You’d be hard pressed to find a more recognizable brand in hip hop than Staten Island, N.Y.’s certified god-status rap elite, Wu-Tang Clan.
Their emblematic, stylized, yellow “W” logo is damn near as recognizable as McDonalds’ golden arches, a symbol of commerce flipped upside down from the jump of their 25-plus year career. They were the first rap group to launch their own clothing brand and in 2019 North America, that W might as well stand for Wal-Mart — just one of the many places you can find their mark stamped on shirts, hats, socks, boxer shorts and likely even baby bibs.
“Wu-Tang,” as departed founding member Ol’Dirty Bastard is oft quoted as saying, “is for the children.”
And the children’s children. They may be the Led Zeppelin of hip hop, with a legacy that has not only endured decades, but in recent history has increasingly seen them in fuller concert formation than their unwieldy 10-man-army could reliably pull together through much of their on-again, off-again touring career.
But unlike the dad-rockers of our ’70s ancestors, the Wu-Tang are still relatively young, vital and (aside from the late ODB) still here to both witness and celebrate their own legacy. That’s what they did at Place Bell on Thursday night, their first-ever Montreal area show in full formation — except for the notable absence of the bigger-than-hip-hop Method Man.
Last touching down way less than crew-deep in Montreal at the former Metropolis in 2008, the Clan (joined last night by Bastard offspring YDB and also frequent associate Cappadonna) came correct, on-time and brought the muthafuckin’ ruckus their eager fans demanded to a venue at near capacity, where every other piece of attire worn represented the empire the Shaolin fought to earn.
Marking the 25th anniversary of their now 26-year-old debut classic Enter the 36 Chambers, executive visionary, fabled producer and defacto master of ceremonies RZA brought his brothers in arms to the stage in order of verse until, one by one, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface, Masta Killa, Raekwon, U-God, YDB, Cap and the orchestra and DJ Mathematics swarmed with mics and muscle to perform the entirety of the album any rap fan claiming allegiance to the genre keeps somewhere in their all-time top 20. If you disagree, you simply still never listened to it.
I’m not gonna list the songs off. It was all grand and exquisitely necessary. Yeah, there were too many mics on stage to expect much from the soundman. And yes, it was too loud. And again, yup, the group have too many classic tracks — together, solo or otherwise — to please every fanatic in the building with a retrospective fitting of their ruling status over the institution of hip hop tradition.
Visibly having a great time on stage together, they fucked shit all the way up. By the time Chambers led into a greatest hits-type set (topped off, after over 90 minutes on stage, with a slick new song handled by RZA and Ghostface Killah) the promise of “energy” RZA repeated throughout the affair was delivered in as complete and deliberate a package as a gift from the busted slums of yesteryear’s Staten Island can be expected to arrive in. And that, friends, was the present the children deserved. ■