Getintothis Sean Bradbury on the stunning return of the original Genius.
‘When I was little, my father was famous…‘
As the sample from the start of GZA‘s seminal record Liquid Swords hit and The Genius greeted the O2 Academy to cries of ‘Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang‘ from a pumped-up audience, it didn’t take long for me to be struck by a stark contrast.
Last May, Snoop Dogg played the larger part of the same venue. Flanked by a posse of MCs to finish his lyrics for him, aided and abetted by spotlight pyrotechnics and his female dancers’ gyrotechnics, changing into a Liverpool FC top to forge a transient connection with (half) the audience and hedging his bets by performing tributes to both 2pac and Notorious B.I.G., the Doggfather’s gig was underwhelming – heavy on style but short on substance.
As GZA stated on Sunday night on Alphabets, ‘all I need is a beat with a continuous loop, and a live vibe that’ll hypnotise like the flute.‘ And he was right.
No stage tricks and no breaks, just a DJ and a baying crowd full of back-up MCs; this was an hour of breathless, blistering martial hip-hop with conscious themes and a hardcore rap exterior.
Hurtling straight into Duel of The Iron Mic, which he has claimed to be his favourite to perform from Liquid Swords, GZA proceeded to tear into classic after classic from his 1995 album with Living in the World Today, Gold and the title track all following.
The Wu-Tang clansman was able to get through a lot of material at quick pace by omitting some verses from collaborative tracks, making it notable and perhaps a mark of respect when he did choose to fill in the gaps – Inspectah Deck’s brilliant bars at the beginning of Triumph for example.
And he looked like he was enjoying himself, at one point demanding a phone from his photographer and filming himself getting up close to the fans mid-song, before claiming: “Y’all as loud as a motherfucker in here. It’s like being back home.”
Although the set was primarily his solo material, GZA knew when to raise the tempo and please the crowd by throwing in ODB‘s Shimmy Shimmy Ya as well as WU classics Clan in da Front, Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F*ck Wit, Reunited, an a cappella take on Shame on a Nigga and an extended jam of C.R.E.A.M. to end the night.
There was even time for a nod to the city of Liverpool with a Wu-Tang based Hey Jude freestyle (‘Remember to let us under you skin, then you’ll begin, to master rhyming‘).
At the age of 39 back in May, Snoop Dogg‘s live performance gave the impression he was winding down and settling into a semi-retirement of regressive pimp pastiche.
Five years older and seemingly many years wiser, on this week’s evidence the GZA still has much more to give – which can only bode well for his forthcoming album Liquid Swords 2 with RZA apparently back on production.
Reunited live at the O2.