Concert Review: 2012 Paid Dues Festival

Guerilla Union and Murs hooked up again for the seventh annual Paid Dues Festival. Like almost every year, the festival was held at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, California. Paid Dues has been the heart of underground Hip-Hop music and up-and-coming Hip-Hop artists since it first started in 2006. This year, Guerilla Union took a different approach from the independent scene and added former major label artists Wu-Tang Clan, Dipset, and Three 6 Mafia. In addition, they had three stages for the second consecutive year. This helped Guerilla Union add an extensive list to the festival, which included names like Odd Future, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Boot Camp Clik, Living Legends, Brother Ali, Hieroglyphics, CunninLynguists, Dilated Peoples, Psycho Realm, DJ Quik, People Under The Stairs, Lecrae, and many others. This is how it went…

Wu-Tang Clan

We arrived at Paid Dues around 4:30PM. We came from Vegas, and couldn’t beat traffic in time to see Wu-Tang Clan’s full set. The venue was pretty packed for being so early. I’m sure it was mostly because Wu-Tang had a timeframe much earlier than usual. We got to see about 30 minutes of the show. The downside to the set was an absent GZA. Yet, the clan still managed to murder “Duel Of The Iron Mic” with Masta Killa rapping GZA’s verses. Raekwon had the audience ecstatic when he announced a new Wu-Tang Clan album dropping this year. The set was good for what was left; I just wish they’d mix up their playlist some more… “Gravel Pit” was their newest song and that’s from 2000. I wouldn’t mind hearing some Fishscale, OB4CL2 or Grandmasters.

Set List:
-Bring Da Ruckus
-Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’
-Shame On A Nigga
-Tearz (Intro)
-Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit’
-Duel Of The Iron Mic
-Ice Cream
-4th Chamber
-It’s Yourz
-Method Man
-O.D.B. Tribute
-Shimmy Shimmy Ya
-Gravel Pit
-Protect Ya Neck

Overall Grade: B+

While Wu-Tang was holding it down on the Paid Dues Stage, The Alchemist and Oh No were killing it on the Monster Energy Stage. Unfortunately, we were only able to catch their last song. They were performing “Vodka & Ayahuasca” from their latest album. The guitar was ringing throughout the building which seemed to give everyone energy. I regret coming straight to this stage. Wu-Tang may be my favorite group, but Gangrene’s set seemed much more live for a smaller indoor stage.

Grind Time Battle
After Gangrene’s performance, there was the final Grind Time freestyle battle. It was between local Dirtbag and Christian emcee Isaac. The first round featured two one-minute accapella battles. The last round featured one one-minute battle over Tyler The Creator’s “Yonkers” beat. I felt that Isaac had the advantage in the first round. However, the crowd was favoring the hometown emcee. What killed Isaac was spitting a rhyme about not cursing or smoking weed. You can’t come to Cali and say some shit like that and expect to get the crowd on your side. Anyways, the second round was pretty weak from both sides. Dirtbag was given the victory from the three judges (including the audience).

Overall Grade: C-

R.A. The Rugged Man
R.A. came out with no DJ; just a laptop where he played his own instrumentals. About five minutes into his set, he started having issues with his sound setup. His beats featured long annoying static, and his microphone would squeal from time to time. It got so bad that R.A. just said fuck it, and decided to accapella his entire set. I give R.A. respect for doing this because most rappers would’ve cancelled. Hearing R.A. the Rugged Man spit with his fast delivery was something else, but it wasn’t the same without a beat. He still made the best out of it by managing to keep the audience entertained. He spoke on the current status of Hip-Hop, jumped in the crowd a few times… unexpectedly (I swear he kicked some girl in the head once), did the worm, and ended the show by making out with some random chick from the audience.

