Rock The Bells Festival 2023 Recap: Celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop

Relive the hottest hip-hop festival with our recap — there’s no better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the genre!

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SiriusXM Editor
August 8, 2023

Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage

There’s no better way to mark hip-hop’s 50th anniversary than with a stacked lineup full of legendary artists!

Flocking to Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York, on August 5, festival-goers were ready to celebrate this momentous occasion with Rock The Bells Festival 2023. The hype was through the roof, but did the sold-out festival live up to expectations? Let’s find out with a special SiriusXM recap of the festival’s hottest highlights.

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Get Hyped

We had our very own Torae on the ground ready to keep an eye on all of the biggest happenings for LL COOL J’s Rock the Bells Radio (Ch. 43). With five decades of innovation, growth, and artistry to celebrate, the atmosphere was electric.

Founder and curator LL COOL J was ready and raring to go, with promises that he would “kick some ass on stage.” Not only that, but he literally rocked one particular bell to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop: the Nasdaq opening bell!

With a jewel-encrusted boombox by his side, he spoke of hip-hop being a “global cultural phenomenon” that “has touched lives and transcended boundaries.” Watch the entirety of his speech below:

Backstage Exclusives

There was plenty of excitement backstage at the festival with so many icons and legends getting ready to rock. Grandmaster Flash, for example, gave us some words of wisdom about perseverance and maintaining focus.

Does anyone else suddenly feel like they’re on the right path, and they just need to stick with it? Thanks, Flash!

We got Questlove to open up to us too, and now we’re ready to give meditation another shot. If it’s good enough for Questlove, it’s good enough for us! Not to mention it clearly works, if the epic headlining performance he later gave with his band, The Roots, as well as DJ Z-Trip and LL Cool J, is anything to go by.


Kicking off the festival in style, the Cold Crush Brothers lived up to their name and crushed it. In paving the way for future hip-hop artists to break into the mainstream, their contribution to the genre is enormous — and their performance at Rock The Bells Festival proved that they’ve not only still got it, but they’re not even close to losing it.

Slick Rick got the crowd going with his set too. Blasting “Auditorium” — his track with Mos Def — got the place bouncing. We still can’t get that hook out of our heads!

The party was in full swing with Swizz Beatz on the stage. Listening to the crowd sing along gave us chills — and when Swizz Beatz tells you to put your hands up, you put your hands up!

Queen Latifah. Need we say more? We will, but her set left us speechless! With a phenomenal rendition of “U.N.I.T.Y.” — with a little help from MC Lyte, Rapsody, Monie Love, Renée Neufville, and Remy Ma — and a touching dedication to her mother, Rita Owens, it was a real highlight of the night. All hail the queen!

To be so close to the Bronx, where it all began, marking this milestone anniversary in such a joyful way feels like a fitting celebration of hip-hop culture. Rock The Bells themselves said it best:

Let’s keep that passion, energy, and love going! For 2023, the bells have well and truly been rocked for us here at SiriusXM… but who’s ready for the next outing? With a cruise on the horizon, as well as the potential for a 2024 edition of the festival, there’s a lot to look forward to! In the meantime, keep the party going with LL COOL J’s Rock the Bells Radio, and we’ll see you there next year!