|© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2004-06-24
There were two choices for top-shelf hip-hop in downtown Minneapolis Monday night.
Many club-goers went for the Twin Cities premiere of the Streets, aka emcee Mike Skinner, a critical sensation whose cool tempered beats and English accent piqued enough interest to sell out the show at the Fine Line Music Café.
But in the Ascot Room at the Quest, hip-hop born of the streets was delivered by Wu Tang alumni Ghostface Killah.
With about 200 devotees chanting lyrics word-for-word from the Staten Island rappers' dense catalog of 11 years, the show seemed a long way from the summer of 1998 when the rapper and his Wu brethren filled arenas co-headlining with Rage Against the Machine.
But while lesser-known rap performers would have let the paltry attendance spoil their mood, Ghostface held back none of the enormous persona that has earned him a cult-like following.
"I didn't have nothing," Ghostface told the crowd before dropping one of his biggest hits, "All That I Got Is You," a coming-of-age story about poverty in the ghetto.
After running through classics from his fashion/food/street life repertoire "Kunckleheadz," "Ice Cream" and "Fish," the enigmatic rapper talked about his religious humility saying, "If it weren't (for) God, none of this would exist. Ninety percent of the day, I'm giving thanks."
The demeanor of the self-proclaimed "Liberace of rap" was uncharacteristically humble. And the man — whose outfits include red leather jackets with zippers and furry orange duck-hunter hats — was dressed down in jeans and an oversized T-shirt. A pendant with a Christ-like figure in a lotus position was the only hint of his usual penchant for dinner plate-sized medallions.
As the Nas-dissing opening rapper Cormega quipped early in the show, "This ain't Chingy," referring to radio-friendly bling-bling dance rap — the antithesis of the show's sweaty underground vibe.
Ghostface's set included a medley of underground Wu classics and tracks from his new "Pretty Tony" album, with rapper Trife filling the supporting emcee role, DJ Allah Mathematics providing dark, mechanistic Wu Tang beats and a crooning member of Ghost's Theodore unit crew doing his best attempt at Nate Dogg.
Emphatic renditions of "Biscuits," "Holla" and the grandiose tune "The Juks," make it clear he is a careerist.
While some say Wu Tang's stars have traded critical praise for fame bought with deodorant commercials and stoner flicks, the creator of words like "illtacular" will continue to appeal to pockets of fans.
Written by Reggie Royston for St. Pauls Pioneer Press