Raekwon at First Avenue 11/4/12

Raekwon at First Avenue 11/4/12

First Avenue, Minneapolis
Sunday, November 4, 2012

For the closing of the afterparty of the first annual Twin Cities Sneaker.Art Exchange (TCS.AX) Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon the Chef was the main draw. Still, First Avenue only had maybe 75 people in it Sunday night and Raekwon was clearly surprised by this. It seemed like everyone in attendance was, as well.

He opened what turned out to be an extremely bizarre set with a full-length version of Wu-Tang's first (and likely best known) hit, "C.R.E.A.M." and, as always, it was pretty great to hear -- it's an all-time hip-hop classic -- and was fun to watch just one of the members spit the entire, densely-packed song. Things got a little weird from there though as he ran through the hour-long set without really finishing any of the rest of the songs he started. "Glaciers of Ice" surfaced a few minutes later but like much of what he had to offer just trailed off in the middle, leaving what is usually a fairly affecting song completely lifeless as he quickly moved into "Ice Cream," only to give one of his more popular tracks from 1994's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx the same treatment.

He did much talking to the crowd, often encouraging them to push whatever they were good at as hard as possible. He put it in terms of his own experience as an MC, saying, "People think about gettin' that money too fast. Make the art work first, work hard on it; make it good -- the money will be there; it's waiting."

"Gihad" from 2009's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II was spot-on and one of the highlights of the night, as it was one of the few songs done in full and soon after he paid tribute to the deceased Ol' Dirty Bastard with an ok, but again-truncated version of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," which felt a little strange, all things considered. He threw in a semi-cover of Mobb Deep's "An Eye for An Eye" (he's featured on the studio recording) that had the potential to be great with it's cannon-fire bass and fantastic lyrics but ended up only being about 90 seconds long.

And the rest of the set sort of ambled by in similar fashion and it was quite disappointing, considering the venomous, vivid, street crime and violence-with-a-purpose lyrics for which Raekwon is known. It seemed he didn't want to leave anything out, not to let down the too-small crowd but the way it played out was the wrong way to do it. At the hour mark he proclaimed, "This is going to the last one," as "Black Mozart" made a too-short appearance but then proceed through four songs after it. It was too much to take in in a small timeframe and none it stuck the way it should have -- if at all.

Raekwon routinely makes appearances on Best Rappers of All-Time-type lists, there is rarely one where he isn't comfortably settled in the middle somewhere and is often near the top. None of that really showed on Sunday, though. The set wasn't sloppy but it was incredibly schizophrenic, he ran through 23 songs in roughly 75 minutes and few of them had the acidic bite they should have. Much of his work hits like a sucker-punch in a dimly lit alley but this set felt more like someone repeatedly stepping on your foot.

Critic's Bias: I'm not the world's biggest hip-hop fan and nothing from the genre has really grabbed me for several years, with the exception of locals Doomtree, but I have a deep well of love and respect for Wu-Tang Clan. Though I'll give Raekwon another shot, it was incredibly disappointing to see this.

The Crowd: Almost comically tiny. This could have been held in the Entry and there still would have been room to move around comfortably.

Overheard: "Yo, Raekwon, where you living now?" "Everywhere, man. Your house, I got keys for the front door in the green room!"

Notebook Dump: These two-minute snippets of songs are ridiculous. It makes it seem like he doesn't know what he's doing.

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