A little more than halfway through his show at the Key Club Saturday night, RZA proclaimed, "If you're not havin' a good time, you're wastin' your time." He then launched into a track from 2003's Birth of a Prince, "Drink, Smoke + Fuck." Scheme, or serendipity?
When you've been in the game as long as RZA (aka, "Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah"), that's a tough call. Indeed, he has a knack for the cinematic: As chief producer and member of Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most innovative, revolutionary hip-hop acts to emerge from New York, he's incorporated story arcs culled from the kung-fu movies that heavily influenced the group's formation. As a crossover artist, he's almost been as successful in Hollywood as in hip hop, appearing in movies such as Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes as well as creating and producing original music for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, among others.
Then again, he, like all seasoned rappers, just knows how to throw a party.
Sure, there were five opening acts, or four too many, but the nine- or ten-membered Wu's always been about strength in numbers. When RZA finally took the stage, he populated it with a dozen friends, give or take a few, depending on who was sent backstage to roll another joint. As the infectious, G-funked "We Pop," a nod to the evening's West Coast host, shot through the club, RZA rained the crowd with champagne. When "Grits," a rarity in his repertoire due to its lazy Southern soul hook, began, he and his crew threw back their heads and happily howled in unison, the exaggerated antics of those who really don't have to worry about what's for dinner anymore.
RZA flipped through as many pages of his vast library of hits as possible, pausing on Wu-Tang Forever's "Reunited" to utilize the violinist he'd brought along, Gravediggaz's 6 Feet Deep's "Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide" to demonstrate his lyrical split personalities, and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)'s "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit" to pay homage to his roots.
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As Bobby Digital, RZA begins Digi Snacks' "O Day" by saying, "Hip hop is all about havin' fun." Any "father-of-hip hop" show enlists near-collective audience participation, and RZA enjoyed his, surveying the testosterone-thick mass with a smile that actually seemed real. People were having fun.
Only one moment darkened the show, and ironically, given the accusations of misogyny that have shadowed hip hop since before Wu-Tang even existed, it came from a woman.
After pulling girls from the audience onstage, RZA and his crew perfunctorily acknowledged and danced with them. Then suddenly there were breasts: One of the women had tugged down another's tank top. The topless girl self-consciously shimmied for a beat before pulling up her shirt, and RZA (who has, undoubtedly, witnessed much rowdier) barely shrugged. On a scale of inappropriateness, it registered not for the flesh, but for the hand by which it was (forcibly) shown.
But of course, the show went on. RZA danced with giddy abandon to "Gravel Pit" and applied his blunt-dulled bass to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" as an ode to one of the founding members of Wu-Tang Clan, Ol' Dirty Bastard, who overdosed in '04. And although it was well past 1AM, as the opening chords of "You Can't Stop Me Now" jangled, RZA rode off into the sunset.