These days, the standards for what makes a decent hip-hop show are pretty low. Rappers can usually get away with arriving late, playing too short, and having so little energy they can barely spit their own lyrics without losing their breath. But every so often, a set reminds you why you suffer through amateur hour, one that makes you remember exactly why hip-hop is so great to see live.
That’s what Wu-Tang Clan did last night.
The room at Mana Wynwood was packed wall-to-wall with people, almost as jammed as traffic outside the venue. The acrid stench of weed smoke from dozens of joints filled the air. Onstage, a pair of high-school-play-looking wooden props — a brick building called "Shaolin Apartments" and a bright-red Chinese pavilion — set the scene. This wasn’t Miami anymore: We had officially entered the 36 Chambers.
One by one, all of the group’s current members — the RZA, the GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killa, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, U-God, and Cappadonna — made their entrance. They led with a barrage of hits from their legendary debut album, including “Bring da Ruckus,” “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” and “Shame on a Nigga.” Soon they moved onto solo material, spitting verses from GZA’s “Liquid Swords” and “Duel of the Iron Mic” and Raekwon’s “Ice Cream.” It was nonstop, every song leading straight into the next with barely a pause.
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One might think they’d be tired of performing tracks they made 25 years ago, but their energy was unstoppable. With all the members bounding across the stage at once, each became the others' hype man, shouting lines and rapping over their deceased comrade Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s lines. This togetherness, this sense of a team effort in action, is what made the show truly outstanding. With rap groups mostly a thing of the past, it was a unique look at a form of tag-team, athletic performance that is shamefully no longer prevalent.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have been doing this shit for a quarter of a century,” Method Man proudly declared at one point.
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The energy did not let up as the set sailed past the one-hour mark. RZA began popping bottles of champagne onstage. Method led a “crowd participation” segment, getting the audience to roar in fury by roasting Jay Cutler and the Dolphins. A lighters-up tribute to ODB ended with spins of his tracks “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Got Your Money.”
With their catalogue exhausted, the group ended the performance by going a cappella, spitting rhymes with no musical accompaniment. The verses were long, unwieldy, and unquestionably impressive, fusing mythological imagery with rap bravado. GZA’s turn went so long and floored everyone so thoroughly that the clan decided simply to end things there. It was a display of not only the versatility of the group, whose individual styles complement one another so well, but also the essence of rap, which we so easily forget is an acronym for “rhythm and poetry.”
“No matter where you came from,” Ghostface said right before launching into one of their most bombastic tunes, “we want you to remember one thing: Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthing ta fuck wit!”