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It’s the winter of 1993 and the Wu-Tang Clan are crammed on a stage at Bronx nightclub The Fever, formerly known as Devil’s Nest. The crowd is reciting every lurid tale of “smoking crack and weed” word for word, the walls were sweating, and people looked mesmerized by the new group. Twenty-six years later, their shows have evolved.
“We used to come out and do regular shows. We’d have turntables and the CD-Js,” Cappadonna told REVOLT TV at Rolling Loud NYC. “Then, we invested in props and spent a lot of money on props. We had T-shirts and hoodies over the years. We paid about $20,000 for lights. Then, we got videos in the background.”
Almost immediately after Cappadonna detailed the light costs, he laughingly clarified that the $20,000 price tag is per show after U-God’s eyes bulged out in shock. The look in his eyes looked similar to the one you may have after pulling an all-nighter on an A paper...or toured for nearly 30 years and touched every part of the world.
The miles that decades of touring have put on their bodies are worn like badges of honor to them. So, that sly but weary smirk U-God shot me when remembering the money put into their live show clearly yelled: Wu-Tang Clan’s show ain’t nothing to fuck with and never have been. “These youngsters have to see what we do and how we rock from ‘93 and on. It’s going to be kind of a moment,” he confidently proclaimed.
No matter the size or age of the crowd, a Wu-Tang Clan show is an exercise in traditionalism. It’s a large group of rappers moving around while someone raps. But, unlike most of the newer rap acts who try to stuff their entourage on a small stage for aesthetics and/or security, each person on Wu-Tang’s stage has a role.
The group raps over the instrumental and not the vocal track, which younger rappers at the festival and elsewhere seem incapable of doing. When Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son recited his father’s “Protect Your Neck” verse at Rolling Loud, the group would ad-lib certain lines in unison. Method Man would play to the crowd, imploring them to clap for the lyrical gymnastics Ghostface Killah was exhibiting. The show was captivating without the frills.
“People are never worried about the lights, cameras, and action when Wu-Tang comes on the stage. When we come and do a show, y’all leave sweated up,” Raekwon said.
By contrast to most of the other main acts at Rolling Loud, Wu-Tang’s set was noticeably less glamorous. DaBaby had a giant baby onstage. Saweetie and others had fire shooting out of their stages. Wu-Tang did employ the gigantic screens on the Dryp Stage to show the iconic their logo, but to also show trailers of the upcoming RZA-directed film Cut Throat City and the Hulu original Wu-Tang: An American Story. But, that’s as flashy as the group got.
“We don’t need all the fire behind us. We did that before, but that’s not us. We come from the staircase with it,” Raekwon added. “We’re like filter water. We turn dirty water into clean water when we come around. When people hear it, it’s just organic rap.”
Raekwon has always been one of the best MCs. His Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, released 14 years after the original, may be the only sequel to a classic that holds up its heralded predecessor. When asked what other albums in the group’s extensive pantheon they would most like to see get the sequel treatment, U-God wasted half a second before throwing his support behind Raekwon’s OB4CL series. “I need that feeling. I need that street energy,” he said.
Before the group exited their trailer to do what they’ve done for nearly thirty years, Master Killah succinctly explained how a group of rappers on the closer side of 50 years old can still electrify an audience that may not have existed when the group was in their prime. He stated: “Hip hop is universal. It’s grown and it’s all over the planet now. So, doing what we do now is the formula. If it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it. Wu-Tang is forever.”