By his own admission, the Chef is “getting up there” in years but he definitely hasn’t forgotten how to push a crowd’s buttons in the best Wu-Tang-weird fashion.
As I approached Revolution, in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, Freddie Gibbs was leading an audience of 200 or so in a rousing call-and-response rendition of “Fuck the Police” and two of Broward’s Finest were trying out a golf club in the parking lot. Not all of last night’s Raekwon + Gibbs was nearly so synchronous, but it was as satisfying to behold.
Inaugural Ice H20/EMI Records signee and Raekwon protege Gibbs opened up the crowd nicely, giving us an energetic half-hour of hits like “Rob Me A Nigga”, which came off especially well, plus a capella freestyles delivered directly and with impressive dexterity, all while making sweet love to a lone front-row iPhone camera. Gibbs’ poise and ambition were on display as he looked us directly in the eyes and told us that he is for real, and that he for sure knows “hoes that’ll smoke, stay sloppy drunk, and get powdered up.” His hype man was one of two auxiliary performers on the night who sported sunglasses past midnight and everyone was totally okay with it, and the pair of Death Row Records classics that played after his exit were exactly right for the occasion, even in spite of any awkwardness that might have resulted from Rae’s abortive flirtations with Dre’s Aftermath label last year.
Gibbs and Rae both played the role of booster for hip-hop in general in their between-songs remarks, striking an ecumenical note that was interesting coming from one of Wu-Tang’s most sectarian MCs (“… if you look at Rae and Ghost, they don’t like nobody!” sez Method Man, remarking on the non-beef the Clan had with Biggie). In fact the whole evening felt like a triumphant victory lap for rap itself, with headliner Rae carrying the flag.
photo by Kefira Baron
Never more so than when the Chef took the stage. He promised to take us “back to 1992, ’93, ’94″ and proceeded to smack us upside the head with that period’s most nostalgic jams. He went on at 12:30 — by 5 ’til 1, he had hit the crowd with his verses from “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Protect Ya Neck”, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx hit “Ice Cream”, and a ridiculously fast run-through of “Its Yourz”. It was like watching a better than average episode of Yo! MTV Raps live, with less DJ Jazzy Jeff and more secondhand smoke.
Then came the blue filter on the lights and a sober(er) tribute to fallen comrade and Wu-Tang stalwart Ol’ Dirty Bastard, which has become standard of late: “I Like it Raw” and “Shame on a Nigga” in succession nearly brought down the house, with even the 30-something Asians in the lofted VIP lounge standing up and leaning on the rails.
The only hitch in the night was when the crowd appeared to be on the verge of mutiny when the intravenous drip of Wu was interrupted by a reprisal of opening act Kofi Black, who serenaded the crowd with a couple of legitimately-good-but-utterly-out-of-place R&B slow jams. When Rae joined him to rap a verse on the final one, we softened into a reluctantly polite stance and the interloper quickly settled back into the entourage, much to everyone’s relief.
Raekwon was then joined by the much more palatable JD Era, who threw down right quick with his featured verse on a recent Rae release and again slipped aside to make way for what we all hoped would be a grand-ass finale. With the skills of a wily veteran, he made sure disappointment was not an option, again hitting the crowd with a procession of strident jams, this time mostly new cuts off of the Unexpected Victory mixtape and Cuban Linx Pt. 2. The crowd clamored for an encore but as soon as Rae began wistfully praising all the “cuties up in here” and nearly flooring me with a “God bless you and your families”, we knew it wasn’t coming. And that was fine too. After all as he told us right up front: “I’m an old man now. But I’m a fly old man.”