GZA & DJ Muggs
BB King Blues Club
February 21, 2006
After spending weeks immersing myself in Wu ephemera to write this article, I had to miss the group’s big Hammerstein reunion show – Valentine’s Day and everything. But the tour reportedly went beautifully, everyone meshing, old energy returning, Cappadonna taking part after all. And since the entire group reunited for both the tour and one ridiculously great track on Ghostface’s Fishscale album, we’re closer to having a fully operational Wu-Tang Clan than we’ve been in years. GZA’s BB King’s show wasn’t billed as a Wu-Tang show; he’s touring with Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs now, promoting Grandmasters, the surprisingly satisfying collaborative album that the two quietly released last year. But then Grandmasters succeeds mostly because it’s a warm pastiche of classic-era Wu-Tang right down to the kung-fu samples: Muggs jacking RZA’s eerie minor-key glint the way RZA once jacked Muggs’ foggy bump, GZA returning to his hazy multisyllabic grunt, RZA and Raekwon making quick appearances. It’s a Wu-Tang album; there’s almost no Cypress Hill there. And so it would stand to reason that a GZA/Muggs show, taking place in New York a week after the Wu-Tang reunion tour rolled through town, would turn out to be a Wu-Tang show, which it basically did.
But the full-on group reunion I half-expected never materialized. It probably shouldn’t be that surprising; most of the guys in the group probably didn’t want to run out onstage again after they’d been doing it for the past couple of weeks, especially when they weren’t getting paid. And GZA’s live shows have none of the chaotic unpredictability that most Wu solo guys usually come with; he walked onstage before 9:30 to minimal fanfare, accompanied only by Muggs and one hypeman, and he was gone by 11:00. His set was matter-of-fact and efficient, and it almost seemed like a full-on reunion would only interrupt his stride. So we got Masta Killa and Killah Priest and Street Life, all out to do a verse or two and then surrender the spotlight back to the GZA without any fuss. The only guy who really changed the course of the show with his appearance was Raekwon, who rolled out half an hour into the set, rocking a bright yellow hoodie and a blinding diamond chain, clutching a plastic champagne flute, forgetting bits and pieces of his guest-appearance verses but making up for it with sheer live-wire charisma. In a way, Raekwon is everything GZA isn’t: short and roly-poly instead of tall and gaunt, unpredictable instead of meticulous, impulsive instead of streamlined. Onstage together, the two were a study in contrast. When GZA did an a cappella reading of “All In Together Now,” his recent tribute to ODB, trading the mic back and forth with a girl in the front row who knew all the words. Raekwon was impressed. “A white bitch saying that shit!” he exploded. “Put that on the internet!” Done! Later, on a whim, Raekwon ripped through an impromptu version of his verse from “C.R.E.A.M.,” possibly just because he wanted to hear the crowd yell every word back to him. When the GZA first stepped onstage, no one was up there who shouldn’t have been. When Raekwon came out, the stage was suddenly crowded with onlookers.
But Raekwon and GZA have plenty in common, too. Both are crowd-pleasers, and both recognized that last night’s mostly white, mostly male crowd is now their primary audience and that the sea of upraised Wu-wing hand signs meant that this audience wanted assurance the Wu-Tang would continue on unchanged. So Raekwon promised big things with Cuban Linx 2: “I’m fed up with the fucking game; the game is corny … I tried to settle, and I played myself.” And the GZA only dipped into Grandmasters stuff a couple of times, leaning heavily on Liquid Swords and 36 Chambers material instead, all available guys coming out for their “Triumph” verses. Before GZA emerged onstage, Muggs spun a few classic Cypress Hill tracks, but after that, he was pretty much a nonfactor, playing the records and staying out of the way. GZA spent a lot of his time onstage signing vintage Wu-Tang merchandise, explaining that he sometimes handed the stuff back to the wrong people, and spelling why he’d refused to battle some dude at a Fat Beats signing: “I don’t battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!” If this reunion thing actually takes, GZA hopefully won’t be stuck doing nostalgia shows forever. If it doesn’t, there are plenty of worse ways to spend your night than a GZA nostalgia show.