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May 13, 2017

New York hip-hop legend GZA to headline Pearl Street this Friday

(Collegian File Photo)

The Pioneer Valley area sees itself as an education hub, an epicenter of erudition on the East Coast. But those who think they could stand to learn a thing or two should come and bear witness to GZA, aka The Genius. Wu-Tang Clan’s “fountain of wisdom” will be dropping knowledge on Pearl Street this Friday at 9 p.m.

After beginning his career in 1991 with “Words from the Genius,” which flopped commercially, GZA first found acclaim on Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal 1993 debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” Often seen as a snapshot of what one of hip-hop’s golden eras had to offer, “36 Chambers” was an integral part of the dark, inimitable New York sound utilized by the likes of Mobb Deep, Big L and Onyx, and is universally regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.

GZA, who was born Gary Grice, took center stage on the album’s “Clan in Da Front,” rapping both the verse and the chorus.

Not as flamboyant nor as lewd as other Wu-Tang members like Method Man or Ol’ Dirty B*stard, GZA raps on a different plane, sporting more intellectual and intricate flows. On his classic 1995 solo album, “Liquid Swords,” GZA gave the world that lyrical complexity, intermingled with characteristic Wu-Tang menace. The album uses numerous samples from the martial arts film “Shogun Assassin,” bringing a kung-fu aesthetic that is embodied even further in one of the greatest Wu-Tang affiliate album covers of all time.

The oldest and one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, GZA helped lay the blueprint for the hip-hop crew. Though the large group has issued numerous albums together, each member has embarked on a separate, solo career. Over more than two decades, the group has created an image and a brand, almost a movement, a trajectory that countless hip-hop groups and collectives like Odd Future, A$AP Mob and Pro Era have copied.

GZA has always been more of a figure in hip-hop’s underground than a commercial star and has taken his career in a direction that differs radically even from the other members of Wu-Tang Clan. Most notably, he has guest lectured at universities all over the country, including MIT and Harvard, on topics as diverse as hip-hop, physics and space.

Supporting GZA is Meyhem Lauren, who is part of the next generation of New York rappers. Clearly an astute disciple of the 90s sound that GZA helped create, the two make a brilliant match for a show.

In 2016 Meyhem released “Piatto D’Oro” on Fools Gold Records, a label known for a small but potent roster that most notably includes Danny Brown. The album’s heaviest track, “Badmon Ting,” comes laced with culinary rhymes that stem from the rapper’s close friendship with Action Bronson.

Meyhem and Bronson, along with Big Body Bes and The Alchemist, host a cooking show on Viceland called “F*ck, That’s Delicious.” A hilarious show, it often gives the viewer a heavy dose of Meyhem’s personality, which can often belie the darkness of some of his lyrics.

This show is not one to miss, as it’s rare that you get to see the student and master of a sound perform on the same stage. In a time when the internet has diminished the geographic nature of hip-hop, this Pearl Street show will be a good lesson in a distinct, east coast, New York sound.

The show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, and are available on nbotickets.com.

Felix Sanders can be reached at felixrobersanders@gmail.com.

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