Set List:
-Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story
-3 Kingz
– Cunt Renaissance
-50000 Heads
-Every Record Label Sucks Dick
-Plus More

Overall Grade: B-


The biggest surprise of the day came from the southern underground group CunninLynguists. They probably had one of the best sets I ever seen. What made their performance even better was DJ FlipFlop. He was impressively flipping beats throughout the set. In addition, the bass couldn’t sound better with their heavy hittin’ southern beats. Another surprise was from emcee/producer Kno. I now have a whole new level of respect for him as an emcee after hearing him rip through verses. Deacon the Villain held his own by the way he threw swagger on every verse. Natti was getting the crowd into it as much as he could. The highlight of their set came from the only song not listed on a group album, “Graveyard”. The intro along with the heavy bass and mesmerizing lights had everyone on cloud 9. Not to mention everyone was already as high as cloud 9 by this point. I hope I get the chance to see the group perform live in the near future. I only imagine how ill a tour would be with the CunninLynguists, Big K.R.I.T., and Devin the Dude representing their southern style across the nation. I can dream right?

Set List:
-Since When
-Nothing To Give
-Beautiful Girl
-Never Come Down (The Brownie Song)
-Old School
-Mic Like A Memory
-Stars Shine Brightest
-Enemies With Benefits

Overall Grade: A+


After leaving the Monster Energy Stage, we worked our way back to the Paid Dues stage to catch the west coast Hierogylphics. The main stage was starting to fill by the time they came on. The only weak point about their set was no Del the Funkee Homosapien. However, that didn’t slow down the group as they ran through their underground classics, such as “You Never Know”, “Halo”, “’93 ‘Til Infinity”, and several others. I like how Hiero always throws new songs onto their set list. A quarter of their material was new songs.

Set List:
-You Never Know
-Shift Shape
-Love Flowin’
-Every Detail (New Phesto)
-Dune Methane
-Let It Roll
-Rap God
-Proper Aim
-Make Your Move
-Put Your Lighters In The Air (New Hiero)
-’93 ‘Til Infinity
-Full Speed (New Phesto)
-You Like That (New Casual)
-Fantasy Island

Overall Grade: B+

Living Legends

The Living Legends made their way to the stage around 8:30PM. As the night grew, they started their set with full energy with each member coming out of a group huddle to spit their verses on the new “Trojan Horse”. The thing about the Living Legends is how they all have high momentum from the beginning to the end. They all divide the time on the microphone so each member has their time to shine. The highlight of their set came from their solo performances. Murs did his thing when he had the crowd singing “LA”. Eligh showed his microphone skills by spitting his crowd favorite “Love Thrice” with a dubstep beat remix. Eligh stood out the most because of his fast delivery rhymes that sound just as clean as the album version. Other solo highlights came from Bicasso’s “Think Big”, Black Aesop’s new “Believe It’s True”, and Sunspot Jonz’ “Dirty Faces”. They ended their set with “After Hours” which left the audience with yet another satisfied performance.

Set List:
-Trojan Horse (New)
-It’s Us
-Blast Your Radio
-She Wants Me
-Say G&E!
-Night Prowler
-Believe It’s True (New Black Aesop)
-Dirty Faces
-Think Big
-The Bay To LA
-Love Thrice
-Rabbit Hole
-Never Fallin’
-After Hours

Overall Grade: A

Three 6 Mafia

As Odd Future fans started to make their way to the main stage, we went back to the Monster Energy Stage to catch the end of Three 6 Mafia. When we got inside, DJ Paul and Juicy J had about 20 girls dancing on stage. We only got to see about 15 minutes of their set, but I’d have to admit how loud they had the building. They played classics like “Stay Fly” and “Tear The Club Up ’97” that had the bass hitting harder than ever. I didn’t see them long enough to score, but I’d say they definitely were one of the night’s standouts.

Set List:
-Stay Fly
-Poppin’ My Collar
-Side 2 Side
-Who Run It
-Slob On My Knob
-U Trippy Mane
-I’m So Hi
-Tear Da Club Up’ 97
-Plus more

Brother Ali

Brother Ali put on the best performance I have ever seen from him. And that’s saying something because he’s usually a standout performer for every festival he’s in. Ali was determined to make his point by coming out with a brand new positive outlook about life, and for the love of his fans. Tracks like “Forest Whitiker” and “Fresh Air” gave the audience that “feel-good” vibe for the rest of the night. The highlight of his performance came with the best freestyle of the day. He dropped a deep freestyle that was about a family tragedy he’s been recently dealing with, and how hard it’s been for him these last couple years. There are those freestyles were an emcee strictly rips it, but one like this stays memorable for years. The truth was definitely in the building. Brother Ali further went on to speak about his upcoming project with Freeway, and his new LP Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color. This LP means so much to him that he wants everyone to hear if, even if you can’t afford it and need to download it. Mac Miller definitely had his work put out for him after Ali put on amazing performance in front of a highly crowded Mac Miller audience.

