Ever since first working together on Ghostface Killah’s remarkable FishScale album in 2006, the rap world has been waiting patiently for the promised album by the duo now known as DoomStarks, being Ghostface and DOOM (formerly MF Doom).
Despite the six years that have passed, the release of a track attributed to the pair last year raised hopes that the collaboration between two of hip-hop’s most eccentric and interesting figures, both having managed to straddle a line between the mainstream and underground cultures throughout their careers, might yet eventuate.
Now it is 2012, almost mid-year, definitely end of the week, getting close to nine o’clock, and we are standing at The Forum, watching Ceicmate and Newsense warm up the crowd on the last night of the DoomStarks Australian tour, promoted by Rap City.
Ceicmate and Newsense do a decent job in warming up the crowd, and, while a muddy mix makes their lyrics almost impossible to decipher, the production is strong and their DJ’s cutting skills are quite impressive. Soon enough they are given the sign to finish up and Obese veteran Reason announces that DOOM will be the next to grace the stage, followed by Chino XL.
A wave of confusion ripples through the crowd. Wasn’t this DOOM’s show? Why would he be on before the international support? From a man who allegedly sends doppelgangers to interviews, photo shoots and performances, perhaps the unexpected is all part of his eccentric charm.
After a pause, he appears – a squat, bald man with a big belly wearing a plastic mask from a comic book franchise - maybe the most unlikely looking rap star in the world today. The setting for this tour is sparse, a video projection of the rapper’s face plays on the backdrop and he occasionally shuffles to the DJ mixer where his ‘DJ’, a programmable device of some kind, sits.
The same sound problems of a booming bass obscuring the vocals are present throughout DOOM’s set and he keeps the banter to a minimum, performing tracks from throughout his career, “Hoe Cakes”, from Mm..Food, being a standout. Without warning, it seems that the fourty-one year old rapper is being told by sidestage voices his time is up, and after a confusing minute of silence he announces the end of the show and leaves to the sound of a booing Forum.
Almost immediately he bounces back, pronouncing “majority rules!” and kicks into his encore bracket. This obviously feigned device seems kind of silly, but is quickly forgotten as DOOM ends the show with crowd favourites “Rhymes Like Dimes”, from his 1999 debut, Operation: Doomsday, and the CeeLo Green-featuring radio single, "Benzi Box", off 2005’s The Mouse and The Mask.
The night is wearing on by this point, DOOM performed for well over an hour and there are still two acts to go, but despite this attendance remains poor, with the venue remaining at a guess, a little over half full.
Chino XL begins his set unexpectedly whilst walking through the crowd brandishing a wireless microphone before disappearing and emerging onstage. Chino, along with his massive sleeveless muscles and tiny hype-man, takes himself very seriously and reminds us constantly that his lyrics are so intelligent he is basically Rap Shakespeare (sample lyrics: “my word play will astound/I make your mom say wow/ironically mom is the word wow upside down!”).
For every song he performs, there is a spoken word piece to follow, one in particular being so incredibly deep a stool is brought out for him, as if delivering that much knowledge and standing upright would be too much for a mortal man.
After his thirty minutes is up, it is time for the second headliner, and expectations are high following Ghostface’s standout performance with The Wu-Tang Clan last August. The DJ takes the stage first and encourages everyone to raise their ‘Ws’, a request which is happily obliged.
While DOOM had no DJ, Chino XL had a DJ and a hype-man, Ghostface Killah has three, including Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest, and the DJ himself.
Ghostface immediately dips into his back catalogue, delivering selections from such classic albums as Supreme Clientele, FishScale and several of Wu-Tang’s most famous songs.
The sound is obviously much clearer for Ghostface; every word he utters is audible and so is the rest of the mix, but despite the fact that he and the rest of his crew don’t miss a beat, there is a definite lack of energy to the entire performance.
Ghost acknowledges this early on, and asks the lighting person to be more creative and help conjure up some sort of atmosphere, “sometimes I wanna get my Marvin Gaye on”. Later he appeals to the audience, “Ironman, Tony Starks, is asking you to help me, ‘cos y’all are like my batteries right? And I need you to charge me up, don’t let me die!”
Although a shift away from The Espy, which has become the regular spot for touring hip-hop acts to perform, is welcome, the theatre setting does seem like an odd setting for this kind of music, and perhaps is one of the reasons that, despite their efforts, the performers feel quite distant from their audience. Something just isn’t connecting, no matter how enthusiastic the crowd gets or how hard the rappers try, there is an all round lack of energy which is keeping this gig from reaching its aspired heights.
In a bid to engage, Ghost asks who knows the words to The Wu-Tang Clan’s first single, “Protect Ya Neck” and attempts to enlist two would-be emcees to perform Method Man and Ol Dirty Bastard’s verses during the song. This is an entertaining idea, however it takes way too long to pull people out of the crowd and have them recite the verses into Ghostface’s ear before he chooses two young guys, who do an admirable job.
Playing it safe with the short amount of time left, Ghost and co. deliver in quick succession “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing to Fuck Wit”, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, “Fish”, a medley of “Liquid Swords” and “4th Chamber” and “C.R.E.A.M.”
Just as occurred at the Wu show last year, several young women from the front are invited up onstage to dance awkwardly while the hype men gyrate against them as Ghost performs one of his ‘club’ songs. We then wait after the song is finished as each of the girls hugs and takes phone pictures of the rapper.
The intro and GZA’s verse from “Reunited” get an airing before Ghostface announces that they are out of time, and before we can say “encore”, he is marching through the crowd to sell t-shirts at the merch desk and the lights are up.
So Ghostface Killah and DOOM did no songs together, in fact they were probably never in the building at the same time as each other. Was the show any good? Yeah, but not as good as staying at home and listening to the CD. It’s 1AM and my feet hurt.