It wasn’t supposed to happen. Auckland’s Year of Bad Weather continued apace on Tuesday, cancelling events and causing chaos. But it couldn’t stop the impenetrable force that is Wu-Tang Clan and Nas together.
Fans only found out a handful of hours before that the hip hop legend’s show was going ahead, but a remarkably healthy number still made it to Spark Arena. Watching most of the crowd last night, warm with adulation for Wu-Tang Clan and Nas, it was obvious that an even heavier thunderstorm wouldn’t have stopped them making it to this one.
There’s a reason the co-headlining NY State of Mind tour was nominated for Pollstar’s 2022 Hip Hop Tour of the Year: Wu-Tang Clan and Nas have collated a truly joyous show, an infectious celebration of their packed discographies. They dovetail wonderfully onstage, as if Nas is the long-lost 11th member of Wu-Tang, finally reunited with his rightful group.
And as the members of Wu-Tang Clan make clear throughout the night, there’s a lot to celebrate. The Auckland show coincides with Ghostface Killah’s birthday, and a massive cake with a microphone and the Wu-Tang emblem on it is wheeled out as the show comes to a close. They also proudly remind the crowd that this year marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, and it’s impressive just how much of that time both Wu-Tang Clan and Nas have been involved in the genre; to be at the forefront of an artform for 30 of its 50 years is a staggering achievement.
The history of Wu-Tang Clan and Nas is the history of hip hop, but it’s also the history of New York City. Big screens behind the rappers constantly show visuals of NYC, from instantly iconic skyline views to clips of the city’s grimy subway. They shout out to their hometown several times, always remembering where the music came from even as the NY State of Mind tour has taken them to numerous continents over the past year.
“We’re in an Auckland state of mind,” Nas says happily at one point, and it’s clear just how much fun everyone on stage is having. Champagne is gleefully sprayed at the crowd multiple times; fulsome hugs are exchanged in between almost every track; Wu-Tang Clan bond again and again with their fans through powerful shouts of, “Wu-Tang Forever!”
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For anyone worrying that this tour was an exercise in nostalgia, they need only witness Nas’ performance. If they ever mould a Mount Rushmore of Hip Hop, the Brooklynite would have a stronger claim than most to have his face carved on it. He performs classics from Illmatic – his debut album that turns 30 next year – as if he’s just dreamed up their powerful lyrics on the spot. Midway through the show, the music suddenly ceases, the crowd obediently falls silent, and it’s just Nas and his preternatural spitting, the king holding court.
Wu-Tang Clan don’t have as many serious moments, but they make up for it with an abundance of effortless energy, keeping the crowd involved. “Ol’ Dirty Bastard loved women… where are all the women at?” one member shouts with a laugh, paying odd homage to their former member who passed away in 2004. An extended bit later finds the crowd bellowing at the group to highlight the decade they were born in (judging by the reaction, there are people from the ‘70s right up to some Noughties kids inside Spark Arena), which also serves to highlight the enduring popularity of East Coast hip hop.
The group also performs The Beatles’ “Come Together”, the entire crowd singing the chorus at Wu-Tang’s request. Over The Beatles’ unmistakable concoction of dreamily distorted guitar, shaking tambourines, and tender drums, RZA revelled in the timeless track. Just last week, Ed Sheeran battled a heinous copyright trial that essentially hinged on the fact that the singer had mixed his track, “Thinking Out Loud”, into Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” at a concert once. If Sheeran had lost the copyright case, the music landscape would have been irrevocably changed, artists stoked with more fear than ever, tribalistic ownership allowed to run rampant through an entire artform. Such copyright cases fail to acknowledge that music and its history is one giant, organic entity, everyone inspiring everyone else; or “music is a universal language,” as RZA says staunchly.
As RZA also knows, hip hop was built on the back of wonderful sampling, and just watch it unfold: The Beatles take from the rhythm & blues of Chuck Berry to create “Come Together”, which is memorably covered by Ike & Tina Turner, which is then played at a Wu-Tang Clan show over half a century later. Music will continue to do this for 50 years more if scabrous executives aren’t allowed to nullify creativity.
Will Wu-Tang and Nas ever return to Auckland? Most are now in their 50s – Nas reaches the landmark age this year – and it’s surely only going to get more difficult to tour the world in this way. But it’s “Wu-Tang Forever!”, wherever the group are, and Nas commands the same devotion. Auckland’s Year of Bad Weather can stop many things, but it can’t stop the ecstasy of hearing “Protect Ya Neck”, “C.R.E.A.M”, “The World Is Yours”, and “If I Ruled the World” live for the first time.
Wu-Tang Clan and Nas’ tour now heads to Australia, with dates in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne this week. Ticket information is available here.