The Genius unleashes his seminal record Liquid Swords to a heaving Kazimier while dropping a spattering of Wu Tang Clan favourites.
On his top 25 rap records of all-time, Chris Rock told Rolling Stone magazine: ‘For my money, Liquid Swords is the best Wu-Tang Clan album. It’s like the Songs in the Key of Life of rap. It’s so fucking smart and so hard.‘
To many, Liquid Swords is the quintessential hip hop record. Forget Straight Outta Compton, Low End Theory, Unfinished Business, Raising Hell, Doggystyle and every Wu Tang spawn, GZA‘s 1995 solo effort was the brutal sound of the underground brought to life.
Showcasing the Genius‘ phenomenal flow, RZA‘s clinical samurai attack-beats and the inclusion of all nine Wu members, the record floored the competition and set a new landmark in hip hop.
Over 16 years later, much like his Wu contemporaries, GZA is back on the bandwagon playing a Don’t Look Back style set of his classic, to be lapped up by the converted and observed by casual fans in need of witnessing a slice of music history.
As expected the octagon is a sweaty, throbbing mass as those gathered are ready to pay their respects, and after a dubious assortment of local MCs have hit and invariably missed, the main man enters – but only after a comical sequence of mic confusion as he struggles behind a curtain in the venue’s backstage loft space.
It’s the only slip-up for the next 90 minutes that the Genius’ flow faulters.
What follows is an exercise in deft vocal precision; barely pausing for breath, let alone taking a mere sip of water, he stands legs spread, left hand locked in jeans pocket and the right on the mic as he spills lyrical waterfalls as those distinctive clicks and dusty grooves are given another airing.
The effect isn’t just hypnotic, there’s a certain suffocation at work, as the beats are so claustrophobic (4th Chamber is impossibly woozy), the movement on stage so minimal and the sheer heat being generated the occasion veers towards the unnerving.
Unlike other classic records that are given a full workout, GZA chooses to jumble the mix, chronology thrown to the wolves, but highlights are considerable; Cold World is still every inch the smooth sinister back alley neck-slice, Gold – minus Method Man‘s grunt – finds the crowd in considerable voice while Living In The World Today stands out a countrymile early on as The Genius trades snaking spits with MC shout outs and hungry fills from the fervant Kazimier pit.
But hold up. For all GZA‘a unquestionable, unrelenting vocal guile there is a chasm on the entertainment front.
This is the fourth Wu Tang member Getintothis has watched in the last couple of years and it’s noteworthy how their live performance is a mirror to that of their performance on the mic.
They embody every stereotype; Ghostface – smooth, creamy, arrogant and an all-round showman, RZA – dynamic, the comic-book superhero, Raekwon – a crooked ruffian, rough diamond revelling in shambles. All hugely watchable, none as delectable on the mic as GZA yet there’s little to his stage routine which raises interest above what is a supremely marvellous record.
In essence, as the title track alludes – ‘Shit is too swift to bite you record and write it down, I flow like the blood on a murder scene… I drop megaton bombs more faster than you blink, cause rhyme thoughts travel at a tremendous speed…‘ – if the flow don’t kill you then you’ll find little else of interest here.
Notably, the crowd perks up for Wu numbers Protect Ya Neck, Clan In Da Front, closer Cream and a riotous ODB tribute in the shape of Shimmy Shimmy Ya.
The entertainment is for the hip hop purist, your ears will marvel once again at GZA‘s mouthpiece at work – just don’t expect those magatron bombs to fully blow you away.
Getintothis interviews RZA.
Photos courtesy of Joanne Buckley.