Photograph by Howard Melnyczuk
Like everyone else at the Garage tonight we’re extremely cold but also hopeful that Ghostface Killah is going to bring his hip hop A Game tonight. After we all freeze through an opening set from a near-incoherent troupe of rappers, the supporting crew for the main act takes the stage, and we’re given a rap history lesson, in the form of various hip tracks from the 80s and 90s by the likes of Run DMC and Naughty by Nature. “Y’all too cool to have some fun?” asks Ghostface rhetorically: “There’s a special VIP area in the bathroom for you.”
Sheek Louch, from New York-based D Block, joins Ghostface as the two are currently promoting their new album Wu Block. We are then treated to about an hour and fifteen minutes of mediocre hip hop – the only respite being the occasional interludes when Louch and Ghostface drop rhymes from songs that are not on Wu Block, or shout at the audience about how high they are (“We want to see you smoke some blunts.”) I spend most of the gig trying to figure out if the clouds of marijuana haze sweeping throughout the venue are having any effect on me, and conclude in the end that likely they’re not as the two rappers keep imploring the crowd to “Jump” and “Put their hands up” without providing us with a decent reason to do so.
This is not to say there were no “high” points of the night. Although songs off Wu Block such as ‘Coming for Ya Head’ definitely disappoint, at one point Louch and Killah engage the venue in a group karaoke recitations of ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ by late Wu Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastards and Notorious BIG’s ‘Last Day.’ Although their new material fails to measure up to the quality of the 90s classics, such moments remind us of the good pedigree of the two performers. The clear standout moment of the night is when Ghostface and Louch grab a brave volunteer from the audience to help them rap Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Protect Ya Neck.’ The fan raps ODB old part nearly flawlessly, impressing even Louch and Killah.
In many ways I wonder if I’m perhaps predisposed to challenge every aspect of the show even more because Wu Block are constantly impressing on us throughout the gig that the new album is “a masterpiece” and that we should purchase it immediately. I’ve listened to it; it’s not a masterpiece. It’s an interesting idea. I’m thinking that maybe it’s just me, that perhaps although I’m familiar with the lyrics of ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya,’ I’m just not enough of a hip hop fan to “get it.” But as I’m leaving the gig, I hear the doorman ask a neighbourhood regular what he thought of the show. “It was good,” he responded “but I don’t know – there was something missing.”