With Ghostface Killah, Dillon Cooper and the Outfit, TX
House of Blues, Dallas
Friday, August 7, 2015
Let's face it: A true Wu-Tang Clan reunion is never going to happen. Sure, promises have been made over the years (and tickets have been sold for the "full" lineup), but the best you can hope for is probably a knock-out solo show from one of the Clan's members. Or, if you're lucky, two of them. On Friday night, that's exactly what happened when Raekwon visited the House of Blues with Ghostface Killah in tow to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his solo masterpiece, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
If GZA could be considered the hyper-complex James Joyce of the Wu-Tang Clan, then Raekwon would be the Dennis Lehane, relying heavily on an element of crime in his songwriting. OB4CL was his defining moment, a concept album featuring RZA’s lush soul and cinematic sounds that focused on two Mafiosos pulling off one last heist before abrogating a long life of crime. In Raekwon's richly detailed gangster story, his right-hand man was Ghostface.
On Friday, a banner of OB4CL’s cover art with a titan-sized Raekwon and Ghostface glaring at the arrested audience served as a backdrop for the show. It encompassed most of the stage like a movie screen, perhaps embodying the “larger-than-life” feeling Raekwon had celebrating the 20th anniversary of his album’s release. Or it could have just been an expensive promotional piece provided by the record label. “I’m honored, humbled, blessed and appreciative of this celebration,” admitted Raekwon, who wore his heart on his sleeve during the emotional show.
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Classic Shaolin samples and impeccable analog production pulsated inside House of Blues as the Chef ebulliently took the stage for the first few songs. Ghostface strode right in at the intro of cult-classic “Criminology,” and the track’s Scarface sample melded into a mesh of orchestral arrangements and raw drum percussion. “This music is our reality that people can learn from and we’re just giving you food for thought. These are the prophecy times right now,” said Raekwon, now 45 years old.
About seven songs into the show, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s pervasive expletives began blaring out of every speaker during the intro to “Brooklyn Zoo.” The crowd’s energy reduced to a murmur momentarily as everyone tried to register the magnitude of what would follow: a musical commemoration to the late ODB. In an instant the crowd reciprocated with deafening exuberance as Rae and Ghost delivered ODB’s lines in tandem: “I’m the one man army, Ason/I’ve never been tooken out/I keep MCs looking out.” This was followed shortly by “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” which started off with its simplistic, yet immediately recognizable piano stab that again threw the crowd into a great fervor.
“When ODB passed, it was like the potion was diluted,” Raekwon remembered. “We’re just trying to keep his legacy alive because I know he would have done the same for me.” In every direction, fans sang along whether it was the tall, scrawny kid by the barricade wearing skinny jeans, or the trio of friends in the back all rocking the XXL Wu-Tang tees. It was a fair representation of what true hip-hop culture is all about in this diverse city.
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The opening to the next song, "Incarcerated Scarfaces," seemed plenty apt for the occasion, even if they were taken from John Woo's The Killer: "Comes across so calm/Acts like he has a dream/Full of passion.” It was yet another classic song, and it summed up Raekwon's drive perfectly — not to mention his interplay with Ghostface. The two began trading off verses like a Yuen Woo-ping choreographed swordfight so beautiful that it might put certain renditions of "Swan Lake" to shame. They even ran the gamut of the Wu-Tang classics like “C.R.E.A.M.” and the “Can It Be All So Simple” remix.
Raekwon acknowledged that OB4CL was "really only for street cats that lived that life," but his raw, conceptual approach has connected, and continues to connect, with fans who may know next to nothing about the criminal underworld. That much was obvious judging by the crowd’s response as Rae submerged the stage in total darkness, and requested that everyone pull out their phones or lighters to illuminate the venue. Then the beat kicked in.
“Is this loud enough for you guys?" Ghostface demanded. "Turn it up louder. We want you to really hear what we’re speaking.” It may not have been the full Clan (even Raekwon and Ghostface can't do ODB like ODB), but for one night at least, it was all you could ask for.