Wu-Tang – Continental Airlines Arena. New Jersey
Friday, November 12
“Who the f**k ain’t here?,” yelled Method Man Friday Nov. 12 at Wu-Tang’s first East Coast show in four years. The thousands of people at Continental Airlines Arena responded in unison:
“There is no one man bigger than the Clan,” continued Meth with equal parts anger and resignation in his voice. “When you see ODB, tell him that.”
Perhaps more significant to the crowd than the presence of 8/9th of one of the most influential and creative groups in Hip-Hop, was the 1/9th not in New Jersey. Russell Jones, better known as, Old Dirty Bastard, was still taking care of business in Colorado before returning to New York the following morning. No one in the arena – not the fans, not the entourages, Hell, not even the Clan brothers themselves – knew this would be the last chance for all nine members to unite and rock the mic.
Hindsight has a strange way of turning minor events into “Where were you when…” moments. If not for the spectacle of Dirty’s death now surrounding the show, the most unpredictable thing about Friday’s show was just how predictable it was. Not to say that Wu didn’t kill it. But anyone there who has waited hours for their favorite MC to get on stage had to wonder at the machine-like organization of the night.
Wisely opting against an opening act, the Clan decided to open for themselves, as each MC was give ten minutes to get on stage, get the crowd hyped, and get out. With little time and a bare stage, (all but Allah Mathematics behind the decks), each MC was forced to rely purely on talent to keep the crowd up.
For starters, GZA’s smooth flow can still amaze even people who have listened to him for more than a decade. Raekwon utilizes the entire stage as he rips verses from “Incarcerated Scarfaces” and Ghostface’s “Daytona 500.” Ghostface returns the favor with Raekwon’s "Criminology," bellowing so excitedly into the mic, it’s like he’s doing these verses live for the first time. Method Man is the born charismatic leader, not afraid to balance himself precariously on the railing against the crowd and be supported by first-row fans. Finally, the most fantastical member enters as giant timpani drums are rhythmically pounded and black-clad ninjas battle Shaolin monks in a choreographed fight on stage. Emerging from a fully-covered tent, emblazoned everywhere with the trademark W logo, is RZA, vanquishing his ninja opponent before going into Birth of a Prince’s “We Pop” and “Grits” and ending the opening set.
When the whole clan reappeared on stage ten minutes later, the arena was already at fever pitch. All it took was the first seconds of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and it was obvious that after 11 years, no one was tired of the songs that changed the evolution of Hip-Hop. “We been doing shows so many years with each other that we know what the people want to hear,” Raekwon told AllHipHop.com before the show. Over the course of the 45-minute set, Wu-Tang Clan pretended they never existed after 1997, drawing virtually exclusively from the group’s first two albums, and solo members’ debut albums. Given time constraints beyond their control, the Clan chose a quasi-medley approach, rhyming the first one or two verses of a song before quickly moving on to the next selection. Before Method ended the show with his verse from “Da Rockwilder" (minus planned special guest Redman), Shaolin’s finest rocked "Triumph" in its entirety, a fitting choice that reaffirmed just how much of a musical and cultural juggernaut this group is.
For a group that creatively has had its share of high’s and low’s, the Wu collective remain as singular, natural entertainers who know what tracks the crowd laid down their money for. Since Wu-Tang, as a group and individually, for better or worse, has consistently been in the spotlight this past decade, Friday’s show felt more like a victory lap than the nostalgia act so many great Hip-Hop groups of the 90’s have become. Despite losing some of the stature they once had, there are still many who will be upset by the fact that there will never again be a full, complete Wu-Tang show. For a few hours Friday night, however, ignorance was bliss.