Tuesday, October 18, 2005

back in the day

i used to be in a rap group...(long, cathartic sigh)...it's not a dark secret, not something i need to hide like those pictures of me dressed up as a girl when i was 2 (another long cathartic sigh)...but most of the time anything that starts of "an italian, an irish guy, and an indian"...usually ends with a punchline where either one or all three die some stupid death over a bottle of booze or a woman...but nope, this one ended with "start a rap group." actually, that might be a funnier punchline than any.
there are those small moments, thrown in between bigger memories of first crushes, family feuds, failed exams, and first loves; the small moments that fill in the spaces in our history and give it shape and color; the taste of your favorite dessert, the color of the sun the first time you saw one rise, the feel of the sand between your toes at the beach, and for me the first time i heard snoop doggy dogg (ne' snoop dogg) slink over the loping, head-thumping bass beat of dre's "nuthin' but a g-thang," like some revisionist southern snake-oil salesman, hoodwinking a whole generation into buying the idea of "gangsta." the difference was that dre and snoop didn't come off as fake like m.c. hammer or outright insulting like vanilla ice...the difference was that i was kind of scared of dre and snoop, and part of me wanted to know more about that fear, to walk into the dark cave and see how deep it went.
so i start to tiptoe into hip-hop around 8th grade. had my mom buy me "the chronic" with my thumb over the "parental advisory" sticker and then promptly denied the clerk's offer of a bag and shoved it into my pocket. then back to the house where i'd put it on my headphones (to avoid being discovered listening to a song called "a n***a wit a gun" by my mother) and listen to it over and over as i tried to picture the los angeles they were talking about, a los angeles a million miles removed from the one i grew up in.

so one thing led to another. i worked my way through everything dr. dre related...n.w.a., solo ice cube...and once that well ran dry i made my way out east, in no way prepared for what waited.
my exposure to rap was at the time limited to what i saw on mtv and heard on the radio, and "yo! mtv raps" was on so late that i could only catch it when i managed to stay up, so east coast rap basically meant ll cool j and public enemy. then i saw a video one night with a bunch of crazy looking dudes (one of them was wearing a fencing mask) on a dilapidated city bus, talking just about the craziest shit i had ever heard, and it seemed like there were 18-25 of them in the group. the wu created a whole different world to rap in;the hard knock life mixed with arcane eastern action film references, mazda mpvs and comic book heroes cohabiting the same verse. based on lyrics like these, no wonder i wanted to be in a rap group. hell, an italian, an irish guy and an indian could talk about comic books, kung-fu flicks, and dorky cars, right? right?
in the years that followed though the wu, like so many other rappers, fell off. the manic, infuriating brilliance of odb fell victim to his lifestyle, method man sold his soul to hollywood and deodorant, and the rza went the "mothersbaugh route" and started to write movie soundtracks. through it all though, ghostface lost the fencing mask, lost the "killah" and, like his superhero moniker 'iron man,' came bursting out from under the rubble of the wu-empire swinging, with one excellent solo album after another.

this brings us to last thursday, where i finally witnessed the reborn ghostface. from going above ground, where i saw him with the rest of the clan in front of too many people in '97, then back underground where he seems much more at home because, to put a spin on what a wise old dirty bastard once said, "wu tang is'nt for the kids."
almost 3 hours into the show, after a promising but somewhat flat set from ghostface's crew (the hilariously named 'theodore unit) and a bizarre, spaced-out performance by cappadonna (who mind you, was making a living driving a cab recently) ghostface finally took the stage, and the reception was thunderous. taking the stage to chants of "ghostface" and with wu-tang "w"'s held proudly in the air, he ripped through an eclectic mix of solo songs and verses from tracks he did on other albums, most notably some classics from raekwon's first album "only built for cuban linx." and as ghostface and the theodore unit traded rhymes and worked the audience into a frenzy, and the kids at the front of the stage held their "w"'s up as long as their arms would let them, as all the white girls shook booty, and 4 chinese guys rapped along with ghostface while 3 black dudes cheered them on; i realized why i wanted to start a rap group in the first place and that the cave i walked into years before led right into the light


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