Two decades have passed since the Wu- Tang Clan’s dynamic duo of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah released their classic album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Technically released as a Raekwon “solo” record, Cuban Linx showcased the duo’s lyrical mastery through hard-boiled, emotional, and semi-autobiographical stories about criminal enterprise and street psychology. Dubbed “Scarface on wax” by Ghost and Rae, it remains one of the best Wu Tang productions and commands near fanatical devotion from passionate underground hip-hop fans.
Raekwon and Ghostface Killah celebrated the 20th anniversary of their classic album with a national tour. The duo have collaborated on nearlyall of their respective solo releases, including Only Built 4 Cuban Linx: Part 2, Ghostface’s Iron Man, Fishscale, and most recently with producer Adrian Younge, 12 Reasons to Die II. Despite a prolific career filled with hills and valleys, hip-hop’s De Niro and Pesci didn’t perform anything less than 15 years old, delivering instead a set that was nearly exclusive to the original Cuban Linx.
The album literally loomed large over the audience. A giant banner of the cover—Raekwon blowing smoke at the camera while Ghostface Killah lurks behind him—hung over the stage. Local MC John Doe (of the group New Orleans Most Wanted) and Brooklyn Heights rapper Dillon Cooper opened the show with two solid sets. Then the legendary and official Wu Tang touring DJ, Mathematics, played a 20-minute set that was a crash course in hip-hop history.
The lights lowered, and Mathematics started a sample of Cuban Linx’s opening track, “Striving for Protection.” Raekwon strolled on to the stage wearing orange Sauconys, camo shorts, and a Chicago Bears snapback hat, rapping the follow-up track “Knowledge God.” After completing a couple verses, he introduced Ghostface Killah, who towered over his partner in a white t-shirt and jeans, even as he prowled around the stage hunched over with his DGK cap pulled low over his eyes. The pair played off each other’s contrasting stage presence: Raekwon, laid back in the cut and grinning at the audience, while Ghostface Killah stalked around spitting rhymes with his trademark intensity.
While the duo played most tracks from Cuban Linx, the set list seemed arbitrary. Some fans at the foot of the stage and upstairs rapped along with songs like “Criminology,” “Rainy Dayz,” and “Glaciers of Ice.” Always appreciative of their fans, the duo stood in flawlessly for other Wu Tang members, like Method Man and Cappadonna, rapping their lines to fan favorites such as “Ice Cream.” And as usual, they ran through a medley of classic Wu Tang tracks from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and a mid-show memoriam for Old Dirty Bastard (who died in 2004), including “Got Your Money.”
While their colleagues like the GZA and Method Man have performed their classic albums nearly verbatim in the past, Ghost and Rae opted to play loose with their performance. It wasn’t an album listening party, after all. As titans of the ‘90s hip-hop scene get older, it’s easy, almost convenient, to lump them and their unique craftsmanship into a specific time, place or style, and market their live performances as living history. It’s also easy to become cynical about the current trend of “specialty tours.” That attitude might suit the thousand- date Motley Crue farewell tours, but seems asinine when applied to Ghost and Rae. Their influence on the current music landscape has only grown over the last 20 years. While they had their ups and downs over time, they continue to pen incredible lyrics—stories on wax, as they call it—even if the production has been less consistent. In the end, like the album cover, it was only Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Mathematics—no extra partners, dancers, or fans. Just two MCs and one DJ, three long-time friends, collaborators, and master musicians performing their timeless classic for adoring fans.