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Wu-Tang Clan at Myth Nightclub (Maplewood, MN)

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Starting midday Saturday afternoon, the Rock The Bells tour stopped in the Twin Cities, playing Maplewood’s Myth rather than the previously scheduled parking lot at the Metrodome. Though the day began early, it wasn’t until late afternoon when I arrived, graciously welcomed to the club by “Free,” the lead track from Pharoahe Monch’s recent release. Not simply owning the stage on his own, the muscle bound MC was accompanied by a strong on-stage cast including a full band, and wildly vibrant backup singers.

Monch dedicated the afternoon’s set to those who were affected by the recent bridge disaster before continuing with “Push” and the title track from Desire, his first release in roughly eight years. The already lively crowd collectively threw their hands in the air as the opening beat of Monch’s 1999 single “Simon Says” rang out; it was from this point out that the bar was set for the rest of the night’s performers.

The night’s MC, Supernatural, took the stage during the changeover, hyping the crowd and eventually covering multiple tracks worth of freestyles. Introducing one song as an exercise he used to do with his brother, Supernatural invited the crowd to hold various items up in the air for him to include in his freestyle. The crowd complied, producing car keys, a pack of Orbitz gum, a Razor cell phone as well as empty bottles and leftover baggies; Supernatural even found himself wrapping his mind around a pair of panties and a walking cane that were offered to him. Concluding the intermission with “The Three MCs,” Supernatural described, “every time I turn around I’m gonna be a different MC.” And almost to perfection he backup up his words, verse one channeling Slick Rick, verse two Busta Rhymes and as an encore – Biggie Smalls.

Following Supernatural’s intermission was Chicago’s Talib Kweli, who almost immediately introduced a freestyle of his own that included a shout out to The Electric Fetus; the record store where he had played a packed in-store performance the night before. “How many people listen to hip hop” asked Kweli early in the set. The crowd responded accordingly as cheers almost deafened his next words, “No, how many people really listen to hip hop?” A sentiment echoing Pharoahe Monch’s earlier Nas tease, “is hip hop really dead?” The words would become all the more fitting as Monch would join Kweli on stage shortly after a raging version of Kweli’s Danger Doom contribution “Old School.”

Introducing himself as the MCEO of his new Blacksmith Records label, Kweli welcomed Strong Army Steady on stage for the next track. An obvious crowd favorite, Kweli ran through a number of tracks from his recent album Eardrum, but it was his 2002 single “Get By” that received the most enthusiastic crowd interaction of his entire set.

After another brief Supernatural-lead intermission, the lights dimmed as one of the night’s most prestigious performers dawned his lone spot on the stage. Nas immediately opened up with “Hip Hop is Dead,” a fitting track considering such a line-up as that of Saturday’s Rock The Bells.

Only one of many crowd teasers, the introduction for “Ether” rang out before Nas continued with “Black Republican.” Continuing his single-heavy set with “If I Ruled the World,” Nas went on to light up the crowd with the James Brown sampled “Get Down.” The track, which thematically plays on violent overtones, was emphasized by Nas’ announcement “this is the shit that Bill O’Reilly don’t understand” (in reference to the recent negative press focused at Nas by O’Reilly over his playing a Virginia Tech benefit show).

Continuing with “One Mic,” Nas went on rile the crowd with “Hate Me Now,” inducing a crowd-wide protest, “put your middle fingers up in the air – fuck the world” he repeated throughout the track. Ultimately however, Nas’ set came down to his parting thoughts, wishing the crowd “peace and love” before he exited the stage following “Made You Look.” And for as much heat Nas has received from seemingly all sides the past few years (including my own skeptical criticism) he stood strong in his set demonstrating his poetry and solidifying the his initial point that hip hop is far from lifeless.

The stage was quickly darkened as the crew began unveiling various risers yielding drums, guitars and a keyboard set up. Replacing the previously draped Rock The Bells banner was a R.I.P. O.D.B. banner, much to the crowd’s delight. As the stage set up a rumor spread throughout the crowd that the group would be late in showing up to the show. But almost on cue, Method Man was heard checking his microphone in the background; Wu-Tang had arrived.

Entering to a crowd full of Ws the group broke into a variety of classics, newer tracks and solo tracks, Wu-Tang Clan were as much hype as they were delivery – each member moving about the heavily populated stage adding to each track amidst ongoing microphone problems. Following a Cappadonna-heavy track from Ghostface Killah’s classic Ironman, the group blazed through GZA’s “Liquid Swords” and eventually touching on tracks by RZA, Method Man and of course, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Introducing ODB’s son, Method Man lead the group in renditions of both “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” eventually going on to share a moment with the crowd as Pharoahe Monch did earlier, dedicating the performance to the memory of those lost in the bridge disaster, ODB, and those who could no longer be with us. Far from sedate during the night’s performance Wu-Tang killed with the classics “Protect Ya Neck,” “C.R.E.A.M.” and “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man.”

Throughout the entire performance Method Man served as hype-man, interacting with the crowd and even venturing into the pit on numerous occasions. It was early in the set when, during Meth’s “Bring The Pain,” when he walked out on a barricade and eventually crowd surfed back to the stage. Maintaining the same level of energy throughout the set, it was during the previously mentioned “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” that Meth walked right into the crowd, performing some fifty feet away from the stage. He would later pull an Iggy Pop during “Da Rockwilder,” standing on the crowd’s willing base of extended hands; later recalling from the stage, “That’s Wu-Tang shit, if anyone else tries that…drop ‘em.”

Before closing the set The RZA introduced System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian who had been crudely bopping about the stage in his Slayer shirt throughout the entire set recording the show with his video camera. Odadjian joined in on his bass as Wu-Tang lit up GZA’s “4th Chamber,” one of the many classics from his Liquid Swords LP. Closing with the highly anticipated “Triumph” and “Gravel Pit” the group announced that it was “Tony Starks’ birthday” and touted free Cristal to those who joined them at the after party.

Rock The Bells – represent + respect + recognize: a world class hip hop platform. With emphasis on intellectually-based lyrics, free thought and a focus on circumventing the radio to find powerful music , the festival’s mission statement proved a legitimate insight into each and every act’s performance; Rock The Bells was not to be missed.