I arrive at Wembley Arena as De La Soul is about to go on stage, and I figure I can catch most of their set, but there’s a vast and slow-moving queue outside the arena, and the length of De La Soul’s set is shorter than the size of the line. This hasn’t been well planned, and I’m disappointed to miss out on one of the three acts I’ve paid a substantial amount of money to see. My disappointment diminishes when I later hear that De La Soul mainly played new music and hardly any of the classics (because of a dispute with their record label). Still, it doesn’t change that this was poor planning by Wembley Arena or me, or perhaps both.
Arriving inside, the stale stench of beer and junk food greets me, and I hurry up the stairs to get inside the arena and away from the smell. Public Enemy, or as they now call themselves, Public Enemy Radio, takes to the stage shortly afterwards, and the excitement is undeniable.
I’m immediately impressed by Chuck D’s vocals – a voice of determination and conviction. It’s a pleasure to hear him rap his way through classics like Don’t Believe the Hype and Fight the Power. Flavor Flav is absent, for, to me, unknown reasons, but though it would have been great to hear the legendary ‘Yeah, booooy’ shoutout, I don’t mind too much that he isn’t there.
Chuck D once said about him, ‘Flavor is the dude who presents disorder…’ There’s nothing disorderly about Public Enemy (Radio) this evening. Considering the current way of the world and how disorderly our current crop of politicians are, it’s a relief to see that at least some people, if not our politicians, can get straight to the point with no fucking around. Chuck D is well-versed in making articulate, well-informed observations of the world in a, dare I say, orderly fashion. Chuck D is the real deal, and with DJ Lord, emcee Jahi and two of the military-clad S1W-dancers (making understated dance moves), Mr D makes sure to show us all who’s the Boss of Rap. Considering the tour’s name, I should maybe name him God of Rap, but I think that’s a bit excessive.
In between the groups, DJ Premier keeps the beat going and gets the arena singing along to hits like Ready or Not (Here I Come). His enthusiasm seems natural, and he feels present, making the rest of us feel present too – what more can you expect from a DJ?
Then it’s time for Wu-Tang Clan, who we already know is without perhaps their most prominent member, Method Man. Why, no one seems to be sure of – something to do with the money? It’s a shame, but there’s no previous performance to compare with for someone who’s never seen them before, so it doesn’t bother me too much. Anyway, there are nine of them, for God’s sake; who can keep track of all of them? Well, I’m going to try.
GZA, RZA, U-God, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck. The son of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard – conveniently named Young Dirty Bastard – is part of the line-up. He sounds uncannily like his old man and is also the most animated group member, jumping into the crowd for Shimmy Shimmy Ya.
Though Wu-Tang Clan (most of them) are definitely in the house, Wu-Tang Clan doesn’t feel as present as DJ Premier or Chuck D. At times; the guys simply stroll around the stage waiting for their turn to dominate the mic.
Maybe that’s just the way it is when you’re that many members of a group, all waiting for their turn to shine, but at times it is a bit underwhelming, and sometimes it looks like chaos in slow motion, almost comical. They sound best when not too many shout into their mics simultaneously, again, a numbers thing. I guess it’s harder to coordinate quality control between nine people than four or five people.
Still, they sound great in spurts, and when they sound great, they sound really great, despite Wembley Arena’s less-than-great sound system. The excellence of their musical catalogue can hardly be disputed, with songs like Protect Ya Neck, C.R.E.A.M., and Clan in Da Front. They also get the crowd singing along, flashing the lights on their mobile phones and waving their hands in the air, yelling the obligatory ‘Shit yeah,’ ‘Hell yeah,’ ‘Fuck yeah’ – standard band-crowd interaction, nevertheless, an interaction that works.
It would have been best to see tonight’s bands in a smaller venue, but when that many people want to see you, what can you do? It would have been preferable if De La Soul could have played all their songs; if the queues outside the venue had been better managed; if Flavor Flav had been there; Method Man, ditto.
Also, I could have done without Wu-Tang Clan’s rendition of Come Together by The Beatles – it didn’t work. But it was a great evening. Seeing these legendary, sell-proclaimed ‘Gods’ of Rap so late in their careers might not be ideal. But if anyone can get away with calling themselves the Gods of Rap, these three groups might very well be the strongest contenders for the title.
De La Soul setlist
Public Enemy setlist
1. My Uzi Weighs a Ton
2. Louder Than a Bomb
3. I Shall Not Be Moved
4. Can’t Truss It
5. Don’t Believe the Hype
6. Rebel Without a Pause
8. Anti-Nigger Machine
9. He Got Game
10. Fight the Power
11. Welcome to the Terrordome
12. Bring the Noise
13. Shut ‘Em Down
14. Black Steel
15. Public Enemy No. 1
16. Harder Than You Think
Wu-Tang Clan setlist
1. Bring Da Ruckus
2. Shame on a Nigga
3. Killa Bees on the Swarm
4. Clan in Da Front
5. Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber
6. Winter Wars (Ghostface Killah song)
7. Can It Be All So Simple
8. Da Mystery of Chessboxin’
9. Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing ta F’ Wit
12. Protect Ya Neck
13. Come Together (The Beatles cover)
15. Duel of the Iron Mic
16. Mary Jane (Rick James cover)
17. Ice Cream (Raekwon song)
18. 4th Chamber (GZA/Genius song)
19. Severe Punishment
20. Glaciers of Ice (Raekwon song)
21. Black Jesus (Ghostface Killah song)
22. ’97 Mentality (Cappadonna song)
23. Love Rap
24. Mathematics Set
25. Mighty Healthy (Ghostface Killah song)
26. The Mexican (GZA/Genius song)
27. ODB Tribute
28. Shimmy Shimmy Ya (Ol’ Dirty Bastard song)
29. Got Your Money (Ol’ Dirty Bastard song)
30. Duel to the Death
32. Gravel Pit
33. Method Man