Set List:
-Truth Is
-Fresh Air
-Forest Whitiker
-Uncle Sam Goddamn
-Room With A View
-Writer’s Block (New)
-Only Life I Know (New)
-Dreaming In Color (New)
-Plus more

Overall Grade: A


The headliners were Dipset, Mac Miller, and Kendrick Lamar. We planned to watch the beginning of Dipset, and then see the second half of Kendrick Lamar. The main stage started to die down when Dipset finally came on. First, Cam’ron came out before the group and did several of his hits like “Killa Cam”, “Touch It or Not”, “Wet Wipes” and others. After about ten minutes, the rest of Dipset joined Cam on stage. As the Diplomats performed, Cam’ron disappeared behind the stage. We stayed for only a few extra minutes before Freekey Zekey came on for a solo. Not to hate, but he sounded way off beat, and the crowd just didn’t feel into it. We eventually lost interest and walked to the Dues Paid Stage for Kendrick Lamar.

Set List:
-Killa Cam
-Touch It Or Not
-Wet Wipes
-Down And Out
-I Really Mean It
-The Salute
-Dipset (Santana’s Town)
-We Fly High
-Plus more

Kendrick Lamar

At the Dues Paid Stage, four coups on horses were stopping the crowd from entering the venue. Supposedly, the venue was at maximum capacity. I think these cops just had nothing better to do and were trying to start shit because two Compton natives (DJ Quik before) were performing back to back. After taking an obstacle course through the side gate, we finally made it inside to a half-full venue. At the time, Black Hippy’s Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul joined Kendrick to back his lyrics. One disappointing thing about Kendrick’s set was the poorly tuned sound. Tracks like “Rigamortus” left a usually banging beat flat and his vocals would echo towards the back of the building. It was often hard to understand Kendrick from time to time. Besides the long delay and poor audio, Kendrick still managed to put on a good show. He murdered everything he played from Section 80, and even let a fan join him on stage to back his vocals once.

Set List:
-Fuck Your Ethnicity
-Hol’ Up
-Look Out For Detox
-She Needs Me
-I Am
-PP 1.5 ft. Ab-Soul
-Michael Jordan ft. Schoolboy Q
-The Recipe (New)
-Plus more

Overall Grade: B+

Bottom Line
At the end of the day, I was very pleased with the outcome of the festival. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw a wide variety of artists on this year’s lineup. This didn’t phase first-timers Three 6 Mafia, Odd Future, and CunninLynguists as they put on some of Paid Due’s best performances. I also heard that DJ Quik put on a standout performance when he brought out special guests Spice 1, Suga Free and Bizzy Bone. This made up for the cancelled Crooked I set. OFWGKTA broke out the Foreman Grill and was making burgers for their fans during the show. After their set, they jumped in the pit to watch Dipset perform. This is what I love about the Paid Dues Festival compared to other concerts. The artists out here really show love towards their fans. This is the only festival where I see artists walking around the venue showing they are fans just like everybody else. During Kendrick Lamar’s set, The Grouch from Living Legends was chilling near the back, and just vibing to the music.

It’s hard to score these performances when I know each artist is doing all they can to put on a great show. However, when I spend $85 per ticket, I expect everything to be perfect. Anything that affects the overall experience can also affect the score. For example, R.A. the Rugged Man and Kendrick Lamar’s poorly tuned sound setup, the dickhead cops delaying Kendrick’s show, food & drink prices, available parking, cancelled sets, etc. That said, I believe Murs & Guerilla Union has made plenty of progress since last year’s Rock the Bells festival. The festival felt like it went smooth and the atmosphere seemed a lot happier than in the past. I’ll say the $85 was definitely worth it.

Overall Grade: A-

Bonus: Odd Future