“I be tossin’, enforcin’, my style is awesome
I’m causin’ more Family Feuds than Richard Dawson,
And the survey said — ya dead
Fatal Flying Guillotine chops off your fuckin’ head!” -The RZA
After 20 years in the game, Wu-Tang Clan proved to me on Saturday that they STILL ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.
I’m pretty amazed at how I stumbled upon this show. Basically, it was fate. I found out the Wu was playing in Edmonton on the day of the show, August 2, by finding a poster for it on the door of a Caribbean spice shop off Stony Plain Road. I had never checked the shop out before but figured I would as my car was getting serviced across the street and I had nothing to do. So I thank the curry and jerk gods for leading me to the Wu. I frantically called the number on the poster and bam, was on my way to see what is by far my favourite hip-hop group (and indisputably, the greatest hip-hop group of all time).
In 20 years, Wu-Tang has never played as a full group in Canada. They played back in November in Toronto, in what was billed as the first ever time the whole clan was performing here, but Masta Killa and RZA didn’t make it. This time, Method Man and Raekwon didn’t make it. Still, it was a tremendously rare opportunity and I’m grateful I got to see them live.
Anyway, onto the show. By about 10:30 the crowd, saturated in black and yellow Wu-Tang shirts like a swarm of killer bees eagerly awaiting their queen, was restless. The DJ was for some reason playing lame 50 Cent and Jay-Z instrumentals that were decidedly not in line with the Wu’s rough and rugged sound.
At 11, the monks from the slums of Shaolin took the stage and the crowd roared with energy. I’ve seen a couple members individually but seeing the (almost) entire clan all together was next level. You can tell these guys have been doing it for a long time and love it just as much as when they started. The synergy between them all was intense – everyone knew everyone’s lyrics but every now and then would quiet down to let a fellow clan member drop a particularly nasty verse.
The clan started out with some of their seminal hits from 36 chambers including Protect Ya Neck (!!), The Mystery of Chessboxing and of course WU-TANG CLAN AIN’T NOTHIN’ TO FUCK WIT’ (all caps mandatory). The crowd’s energy during this tune was crazy – everyone knew every word and RZA took on his no-holds-barred, sword-swinging executioner persona from the early Wu days, rather than the more meditative RZA we see these days. Dude went all out.
The clan then went on to hit us with some classics from the Wu solo albums, including Ghostface’s Iron Maiden, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Chessboxin’ and one of my personal favourites, 4th Chamber !
“I’m on a mission, that niggas say is impossible,
But when I swing my swords they all choppable
I be the body dropper, the heartbeat stopper
Child educator, plus head amputator”
And of course, what would a Wu concert be without a tribute to the one and only Ason Unique? The clan gave a shout out to their late brother and performed Brooklyn Zoo and Shimmy Shimmy Ya in his memory. From what I remember they then threw down some of their crowd pleasers, such as Gravel Pit and The Jump Off, as well as some new tracks off their upcoming album A Better Tomorrow. GZA, Inspectah Deck and (although he’s not one of my favourites) Cappadonna were all crazy on point, but I gotta give it to RZA for having the most stage presence (and I’m not just saying that because he’s the abbot). He was really getting into it, spraying the crowd with champagne, calling for peace and love and going on monologues about the origin of hip hop.
Ghostface, another one of my favourite members, was clearly on another plane of existence for much of the show, but provided some of the night’s best moments by being his usual self and yelling and talking shit to the sound engineers. Hilarious.
After about 45 minutes RZA asked for anyone in the crowd with cash in their wallet to hold it up in the air and we knew all what was coming: only one of the most iconic tunes in hip-hop history. The clan filled in for Raekwon in his absence to perform CREAM, and then finished with Triumph, arguably one of the best examples of pure, uncompromising lyrical rap. Nine verses, no chorus, intricate rhyme schemes and so much obscure slang and references you would need the Wu-Tang manual to understand every verse (for non-Wu heads who have got this far – yes, there is a Wu-Tang manual).
All in all, it was easily one of if not the best hip-show I’ve been to, not including festivals, if only because it was Wu-Tang who was performing. I’ve been heavily into Wu since I first got into hip-hop and count RZA as one of my favourite artists period. The crowd was also all good vibes – no mean mugging or fights that you’ll find at a lot of hip-hop shows.
20 years after their debut, the Wu is still growing strong and I think it’s safe to say their popularity has yet to reach its zenith. As some guy yelled to me on Queen Street during a recent trip to Toronto when I was wearing a Wu-Tang shirt — Wu-Tang Forever!