On Saturday, February 25, the bizarre weeklong heatwave in Buffalo finally came to an end as snow blustered across the city. And at the Waiting Room, numerous patrons were wearing Wu-Tang Clan shirts, hats, and one wearing a New York Rangers style jersey, but with Wu-Tang images instead. The smell of weed permeated the air, and the audience on the bottom floor stage was packed from the front stage to where the merchandise stand would normally be. Wu-Tang was certainly representing this evening. And the crowd was here for one of it’s prime members: GZA the Genius.
Born Gary Grice from Brooklyn, New York, the GZA is the cousin of Wu-Tang mastermind RZA. He’s the oldest member of the 9-piece rap group and the only MC who released an album before the Wu-Tang Clan formed. He’s often regarded as having one of the most extensive vocabularies of any MC, which I suppose comes naturally with being in a group with as far ranging rhyme styles as the Wu-Tang Clan. It must come from trying to keep up with everyone else.
GZA wasn’t touring behind a new release. His last solo work was 2008’s Pro Tools, and the last Wu-Tang project was the infamous Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The Genius decided to take the mostly Wu-Tang clad audience on a trip down memory lane, spitting out some of his best-known rhymes from his 90’s glory period.
The majority of the first set of song/excerpts were from the acclaimed Liquid Swords, the album that established where, even if he was solo, GZA was one of the most lyrically adept members of the clan. From the standard hip-hop braggado of “Duel of the Iron Mic,” and “Shadowboxin’,” to the more street-conscious “Gold,” “I Got Ya Back,” and “Living in the World Today,” it’s impressive how GZA can still manage such precise, dense lyrics from albums made 2 decades ago, even as the backing tracks cut out to let the audience chant along some of the iconic lines.
Something else that was prominent throughout the performance was how GZA, in his effort to appeal to the massive Wu-Tang fans there, would rap some of the other MC’s lines, occasionally some songs he had no part in. The DJ said a few times during the set this show was dedicated to the deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard. And as a proper tribute goes, the audience was hectic as the piano line of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” started playing, with them shouting how they “like it raaaaaw.” The same was for when songs from the Wu-Tang’s debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was playing. Aside from “Clan in Da Front,” essentially a GZA solo track, he went through other MC’s verses on “Protect Ya Neck,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin ta F’ Wit,” and “C.R.E.A.M.” (dolla dolla bils y’all!)
During a break in-between songs, GZA asked the crowd where we got the name Buffalo from anyway, out of curiosity. Mainly because he goes through towns with Native American names, of which Buffalo is one such place. GZA then went on a bit where he asked if there were any Trump supporters here (there were none), followed by if there were anti-Trump people there, where the whole crowd responded. He then gave off a “we’re not with you,” before saying how “we’re gonna make America great again our way.”
GZA even jumped into the crowd to do a rendition of “Crash Your Crew,” surrounded by eager fans taking cell phone pics and videos. Some bodyguards came out from backstage in case any fans got a bit too crazy. He also casually signed autographs in the middle of his set, sometimes while still in the middle of rapping. That showed the level of cool and experience GZA gave off.