop.”

Bun B directed traffic Saturday from behind grills that were cooking up patties for a consistently long line of hungry hip-hop heads.

“It’s good to be a part of hip-hop history, to continue to be a part of hip-hop history and to consistently be able to impact the culture in a great way,” he said. “Food is a great way to commune with different people at festivals. You tend to get to know the people you’re in line with. And you all have great food. You get to talk about that. It just helps lend itself to a better experience at a music festival.”

An older hip-hop festival, also called Rock the Bells, was organized and managed by a different company that put on shows from 2004 to 2013.

About 13,000 people attended Saturday’s sold-out show, despite scorching temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, organizers said.

Jason Olivencia, 42, of Browns Mills, New Jersey, said he was excited to hear artists he grew up listening to, such as Scarface, Jadakiss and Ice Cube.

“They’re still relevant. They influenced a lot of the new school. We got to pay respect for where it began,” Olivencia said.

Other fans traveled from Virginia and Detroit. Clarrissa Egerton, 42, came from Boston. She said she was looking forward to performances by “everybody, everybody, everybody.”

LL Cool J, however, stood out because he founded the festival in its newest iteration, Egerton said.

Spliff Star and Busta Rhymes perform Saturday at Rock The Bells at Forest Hills Stadium in New York.Johnny Nunez / WireImage

“He made it possible,” she said. “I definitely want to support him and what he’s doing for hip-hop culture and music.”

Asked about the hip-hop food court, Egerton said it was “brilliant.”

“I hope to see more of these in other cities,” she said.

Continuing the theme of the festival’s being an organic hip-hop product, massive portraits of genre pioneers such as Big Daddy Kane, Run DMC, Roxanne Shanté and Eminem hung throughout Forest Hills Stadium. Those artists have ownership in the company, according to festival organizers.

Some of the revenue from ticket sales will go toward the Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx, which has a mission to preserve the culture’s history, organizers said.

Before he performed, Havoc, of Mobb Deep, said taking the stage in a packed venue in his hometown among industry giants would be a career-defining moment.

“You grow up. You want to become a rapper. You actually become successful and then get a chance to perform in your hometown with other hip-hop celebrities,” Havoc said. “This is the stuff dreams are made of.”

Antonio Planas

Antonio Planas is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital. 

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