As bona fide hip-hop royalty with their pioneering period 20 years behind them and their kung fu Buddhist enigma long faded, Wu-Tang Clan have discovered the value of rarity. Getting them all in a studio to record music together has, historically, been a bit like herding panthers: last year’s tepidly received A Better Tomorrow was three inharmonious years in the making and touted by main producer RZA as “something to close the book”. So any time a reasonable number of the group’s nine surviving members turn up on the same stage it’s hard not to feel the buzz of a fragile farewell fling; certainly Raekwon only rejoined in August under an uneasy truce with RZA. Rarer still, they’ve completed a new compilation of unheard material, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, of which only one copy exists, touring art galleries and museums before being auctioned online amid talk of multimillion dollar bids. There’s now serious equity in having your appeal become more selective.
Even hip-hop gods fall foul of the big rap-gig pitfalls, though: the Academy’s Wookey Hole acoustics render them a largely inaudible mulch of muddy rant rhymes, and booming basslines bury their stoner-mystic poetry. They overcome these problems by putting on a united front full of menace and machismo; rolling on stage to Bring Da Ruckus they chant and bellow like a pack of riled bears undergoing army drill training. Through Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit they swap lines with a telepathic synchronicity over languid, Morricone-flecked soul grooves, merging much of their seminal 1993 debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) with the cream of their copious solo albums.
Yet it’s their tribute to fallen Clansman and all-round crazy fool Ol’ Dirty Bastard on his Shimmy Shimmy Ya and Got Ya Money that enraptures Brixton, and as they finish with the fan-requested pop hooks of Gravel Pit and GZA’s show-stopping a cappella Big Bang Rap, essentially a rhyming lecture on molecular physics, we glimpse the intelligence and invention that made these mad monks masters.
- At Academy, Glasgow, 5 June. Box office: 0141-418 3000. Then touring until 26 July.