I first heard The Wu Tang Clan in 1994 when I was six years old, courtesy of some much older cousins. Based on what I could understand at the time, The Wu Tang Clan were Kung Fu masters in Shaolin a suburb of New York, and they made cool music. Now over twenty years after that initial introduction, I’ve finally got my facts right and also had the opportunity to see them live. Here are my thoughts about the Wu Tang Clan- then and now:
You would be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop head who didn’t at least respect the level of influence, impact, classic albums, and sheer ability of all 9 members of the Wu Tang Clan. Together they almost single-handedly revived East-Coast Hip-Hop, a genre that up until that point had been succumbing to the slick G-Funk stylings of Dr Dre and his languid protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg. With their Kung-Fu inspired names they hit back with their aggressive call-to-arms single Protect Ya Neck which was released independently out of a base camp on Morningstar Road in Staten Island. Taken off their debut album Enter the 36 Chambers, the record in its entirety has gone on to become recognised as a cornerstone of hard core hip hop. Its gritty immaculately minimal production coupled with darkly violent lyrical dexterity laid down the groundwork for New York’s hip hop renaissance, and paved the way for the likes of Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G, Nas and Mobb Deep. Looking at the discography that followed, it is clear that both as a group or individual artists; quality has always been paramount to Staten Island’s finest.
Despite the critical acclaim, relative commercial success, and record-label ordered cross over songs (Method Man and Texas anyone?) the Wu Tang Clan have simultaneously maintained their underground aura and rabid fan base for twenty years. So upon hearing that they would be coming to New Zealand for the first time ever to headline Raggamuffin, this reviewer was delightedly perplexed. As our flagship Roots and Reggae music festival, the comparative brashness of the Wu to Raggamuffin’s ethos seemed to be a disjointed decision, but I wasn’t about to complain.
The offstage antics of The Wu Tang Clan have gone down in infamy and have at times resembled a real life hip hop soap opera. So you can never be sure of whom you will get when they saunter onstage. Last night a sea of black and yellow clad fans throwing W’s greeted seven members of the Wu Tang Clan who immediately launched into their hooky hit Gravel Pit. Ghostface Killah’s raucous Bring Da Ruckus was probably one of the most staggering rap performances on antipodean soil. It also set the tone for an evening that proved that Wu Tang Clan still isn’t nuthin’ ta fuck with some twenty years after the release of 36 Chambers. Presenting a united front of menace and machoism,Theirs was a set of nostalgically fresh classics that focussed heavily on their debut and only the cream of their later and solo albums.
Over their turntablist’s impeccable performance, the Wu Tang performed with a telepathic synchronicity as they swapped mikes and spat their brand of stoner mystic poetry. In between tracks, U-God kept reminding fans “that the energy you give to us, we’re going to give back to you.” The mood of the eclectic audience was respectfully electric, with punters jumping with joyous abandon as they rapped along to every word, mirrored every gesture, and shouted whatever slogan they were told to, hypnotised by the sheer showmanship on display.
While the swagger and posturing was to be expected, the Wu Tang Clan showed that they weren’t without surprises. A tongue in cheek rendition of The Beatles song Come Together was given an (even more obvious) drug inspired outing, and Raekwon liberally sprayed the front row with champagne as other members freestyled about New Zealand. Halfway through the set the Wu started frenetically moshing to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit before explaining to the crowd that “Kurt Cobain was taken too soon, and we had a brother who was taken too soon too- Ol’ Dirty Bastard.” They then launched into Shimmy Shimmy Ya which had the crowd heaving.
The set ended with GZA’s show-stopping acapella performance of Big Bang Rap which is effectively a rhyming lecture on molecular psychics, highlighting the intelligence and innovation that makes these mad monks masters.