Paid Dues Independent Hip-Hop Festival

San Manuel Amphitheater


Traffic was hellish. Parking was a mess, the outhouses were a disaster, the lines for food were ridiculously long, and one edifice labeled “will call” was not, in fact, will call. The dust was Coachella-like, and after the boiling sun set it was freezing. Cell phone service was spotty. Sound from two of the stages bled into each other, and one merch booth's sound system was so loud you couldn't hear the show being performed nearby.

See also: Our Paid Dues slideshow

Still, Paid Dues was a success. Girls wearing “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe” t-shirts (and little else) mingled with face-tatted dudes wearing “We Trippy Mane” sweatshirts and conscious dudes talking about “real hip-hop.” If we learned anything, though, it's this: Hip-hop is back, if it was ever really gone. Below are reviews of four noteworthy sets.

Credit: Timothy Norris

Credit: Timothy Norris

Freddie Gibbs

Freddie (Gangsta) Gibbs came to L.A. from Gary, Indiana, and it doesn't look like he's going back anytime soon. If the head to toe Dodgers gear/colors he donned didn't make this point, his medical-grade marijuana and cut upper body (as if ready for a Men's Health photo-shoot) did.

Looking like Tupac with two glistening Jesus-pieces dangling from his neck, Gibbs' stage presence and solid delivery made him one of the best festival performers, who probably went below the radar of most attendees. (Killer Mike also gets this nod.) Though Trinidad James undeservedly stole the spotlight from other performers near his time slot, Gibbs' rattled speakers and inspired audience members with tracks from his stellar 2012 mixtape Baby Face Killa, as well as those from his Shame EP with DJ/producer Madlib.

Credit: Timothy Norris

Credit: Timothy Norris

Tech N9ne

You may love Tech N9ne — the unrelenting rapid-fire delivery, the face painting, the content of his music, the way he spells his name. You may hate Tech N9ne, for those very same reasons. But he deserves your respect, if not for his commitment to independent music and cult-like following (one cameraman was violently shouting his lyrics at me), then for his on-point live shows.

The man knows showmanship. His live show actually has a choreographed, rehearsed feel, unlike so many other rap shows. Though his delivery can feel redundant and gimmicky, his on-stage theatrics with sideman and fellow Strange Music rapper Krizz Kaliko make his show dynamic. Performing synchronized pop-lock-type dance moves while stringing together hits like “Welcome to the Midwest” and “Caribou Lou” alongside lesser-known tracks like “KC Tea” and “Dysfunctional,” Tech N9ne put on one of the best shows at Paid Dues. Also, lots of women flashed their breasts.

Credit: Timothy Norris

Credit: Timothy Norris


Macklemore stepped on stage looking like he'd, naturally, picked his wardrobe from the finest vintage spot Melrose has to offer. His hair was perfectly coifed and he stripped down to a black tank top, Flo Rida style.

See also: Critics Need to Lay Off Macklemore

Also: He was playing on the main stage and his crowd was fucking huge. Like, bigger than headliner Black Hippy. The guy has the one of the nation's most popular rap songs in years and is tighter with Ellen DeGeneres than Lil B. Yet, once Macklemore performed “Thrift Shop” — way early — his set felt deflated. The later songs were mostly of a slow tempo, and if you weren't already a converted fan, there wasn't much for you.

Sure, there were audience members who knew the words to “Same Love” and “Wing$,” but most folks likely bemoaned his lack of edge or, as Jeff Weiss noted, the fact that his rhyme patters rip off Slug.

We don't think he was terrible, and he did a decent job of interacting with the audience, crowd-surfing and what not. But having him at Paid Dues didn't seem to fit. He's more suited to a solo show, not one where he's stealing fans from genuine rap legends like Scarface and Juicy J, who were performing on other stages.

Credit: Timothy Norris

Credit: Timothy Norris

Black Hippy

They came out as a group. Tog Dawg Entertainment's marquee act, Black Hippy, composed of Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Kendrick Lamar. They got right into “Black Lip Bastard (Remix),” one of the best posse-cuts from 2012.

Solo performances soon followed. Each member had his popular tracks — “Hood Gone Love It” (Jay Rock), “Terrorist Threats” and “Pineal Gland” (Ab-Soul), “Hands on the Wheel” and “There He Go” (Schoolboy Q), “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe (Kendrick Lamar) — and each worked the crowd in their own way. It was really less of a group show and more four solo shows, but that worked fine.

So, a question: If these guys, beloved by both critics and fans, are the headliners, has hip-hop finally made it out of its slump? Do even casual hip-hop listeners these days demand (and enjoy) more challenging and thought-provoking records? We're not sure there's a definite answer to those questions, but they sure are fun to ask.

At the end, Lamar called the entire TDE crew on the stage — including hype men and road managers — and they rocked out to “m.A.A.d city.” It was a great moment.

Random notebook dump: With the number of Action Bronson look-a-likes in attendance, it would have been nice to actually have Action Bronson himself. Also, there should've been a contest of some sort. The prize: A G-Pen supplied by one of the attendees.

See also: Our Paid Dues slideshow

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