Two of L.A.'s most significant summer hip-hop shows are on the same day this year, leaving fans to choose between Rock the Bells and Power 106's Powerhouse 09 on Saturday.
While this means that Los Angeles remains something of a mecca for top-flight live hip-hop in America, it also illustrates that the genre has competing visions for its relevance, and that booking a rap festival is only slightly less logistically complex than planning a moon landing. Fans are left in a devilish quandary trying to pick between sets. But Saturday's shows are not, Rock the Bells promoter Chang Weisberg said, anything like a duel.
"My initial reaction was to get upset," Weisberg said. "To paraphrase Shakespeare, I felt a bit like 'Et tu, Brute?' There are fans out there who love both Nas and Jay-Z and are going to have to make a choice. But I know Power 106 was handcuffed and had no choice in this, so I hope we can both sell a whole bunch of tickets."
A quick walk down the lineups of Rock the Bells, a longtime home for Golden Age and independent-leaning artists, and the more pop-centric Powerhouse makes it clear that today's hip-hop is defined as much by ethics as by any one sound.
Powerhouse, the flagship concert event of the popular hip-hop station, has a formidable headliner in Jay-Z, who will likely preview cuts from his long-awaited new album, "The Blueprint 3," at the Honda Center. The bill's bolstered by Pitbull, Lil Jon, Flo Rida and the young hands behind many of the year's most inescapable and electro-driven singles, such as Ya Boy, LMFAO and New Boyz, whose springy track "You're a Jerk" is one of the most zeitgeisty slices of L.A. rap in recent years.
It's an eclectic bill, but one that still leaves plenty of room for another festival, said Jimmy Steal, vice president of programming at Emmis Communications, Power 106's parent company, in a statement to The Times.
"Rock the Bells and Powerhouse are both great events, with diverse bills that have something to offer all area hip-hop fans," Steal said. "Because of that, and the Southland's huge population, we think that both will be huge successes."
Rock the Bells is taking a different tack at San Manuel Amphitheater -- instead of replicating radio's biggest hits live, Weisberg wanted to book less-available sets. Rock the Bells' headlining act is a collaboration between New York rap institution Nas and reggae scion Damian Marley, whose forthcoming album together is a vivid re-imagining of their individual skills. N.W.A veteran Ice Cube, Philly soul space cadets the Roots and OutKast's Big Boi also headline, making Rock the Bells both a study in hip-hop's vital past and its exciting yet undetermined future.
Though the genre has been hit especially hard by the downturn in the music business, Weisberg figures each festival is an opportunity to reassert hip-hop's virtues and to show respect to fans who scrimp to see it live, even when they must make Solomonic choices about their sets.
"I want fans to see something they'll never see again for the rest of their lives," Weisberg said. "Especially in a downturn, I'm so appreciative of the sacrifices fans make to see hip-hop."
Where: Rock the Bells, San Manuel Amphitheater, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Power 106 Powerhouse 09, Honda Center, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Price: $38 to $125