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Ain’t nothing ta fuck wit’: Wu-Tang Clan.

Photo: Julia Zave

The Diagram

By David King

Wu-Tang Clan

Nothern Lights, Dec. 28

Red lights were flashing outside of Northern Lights around midnight as the WuTang clan finished their set. RZA had sent the mostly suburban, white crowd off into the night with an a cappella rhyme session that concluded with a set of instructions: “Fuck the radio! Fuck MTV! Fuck the magazines!” There was an air of danger, of authentic underground hip-hop, as the show came to an end. But in reality, things were much more subdued—the flashing red lights belonged to a ridiculous amount of sheriff’s cars that must have been filled with officers bored to tears waiting for some sort of incident. (As far as I can tell, none ever came.)

The Wu-Tang’s set did not play out like an underground anything; instead it felt like the Wu should have been playing the Times Union Center. The fans were there to worship, to admire, to be part of an experience. They made Ws in the air with their hands like metalheads worshiping a legendary rocker. They spat the rhymes the Wu were spitting, sometimes along with the Wu, sometimes before even the Clan could get to them.

The Wu, despite rising from the underground without the help of most mass-media outlets, are by no means an underground group. They are iconic. Rap fans love ’em, indie hipsters love ’em, and hardcore dudes love ’em. They have managed to keep their integrity while losing members to side projects, squabbles, and even death.

Their lyrics are no longer just scribbled in tattered notepads or on napkins but now etched like Roman numerals into the marble of the American subconscious. Method Man didn’t need to rap the chorus of “C.R.E.A.M.”; the crowd had it handled. “Cash rules everything around me!” they chanted gleefully. On “Bring the Ruckus,” they brought it, shouting, “Bring da motherfuckin’ ruckus! Bring da motherfuckin’ ruckus!”

Northern Lights, packed to the hilt with a sold-out crowd, turned into a sauna, and members of the Wu asked for the stage lights to be turned off. Only a red light remained on stage, so they demanded the crowd hold up cell phones and lighters. The room started to glow as the Wu began a tribute to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. More of celebration than a remembrance, the tribute was a brief tour through Dirty’s work, including “Got Your Money.”

The sound in Northern Lights was adequate, although some of the Clan’s microphones went in and out—some volumes were lower than others, but it didn’t matter. The beats were there and the crowd knew what to do.

And although I didn’t quite hear it—maybe because of the crowd noise, the microphone issues, or my preoccupation with making sure I shouted along with the chorus—I smiled when I thought it was time for Ghostface Killah to deliver the line, “I master the trick just like Nixon.”

While the night did not deliver any wild, I-will-never-forget how-crazy-that-was moments, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s set was brief and lacking surprises, it was still satisfying. The hits were delivered, the tables were turned, and the crowd got to see hip-hop legends in the flesh. Indeed, they proved once again, “The Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.”

In the end there was something very human about the Wu-Tang Clan. After all of RZA’s grand declarations—“Fuck the radio” and so forth—he paused and smiled, looked out at the packed house, and invited anyone who wanted to have a drink with him to join him at the bar.

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