Witnessing undisputed rap legends live on stage is somewhat of a rarity in Australia. We’ve (surprisingly) managed to get KRS-One, watched in awe as Big Daddy Kane rocked the mic, seen Masta Ace a few times, and we even got Biz Markie and Kurtis Blow once. Once big names through the late 80’s and early 90’s, these are indelible figures in the legacy of the art and even though, with the exception of KRS and Kane, they may not be as impressive live as they once were, watching them take a crowd through their discography is enough to make any hip hop fan proud. The same can be said of Slick Rick, the greatest and most influential storyteller in rap and the latest icon to tour down under.
The Ruler has always benefited from one of the most charismatic and buttery voices in rap, a distinction that has never been replicated in this day and age of “this rapper is the [insert legendary rapper] of this generation”. That in itself was reason enough to get up and see him, and to add value, the gig – thanks to a tour postponement – turned into a double-bill, shared with Wu-Tang’s heaviest hitter, Raekwon.
Golden Era hip hop was of course the order for the night, and all throughout the night the Metro Theatre was pulsing with mostly standard 90’s essentials, like Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones II” and M.O.P’s “Ante Up”. The slow-to-grow older crowd were clearly loving it, nodding in approval each time the DJ would chop it up to the classics.
Raekwon was the first of the two to stomp around the stage, using his considerable presence to take us through solo tracks, both new and old, and a choice selection of Wu-Tang posse cuts. Each of the more prominent Wu-Tang members have been touring individually for decades now, so rocking a crowd comes naturally. And perhaps the best part about seeing them as individual performers is that they are just as capable at spitting out each others verses as their own. As such, when Rae does a track like the set-closing “Triumph” he isn’t skipping over it’s most memorable stanza, morphing into Wu’s beastly Inspectah Deck to lead the crowd in an enthusiastic rap karaoke.
Though the tougher tracks from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (like “Incarcerated Scarfaces” and “Criminology”, the latter flipped halfway over the beat of Cormega’s “Hoody”) were unsurprisingly the stand outs, Rae’s new material proved he is one of but a few still making music that sounds like when he first dropped that immortal solo debut. It helps that his live delivery is powerful enough to push these sharp-edged lyrics out with enough force to really pry open these beats and highlight the visceral backbone that is the core of his style.
Seeing Slick Rick strut from backstage, clutching a gold neckpiece that would have sent shivers down Flava Flav’s spine, was surreal to say the least. As mentioned above, no one could have expected the master emcee would ever tour Australia, but there he was in the flesh, backed by DJ Kaoz who spun us through hit after hit with a few “deep cuts” peppered in between. The problem here was that Slick Rick’s style lives or dies on the texture of his voice, something that is near impossible to convey live without a flawless mix. When he would dial things down to his signature swagger-rich flow, it was too soft; when he would shout into the mic, it was too loud. Rick delivered his songs with an odd switch between the two volumes, which dulled the seamless narratives of his songs. It was no wonder that the set highlight was “La Di Da Di”, DJ Kaos filling on beatbox duties in the absence of Doug E. Fresh, negating the need for a recorded beat.
Fan favourite cuts like “Mona Lisa”, “Street Talkin”, “Children’s Story” and “The Moment I Feared” were imbued with the same confidence that earned Slick Rick critical acclaim during his active days, yet blunted by the aforementioned issue. Rather, his set relied on energy, and the crowd already being familiar enough with these songs to – I guess – mentally fill in the lulls. At least it was a rare treat to get “Frozen” with both Rick and Rae on stage.
Raekwon and Slick Rick played at the Metro Theatre in Sydney on 2nd June 2018.