Review By Nikki Eenik
I’m scared I may have accidentally joined a cult when I saw Wu-Tang Clan & Nas at Rod Laver Arena this Sunday. But let me go back to the beginning.
The ‘New York State of Mind Tour’ is a must for any fans of hip-hop, or music in general. Cultural icons Wu-Tang take us on a winding journey through the history of Hip-Hop, with strong support from fellow East-Coast rap heavy-weight Nas.
There is so much to cover about the insane production value of this tour. Nas and Wu-Tang take turns coming on stage, punching out hits, covers and freestyles – both old and new. Supporting Wu-Tang is a full live band, seated on top of a massive projection half-wall. Nas is going more low-key with it; a single drummer supporting him through it all. I have never, ever, seen a musician having more fun. This guy is going ham. We never even get his name but he steals the show, with his dreadlocks secured by ball-ball hair ties, face adorned with dark shades and a massive grin – he’s so clearly having the time of his life; and so are we. All of the musicians supporting the main acts are just unbelievably tight. The musicianship throughout the whole night is impossible to fake, especially with those tight turnarounds between acts and bands. Somehow, they pull it off, and it is fantastic.
After that little warm-up, the stage goes black. And the half-wall, two side screens, back wall and top projection screen all light up. Flashing both the Wu-Tang symbol and Nas moniker, glitching and moving across the screens, with soundbites from popular culture, including the famous: “I am the one who knocks” scene from ‘Breaking Bad’ and several scenes from ‘Scarface’. A wasp flies from screen to screen, before turning it’s attention to us. As it speeds towards us, the lights go black and the show begins in full swing.
Behind the acts there is a mix of AI-art; capturing Wu-Tangs vision of combining “Eastern philosophy picked up from kung-fu, teachings picked up on the New York streets and comic books”. If they say; “We are taking the ferry out to Staten Island” – we are. The New York skyline getting further away as we approach the ‘Hidden Burrow’. Above the band are the names of New York Underground stops and stations – all punctuating a different place in the timeline of East-Coast Hip-Hop. This isn’t just a concert, it’s a history lesson.
First up is Nas, 49-year-old East-Coast rapper, widely considered one of the All Time Greats. We are treated to an opener of Verbal Intercourse and King’s Disease 3. Nas is really in a league of his own. Every time he comes on stage he’s wearing something different, full of infectious energy and never skipping a beat or being out of breath despite controlling an entire stage on his own – armed only with the most iced out ring I’ve ever seen, and his incredible compadre up the back on drums.
Wu-Tang quickly tell us why we’re all here tonight, and why this tour is so significant. “Hip-Hop started in New York City in 1973, made its way around. We are here celebrating 50 years of Hip-Hop.” Several different members of the group jump in; “We don’t give a fuck where you’re from, it’s what you gotta say. Just remember: Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.” Then we get thrown into maybe their most iconic song, shockingly named; ‘Wu-Tang Clan aint nothing to fuck with.” Rolling through an extended cut of songs like C.R.E.A.M, some members of the group take position as crowd wranglers, they bark instructions at us “Swing your arms! Side to Side! Side to Side!” and there is 0 hesitation. Everyone in the group has role, even down to one member who is standing without a microphone, just hyping up the guys on stage. These guys are best friends – and it shows. There is such a profound love for each other that permeates the weed-smoke-filled air.
Nas returns with DJ Greenland to take us on a further journey, with songs like Eye for an Eye, and the personal highlight of his many sets; his cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World, which transitioned perfectly into The World is Yours. ‘T H E W O R L D I S Y O U R S’ scrolls at the top of the stage. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I know that right now – Nas is our world, and we are his. The connection between performer and artist is unreal, especially for such a large stadium setting – as opposed to the cramped, underground performance spaces 90s Hip-Hop was born from.
Taking us on another stroll down memory lane, We are gonna play the first song Wu-Tang ever recorded”. And so they launch into a fiery rendition of Protect Ya Neck. Each member getting their turn on the mic, people harmonising with each other, freestyling off each other – we are watching music being made and remade in real-time. And it’s electric, nostalgic and poignant. We are gifted with a cover of Come Together by the Beatles. “It is the power of music that brings us all together. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, trans, black, white, straight, purple – We are all here together. Even the great John Lennon knew that, Wu-Tang knows that, and I know you know that. So, sing this with me right now” But they aren’t the usual words, they go more like:
“Let me see you sing/ As loud as you can / Come together / Right Now/ Over me”
My god is it loud in here, but it all sort of washes over you and takes you into a trance. It’s all noise and lights and wholesome energy with a beautiful Wu-Tang and Nas shaped bow on top. There are 2000s babies in front of me who light up several joints throughout the show, and pass them down to the 70s babies a few seats over. Unconventional? Definitely. But community is what it’s all about. A bra gets thrown on stage, and passed around to ever member of Wu-Tang – sharing is the name of the game.
And now, there’s a bit of quiet. As we are bathed in purple light we are asked to hold up our hands into the Wu-Tang symbol. (Hands up, palms forward, thumbs together). Everyone in the room has their phone down and their hands up. “When I say Wu you say Tang”
Then the music starts again and we all move our hands up and down to the beat of Reunited.
Then, more quiet. “Hold up that symbol again” – We do (obviously). “When I say ‘Hip-Hop’ you say ‘Peace’”
“Now change that hand to a peace sign. When I say ‘Peace’ you say ‘Love’”
In that moment it dawns on me. I have just joined the most stoned, accepting, boisterous cult there is. I’m in a New York State of Mind, baby. Me and all other 14,000 disciples.
What follows is the most heart-warming series of events. Nas joins them on stage as they wheel out a Birthday “cake” (it’s a stack of donuts with candles in them) for their Australian Tour managers birthday. And they give a shoutout to “All the mums out there! Whether they raised you, chose you or you chose them – We love y’all!”
To close, as a tribute to deceased member, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, they freestyle on top of his iconic track, undeniable banger and insane feast for the visual senses; Baby I got Your Money.
The final moments of the concert show all of the performers together down on stage. The background projections are those of a simple New York street. And they all hug. This was the last stop on their Australian Tour, and they are soaking up the love. Many artists didn’t survive the violence of being lower-class and Black in America, but these guys did, and they are clearly so happy to still be here, all together. The crowd is cheering them on as we feel that love ooze into us. I think I nearly cried.
And that, is how I nearly joined a cult, nearly cried to Wu-Tang and Nas, and saw one of the most engrossing, unique concerts and concepts – all on a Sunday night.