There are very few rappers – let alone musicians from any genre – that can claim no peak. That is, they will never reach it; they will never pass it. Relevance in rap has always been a contentious issue, so these rare emcees who can never sound dated or tired will always be fascinating to me.
Even high-order emcees like Big Daddy Kane and Jay-Z don’t pump on quality as often as they used to.
Yet when it comes to Nas, the story is different.
Yes, Nas may not enjoy the same allure as he once did when everyone and their dog was discovering Illmatic for the first time. Yet, over the past few years his widely acclaimed King’s Disease trilogy did something completely unexpected. It showed that Nas, over three decades into his career, has not yet reached his peak.
Songs like “Magic”, “Rare” and “Legit” could just as comfortably fit on a tape from the 90s. I just wanted to start this review off by acknowledging how rare that is.
And Nas knows it.
In fact, this was one of the best performances I’ve seen from the Queensbridge rapper. And I’ve been watching Nas live for the past 11 years, having seen him multiple times in various different formats.
And this format. This was unseasonably good.
Not only because it was a Nas concert. But it was co-headline concert with (most of) the almighty Wu-Tang Clan, with both distinct acts performing staggered sets and alternating. This isn’t usual for a concert. Wu Tang would perform some of their set before Nas would come on, then Nas would leave and Wu Tang would come back and so on. In total, Nas split his set into two parts, and Wu Tang split their set into three.
Not only that, but this concert was also unusual in the sense that Aussie fans hardly ever see multiple big-name rappers collaborate on stage together. In America it’s common just because they are all around. All the way down under it virtually never happens.
That’s why we got to witness special moments like Nas and Raekwon on stage together, sandwiching Nas’ first set with “Verbal Intercourse” and “Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)”. Collaboration was most definitely key for the night’s highlights.
It also helps that each and every member of Wu Tang, like Nas, just hasn’t missed a step. Even Ghostface sounded reinvigorated on stage, although his famously off-beat style was underwhelmed and often sounded chaotic against the music, given this wasn’t just DJ Green Lantern playing back tracks. Nas and Wu Tang brought a full band with them.
And Ghostface was the only one that really suffered from this. The drumming, for example, was so intense that you’d get plenty of low-end echoing around the arena. It worked well for the likes of Nas, Raekwon and U-God because they have more rhythm in their flows; they stick to the pocket, whereas Ghostface has such a stream-of-consciousness way of rapping that it would often sound syncopated with the instrumentals.
That wasn’t my only complaint for a concert that had significantly more positives than negatives. Nas, even though he had a band with him neglected to do “One Mic.” That song in particular is Nas’ finest when he has a band backing him and I thought he’d come back on for it after the night-closing “Triumph” rang out, but no dice.
Yet, Nas’ set list was still immensely satisfying. All the Illmatic classics were there, either shortened into a medley or performed in full. Tracks like “Made You Look” (full performance as well) and “You’re Da Man” sounded brilliant when powered by such wild drumming. Even the “Stillmatic” intro sounded lush and was given extra rich detail alongside highlights like “Got Yourself A Gun” and “Live At The BBQ.” Hell, the emcee even went into his commercial bag for a bit with Missy Elliot’s “Hoy Boys” followed up with “Oochie Wally” (yet no “You Owe Me”).
Wu Tang’s set list? Everything a fan could have wanted, minus “Uzi” and “Its Yourz.” Songs like “C.R.E.A.M” and “Protect Ya Neck” were given more than just some extra oomph by the band, they were turned into show-stopping masterpieces. And witnessing the likes of RZA, GZA, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck absolutely chew through their verses was always going to leave any hip hop head with a smile on their face.