Raekwon + Slick Rick brought down 170 Russell for a Melbourne first

Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and hip-hop forefather Slick Rick gave a no-frills nostalgia set to a full-house at 170 Russell, betraying their exuberant and lauded storytelling skills.

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Image source: 
Sally Townsend Photography

Slick Rick’s first ever appearance in Melbourne was preceded by a crudely animated compilation of newspaper clippings to get us up to date on the rapper’s innumerable hardships since his late 80’s heyday – incarceration for attempted murder, industry rejection and a constant threat of deportation over his British-American citizenships. Rick’s once-singular brand of hip hop storytelling honed on his classic 1989 LP The Great Adventures of Slick Rick has made him revered beyond reproach, and his lack of material over the last 20 years has solidified its mystique.

The need to sustain this mystique became quickly apparent when the show began. Despite Rick’s wonderfully outlandish gilded blue costume, his bashful performance was of an extreme disparity to his spritely younger self splayed on screens behind him. The overwhelming low frequencies drowned out Rick’s clearly enunciated rap narratives and relegated his distinct voice to a mumble. Large portions of the crowd stood bemused as the mercurial rapper slunk through his late ‘90s tracks ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ and ‘Street Talkin’.

‘La Di Da Di,’ the hugely influential 1985 single with Doug E. Fresh that began Rick’s career, lifted the crowd’s mood. Rick interpolated the lyrics to omit its original misogyny while his golden grin immediately charged into a shocking freestyle over DJ KAOS’s beatboxing, in a moment of rare dynamism. Because of Rick’s short and relatively unexamined back catalogue, the set was fleshed out by necessity with some of his features over the years, including the excellent but fleeting verse on Mos Def’s ‘Auditorium’.

Sadly, the rest of his set fell short of the brazen excitement captured in these tracks. Rick used the hyper-graphic screens behind him as a bizarre crutch while remaining static on stage. The closing track and stone-cold classic ‘Children's Story’ was reduced to squelchy boom-bap only discernible halfway through its grind.

When Raekwon emerged, his Wu-Tang honed energy was an immediate contrast; brash rhymes and surgically precise movement made the mere five-year age gap between Raekwon and Rick appear far greater. Raekwon is a storyteller – just like his predecessor – yet his rhymes are far more vitriolic and sinister, chronicling grim urban epics without a cartoonish turn in sight.

Raekwon comfortably tore through a few tracks from his latest record, The Wild, before forgetting his extensive seven-album solo catalogue to focus on his epochal debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…and a slap-dash medley of the Wu-Tang Clan’s unbeatable Enter the 36 Chambers. Raekwon delivered a single verse off some of the Clan’s biggest hits; ‘Da Mysteries of Chessboxin’, ‘Protect Ya Neck’ and ‘Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta F’ Wit’  to momentarily drive the crowd rabid before bringing them down again with ponderous ad libs on the early days of New York rap. A tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s memory resulted in a riotous rendition of ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’, the crowd’s almost scary zeal making up for ODB’s demented spirit.

“25 years and so many great records...tryna’ condense it into 58 minutes for y’all,” Raekwon mused. Since 2000, the Wu-Tang Clan has continually tried to recapture the collective energy of the ‘90s, when they seemed near unstoppable. The death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and strained relations between members has made shows like these a contrived restaging, rather than an insatiable drive under the anarchic yellow ‘W’.

Highlight: ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’.

Lowlight: Lengthy and dull DJ interludes.

Crowd Favourite: Raekwon’s 36 Chambers medley.