Thanks to a very good friend of mine, Emilio, I was able to witness a living legend of many proportions, a man who literally led an army of lyricists that flipped the industry on its head –The RZA.
And to top it off, the tickets were free, perhaps the only time that having a twitter account actually paid off. In that regard, The RZA did not become the pinnacle of the show. I enjoyed being in the presence of a cultural great, but a spade’s a spade. The experience overall, however, was certainly enjoying and enlightening in many ways.
We got to Warehouse Live at around 8:15 p.m., which in hip hop concert time means “too early,” but we too eager to care. Our tickets were torn and IDs checked as a Ghostface Killah song boomed from the main floor. Even though I clearly knew he wouldn’t be present, I got a little giddy. It was a moderately-sized room, dimly lit and crowded only near the bar. A dude in a hoodie was spinning vinyl on the stage, occasionally mumbling “YEAHYEAHYEAHWUTANGINNAHOUSERZAINNAHOUSESHAOLINSTYLEYAFEELME?” every once in a while into a mic, and behind him was a large marquee:
Ah, that’s interesting. I’ve heard of media tours where actors sign t-shirts and answer questions, but a tour where they rap at you? IS LUCY LIU GONNA RAP AT ME?!? As far as I knew, RZA had an entire squadron of ninjas that would dance in Wu-style “W” on stage while he and Russell Crowe freestyle on stage. I was hyped.
… and I was still hyped an hour after, although my patience slightly waned. Such is the nature of small concerts: the intimate nature allows for greater interaction between the audience and the entertainer, as well as each party taking each other for granted in certain ways. The main thing keeping my interest was hearing some of my favorite sounds launched from the heavy-duty sound system like a sonic cannonball.
We heard classics such as”Ghost Deini,” “Ten Crack Commandments,” “Protect Ya Neck,” How I Could Just Kill A Man,” “Winter Warz,” “Takeover” and “Ether” spun back to back for incredible effect, and bittersweet Ol’ Dirty Bastard tracks like “Shame On A Nigga” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” the mixing done so as to hear nothing but lyrical aggression swarming about. Also, being able to recite these lyrics with a gang of people felt so rewarding and oh so right.
The first act, a New Orleans rapper named C.I.T.Y., took the stage by force at 9:30 or so, using every bit his being to spit flames. Too bad I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
Yet it’s a testament to his performance, his ability to take a previously inattentive mass and rile up their passion ex nihilo. After finishing his set, he generously thanked and even mingled among the crowd while passing out free CDs. It was certainly a great first impression from an emerging artist.
Kosher Dillz, the wackiest and most interesting act of the night, took the stage several minutes later. He wore a glimmering Star of David and chatted away in this dry, sarcastic tone that either struck a funny bone or an odd nerve. I found it amusing, and found his performance quite entertaining. His personality infused into the lyrics quite well, so much so that his quick dancing spurts caught me off guard.
Although he had the longest set, it still remained fresh due to him constantly checking texts from the crowd — Oh, he gave out his number at the beginning of the set — and for the song that’s rapped in nothing but Spanish. And Hebrew. He said he learnt Spanish after a bad trip to Mexico. That must have been a crazy ass trip.
Following that was a completely unforeseen and out-of-left-field performance by Eyenine, a New England rapper with frizzy, engulfing hair and a jittery disposition. He also with ridiculous momentum and physical exertion, his head literally squeezing thousands of syllables in the space required for a few. He also performed a song that was supposed to have the deceased Rhymesayer MC Eyedea, and that track alone had enough words to rival “Crime and Punishment.”
After the show, I had a chance to speak with him outside the tour bus. He was quite humble and seemed generally happy to have gone from a guy learning how to rap in the 8th grader to touring alongside RZA. Once again, a great first impression and a fan to the flames of anticipation for the Abbot.
And the next rapper, Supernatural, basically doused the stage in gasoline and lit it on fire with his breath. It was the most interactive performance I have seen to date, one that benefited on the influence of the audience as much as the poetic skills of the artist. There was no holding back the middle-aged monster as he climbed on the protective rails to get words or items to incorporate into his sprawling narrative, or even a flawless impersonation of Slick Rick, Busta Rhymes and Biggie Smalls.
Finally, after three hours of formal parading, we get to witness an expert of the Shaolin style, the one and only… U-God? Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing empirically foul about his presence at the concert; he even played a couple track from his “new” record, Dopium, which sounded quite interesting. But as my friend Emilio said on the way out, “I have never heard a U-God verse and thought, ‘damn did you hear this dude?!?'” I have to agree. In fact, I can’t even differentiate him from the other non-popular members of the crew on “Protect Ya Neck!”
Anyway, his set was short and at least gave us a chance to see more than one Wu affiliate. They then played a trailer for “The Man With The Iron Fists,” in theatres Nov. 2, and the RZA then took the stage with a bottle of Smirnoff, patron, Hennessy and Cabernet Sauvignon. Extremely stereotypical and hilariously awesome at the same time.
“We went from mixtapes to movies… [and] I want this to be a celebration of the Wu” RZA said. “So we gon’ toast to this shit throughout the night.” And he did as promised, popping one open and passing it into the crowd after a huge swig of his own. I’m not legal, but the sentiment was well received. And in that regard I really respected him taking more time to chat and relate to the crowd rather than perform songs.
Because if it was the other way around, it would have been a let down. He performed an extremely short list of seven songs, one of which was The Beatle’s “Come over Me,” and the previous hours of standing coupled with his insistence on playing music at ultra-max levels was disconcerting. A preview of the film was also promised, but that never happened, and while I loved shouting “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing To Fuck With” in a crowd, I’d love to do do that with way more songs. He never even played songs from the film, a film that was produced with its own soundtrack.
But I’d be lying if I said the concert wasn’t fun as shit. The fact that no explosions, assassinations, or beheadings took place should not really detract from the experience that much (although that would’ve been cool,) and RZA’s dedication to Ol’ Dirty Bastard was truly touching.
“I got my personal DJ, DJ Skane here. He used to clown me all the time back in the ninth grade and now look where we at. I also got my brother here, cheering me on. But the one dude who would have loved this achievement the most… we used to skip class and watch kung fu flicks together and he went by the name of Ol’ Dirty. He would have loved this the most.”
The concert was more than me, or the audience or even RZA. It was, as he said in the beginning, a celebration of the Wu and their cultural longevity, something that they’d professed since day one: “Wu-Tang is Forever.” What more could I say. Bong Bong.