Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

GZA leaves Pearl Street in awe

Araz Havan/Collegian

The “wu” is the sound of the sword moving through the air, and “tang” is its imminent strike. This was the linguistic explanation offered to the crowd by the one and only GZA/Genius, the oldest founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, who performed at Pearl Street last Wednesday night.

Roc Foxx, The Professors and Ratking opened the show, getting the crowd riled up and ready for the master MC. While The Professors were undoubtedly the crowd favorite of the opening groups, possessing a seemingly limitless energy, Ratking’s performance was the most intriguing.

The group’s sound totally deviated from the hip-hop norm and took on a more technical vibe. The beats were fast and electric, making the imbued melodic back-up vocals from Hakeem “MC Hak” Lewis sound almost like it were in slow motion. The group’s light show of moving animated anthropomorphic beings only added to the surreal showcase.

If a band like Radiohead attempted a hip-hop album, it would probably sound like Ratking. In fact, front man Patrick “Wiki” Morales may be as close as you can get to a 19-year-old, rapping version of Thom Yorke, with a similar intensity and vivacious stage presence. Ratking is a group to keep in the periphery, as it is definitely a unique representation of an evolving hip-hop culture.

Wearing an “MC’s tuxedo” of a classic black hoodie and plain white T-shirt, GZA stepped out to an uproarious crowd and immediately commanded faithful attention. Calm and collected, the Genius began to preach. The seminal rap artist’s set included a combination of renditions from previous Wu-Tang albums and his own solo work, most notably from Wu-Tang’s debut record “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” and his second studio album “Liquid Swords.”

Uniquely, GZA often did not perform his songs all the way through, but would break them down and segue right into another classic jam, one after the other, augmenting the crowd into a fervent, dancing ruckus. Women were on men’s shoulders, Ol’ Dirty Bastard shirts were tossed from the stage, Wu-Tang hand signs were thrown up into the air, and GZA stepped off the stage and into the crowd twice to bring his words straight to the congregation.

In every song, however brief, GZA demonstrated his lyrical genius. With carefully crafted wordplay, allusions and melodic rhythms, just a taste of his literary merit can be found in the first verse of “Cold World,” where he spits: “It was the night before New Year’s, and all through the f****** projects/Not a handgun was silent, not even a Tec.”

At a first listen, it just seems like the MC is establishing a typical context, but really this is his own version of: “Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house/Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

Now, many of us grew up with such childhood poems, and the classic Mother Goose nursery rhymes and Brother’s Grimm folklore, but here GZA offers up a real and raw bedtime story, and this one is certainly not intended to help the kids sleep soundly. His performance of this song induced chills.

With this and other songs he often came to the forefront of the stage and stood still, looking out very seriously, almost sternly, making eye contact and holding it as he continued to deliver his words, distinct and powerful, with an almost effortless recollection.

There was a nearly visible double-consciousness to his presence, one being a man reciting his own poetic struggle of strife, police brutality, drug-dealing, plunder and cultural disillusionment, and the other was that same man staring and self-reflecting at what is tangible now before him. He held his gaze on the girl in the crowd flailing her limbs to the beat in an awe-induced passion at his mere existence, and one could tell there was something definitively inquisitive about his demeanor, but perhaps this is how the GZA commonly connects with his audience.

At one point, the Genius wasn’t even really rapping any longer, but rather had no beat or music behind him, and was just standing on stage, delivering begotten lines of what felt like true, unequivocal free verse. His words resounded through the dimly lit and cramped ballroom, and in this moment of recital there was a palpable stillness. Stripped of the beat, there stood a poet.

Fans of the GZA should note that before his exit he proclaimed that the Wu-Tang was indeed back together. He will also be releasing his LP “Dark Matter” and a sequel to “Liquid Swords” called “Liquid Swords II: The Return of the Shadowboxer” this year.

Emily Felder can be reached at [email protected].


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