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There’s a school of thought that rap music peaked somewhere in the early to mid-1990s.
Let’s say 1993-’94.
Which is fitting, since Wu-Tang Clan and Nas, who released debut albums in both of those years, made a pretty good case for it Friday night at Rogers Place.
The two acts — both routinely in the conversation of best rap group and best rapper ever — brought the New York State Of Mind Tour through Edmonton, highlighting their best work, but also rap history.
In what could easily be described as RZA’s Rap Cavalcade, the co-headlining set started with a hype video honouring New York hip hop that would put most sports teams’ intros to shame, followed by his own animated kung-fu segment before the Wu-Tang ringleader started calling out his crew one by one, like he was setting out a chessboard.
GZA. Inspectah Deck. Raekwon. U-God. Masta Killa. Ghostface Killa. All got a little solo spotlight before launching into group classics Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ and Bring Da Ruckus.
Key among the pieces of this lineup is the chaotic energy of Young Dirty Bastard, the son of original Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who jumped and howled through his dad’s verses more than convincingly.
Being a co-headlining show, instead of Nas playing the middle slot on the bill, his two sets were sandwiched between the three Wu-Tang outings.
He wasted no time illustrating why he’s one of the best in the rap game, putting his lyrical dynamism on display as he prowled the stage solo, backed only by a drummer and DJ, knocking out hits from his first few albums, including Hate Me Now, and N.Y. State of Mind.
Back to the 36 Chambers, as it were, with the members of Wu-Tang rattling off material from Raekown and Ghostface’s outstanding solo albums (circa 1995 and ’96) before bringing back the whole crew for Wu-Tang Clan Aint’ Nuthin’ ta F’ With.
And before you could ask yourself, ‘Where has ‘Method Man BEEN this whole time?’ he triumphantly bounded on stage for his verse, like he was RZA’s secret weapon, causing at least three-quarters of the floor-seat ticketholders to instantly whip out their phones to start recording.
This culminated in a three-song run of fan favourites from the group’s debut album, including Shame on a N****, C.R.E.A.M. and Protect Ya Neck.
From there it was back to Nas for another exhibition of his skills on the microphone (did I mention the two acts went for nearly two and a half hours?), keeping the crowd hyped with The World Is Yours, Nas is Like, and others, before capping off his night with If I Ruled the World (Imagine That). The show could have ended there and the crowd would have been perfectly satisfied.
But there was still plenty of Wu left in the tank, as the full crew hit the stage one last time building from Reuinted, through GZA’s 4th Chamber, some Ol’ Dirty classics performed by his son, culminating in arguably their best song, Triumph, with such a crescendo that I almost couldn’t make out Ghostface screaming through his verse. But it was a triumphant exclamation point on the night.
Through it all, there were references to this year being the 50th anniversary of hip hop, even an ‘In memoriam’ segment honouring rappers and DJs who died far too young, a reminder that the music and the movement are a larger cause than the acts on stage. Though they loomed large.
Opening act De La Soul, now a duo after the death of David ‘Trugoy’ Jolicoeur, got the crowd out of their seats with a brief set jammed with classics like Stakes Is High, Rock Co.Kane Flow, A Rollerskating Jam Named “Saturdays” and Me Myself and I. They also got a surprise assist from a Brooklyn rap legend in his own right, Talib Kweli, who provided a lyrical counterpoint to rapper Posdnuos.
A special shout-out must be given to DJ Scratch, former DJ for EPMD, who worked to get the crowd hyped up for the show with a set of rap classics and impressive turntable skills, showcasing why he’s an award-winning turntablist.