Wu-Tang breakout star Ghostface Killah, super-hero-producer DOOM, and savage tongue Chino XL deliver true hip-hop to the troops.
“Do lyrics matter anymore?” Puerto Rican rapper Chino XL bellowed at least thrice during his set. Looks like they do, judging by the swelling crowd of hip white kids in baseball jackets and duckbill caps milling around the resplendent Forum. Adventurous production probably matters more in this case.
That’s why we kick off with The Man In The Mask, the man behind Danger Doom, Madvillain, Mm.. Food – DOOM. His intimidating metal Doctor Doom visage lorded over the crowd on the backdrop, but the lone, rotund and blazed rapper (currently bald, if that lays imposter suspicions to rest, and wearing a Queensland State Of Origin jersey) brought a goofy persona, blunted beats and let the songs play out.
No sirens or hypemen. This was just the bedroom producer superhero creating his alternate universe and letting the mid-tempo head-nodders loosen up the crowd nicely. Apart from a brief political outburst, it was hazy escapist hip-hop at its finest and smoke billowed from the pit in appreciation.
This, of course, stopped immediately the moment Chino XL arrived. Henchmen flooded the stage, none more foreboding than their Capo, both physically (the guy’s biceps are the size of Christmas hams and he was decked out for guerilla warfare) and lyrically (Chino bills himself as a lyrical assassin and he was fairly well relentless).
Musically, this was the low-point – lots of Cypress Hill-style cruisers. Every part of his campaign is to focus on Chino’s savage wordplay. At times it came off like a rap battle where he was kicking an opponent to death. Chino was most often brutal, which undermined his occasional bursts of gravitas, gutter wisdom, and zingers. But as a showman, he’s impeccable. He lectured and confessed to the masses, then spent the penultimate tune in the crowd as “one of us”. No doubt Chino is safe in any crowd.
The best of both worlds, however, is Ghostface Killah. Arguably the most artistically accomplished of the Wu-Tang alumni, Ghost has a knack for picking the finest beats (hail his Fishscale and More Fish double of 2006, as well as most other solo efforts ex-Ghostdini) and contributing to the most influential albums (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords). Tunes are one, very important, thing. But it’s his talents as an immersive storyteller that stand out, and he has such an idiosyncratic flow and slang that whole (and hilarious) websites have been made to impersonate him.
To remind us, the volume jacked up five notches and Big Ghost swaggers out in street mode, regal purple windcheater and cap, flanked by hypemen (including, seriously, fellow Wu member Killah Priest). He prowled through scores of tunes, but with a sound system so overdriven by volume that lyrics were sometimes the only thing that could differentiate tunes (I swear I should know all these).
No matter. The crowd enthusiastically swayed, bounced, and threw their arms in the air with little regard. There were far more grins than grimaces. Toward the end he snuck in ‘Protect Ya Neck’ and dragged two kids onstage who had to pledge that they knew their respective Wu verses. And they did, pretty much. He delivered ODB’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’. He dragged ladies onstage (possibly every female in the crowd, by the looks of it). He paraded out to rightfully earned cheers. He signed autographs at a bustling merch desk. He closed the show in royal fashion. Unpretentious, street level hip-hop still matters.