When Raekwon released Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… on August 1st, 1995, Wu Tang fans rejoiced. Raekwon perfectly harnessed power of the RZA’s production and Ghostface’s verses, tied together with a cinematic thread of Mafioso crime drama. The album debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts and went gold just two short months later. Twenty years later in 2015, the album has proved itself to be a classic. The sound and flow of album have influenced everything from the classic Jay-Z songs of the 2000’s to the never New York stylings of Joey Badass. And the fans who bought those 1.1M copies of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx still connect to its raw appeal. These devoted fans were out in force for a sold out show at Irving Plaza, where 1995 felt just like yesterday, with the sounds of Raekwon, Ghostface and RZA transcending time as only legends can.
Outside the venue, it seemed like every NYC street team dude from 1995-1999 was in attendance. Lots of daps and hugs were going around as reunions occurred under the Sold Out marquee. Inside, the crowd was decidedly aged up from the typical hip-hop show and skewed heavily male. Like, I was one of 5 girls there. But amongst the 35+ dudes there was plenty of diversity. White, black and brown fans all mingled together in one sneaker-wearing mass, held together by a common love of hip hop.
This love was put to the test when Dillon Cooper, the young opener, took the stage. Although Cooper hailed from Crown Heights, he didn’t seem to have many fans in the crowd. His raps, while technically good, failed to hit home with the crowd. He was faced down by a crowd full of dudes there for one thing – Wu Tang. When he addressed the crowd and said “I wasn’t even born when this album came out, but it influenced me!”, I thought the crowd would turn on him. They didn’t, and his set went on for about 20 minutes too long. While he was out of his element, Cooper put on a solid show that just couldn’t get the crowd energy right.
When a muscular, tank-topped DJ took the state after Cooper’s overdue departure, people were surprised. We were all expecting Mr. Cee and this was not him – instead it was DJ Technician, who would continue to rock the audience for the rest of the show. He played short snippets of some top 90’s records to get everyone in the vibe. The audience delighted in each pick, going straight down the perfect musical rabbit hole.
Then, right on cue, “Striving for Protection,” the classic intro from Cuban Linx, rang out and a smiling Raekwon emerged from backstage. After taking one look at the crowd, Rae observed that there were “real hip hop heads here tonight”. These hip hop heads were in for a treat as Ghostface joined him, and they proceeded to run through classic Cuban Linx cuts like “Ice Cream,” “Ice Water,” “Guillotine (Swords),” “Rainy Dayz” and “Verbal Intercourse,” often finishing each other’s bars for one another as the songs progressed. The audience knew every track, and the energy was flawless.
“Heaven & Hell” was an especially poignant moment. As the last song on the album, this was a song of closure and was slightly melancholy while still being hard as fuck. The audience was instantly given that feeling this is uniquely connected to a record or cd ending, and the physical transference of sound that we seem to have lost with streaming and other seamless services.
The vibe was strong, but it was about to get stronger. DJ Technician stopped the show and announced there was a special guest. RZA jumped onstage to join his Wu-Tang brothers for “Wu-Gambinos”, and everyone went insane. You could feel the historic energy flowing through the place as the sold-out crowd sang along and moved as one, connected by both the power of memory and music. Then, Inspectah Deck jumped on stage to join his Wu-Tang crew for “Triumph”
But the show was only half done. DJ Technician dropped the crashing drums of “Breathe” and Fabolous jumped on stage for his street anthem. This was the right track for the right crowd – everyone was vibing. Fab didn’t overstay his welcome, and after the track he retreated off stage. But this wasn’t the end of the special guests. None other than M.O.P. came on stage to perform the “III Figures Remix” with Raekwon. M.O.P. then jumped into “Ante Up” and the crowd truly went wild.
The show ended with classic Wu-Tang – “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”. The audience happily screamed Meth’s call-to-action “My peoples are you with me where you at? In the front, in the back killer-bees on the attack!” so loudly O.D.B. could hear it from beyond this world.
To call Wu Tang fans devoted is an understatement. They are religious in their commitment to the music and cohesive in their connection to a lifestyle. From all walks of life, they relate to the lyricism. After the show, I saw grown men smiling like teenagers who stole their first beer. The energy of Raekwon and Ghostface together is palpable, and is something rare. When witnessing it, it’s hard not to be infected with the brotherly friendship and creative synergy at play. It’s something you can’t help but want to be apart of, and one night at Irving Plaza, we were.