When it comes to discussing the founding fathers of gangster rap; there is the de facto duo of Biggie and Tupac – and then very quickly into the conversation one would have to include all 9 members of the Wu-Tang Clan (now 8 members, after the passing of ODB). Even almost 18 years after their first LP was released, “Enter the Wu-Tan (36 Chambers)”, the names still rings out. This fact was readily apparent to anyone who attended their most recent show in Chicago at the storied Congress Theater.
The Congress was thoroughly swarming with ardent Wu fans on this chilly January night. To call the theater “crowded” or “packed with people” would be a substantial understatement. It seemed as if every Wu fan in Chicago was in attendance, with then others traveling from the suburbs also managing to get in as well. And while one in the crowd who had a jacket on would quickly regret the decision (as it got pretty warm in there), overall, once people were settled in everything went smoothly – a pretty amazing fact considering the thoudsands-strong throng of hip hop fans in attendance. Of course hip hop crowd etiquette, with it’s distain for bumping into other attendees, probably helped the situation.
After a certain amount of the prerequisite delaying-past-the-planned-start-time activity, the Wu kicked off the show by quickly entering into Bring Da Ruckus, which is fittingly also the opener off of their first ever LP, the aforementioned “36 Chambers”. The ample crowd burst into screams as most everyone “threw up their W’s” (making a big w with both of one’s hands). On this evening all of the Wu members who could make it did, outside of the reputable Rza (which was unfortunate, but 7/8 isn’t bad). Even Cappadonna, the quasi-Wu member, was in attendance on this evening.
The Clan seemed to stick to their older material from the 90’s more than anything else (which means songs from “36 Chambers” and the famed “Wu-Tang Forever”). And while they did play a few tracks from “The W”, “Iron Flag”, and “8 Diagrams” it seemed to be their 90’s material that excited them – and the crowd – the most on this evening. In fact, they stuck to their “36 Chambers” material more so than even tracks from their beloved double LP “Wu-Tang Forever”. But nobody seemed to care about this decision, and why should one? Highlights from the evening included The Mystery of Chessboxing (with an energetic verse from Masta Killah), Shame on a Nigga, Reunited, C.R.E.A.M., Method Man. And while it should be no surprise at all, close to the end of the night they performed a great version of their epic track Triumph – which hyped the crowd more than anything other song. It was true reward for any rap fan.
And while Method Man was a stellar MC (he was the point man for the group talking to the crowd between numbers), and the rest of the group walked about and controlled the stage in traditional old-school hip hop style, what was most striking about this show was the crowd energy, reverence, and level of participation. At any time, in basically every song played on this evening, one could hear the crowd rapping along with the lyrics just almost just as loudly as the loudspeakers at time. The Clan did not fail to recognize this, as they often would hold the mic out to the crowd and let us fill in the lyrics while they took a momentary break. You could see they were enjoying being in-front of a crammed crowd comprised of such obviously devout fans. It also made it an enjoyable experience as an attendee – plateauing the energy level beyond what just the performers can create and provide.
While the sound could have been mix slightly more favorably for hearing quick-rhymes, and the stage show (in addition to a boringly static electronic yellow Wu-Tang symbol – which never changed once all evening) did get slightly stale near the end of the performance, the more than sufficient level of crowd participation helped make up for these downsides. And while the theater probably shouldn’t have been that packed, if one is going to be at a show consisting of some of the founding fathers of a musical genre, you want the energy level to match that level of status – which it most easily did. All-in-all it was quite a wonderfully reminiscent show which harked back to a time when hip hop was the most volatile, interesting and creative genre around – a genre in which the Wu-Tang Clan members were all princes of.
Below is a video, found online, of the Wu-Tang Clan opening the show with Bring Da Ruckus at Congress Theater.