Ghostface Killah heats up the Varsity

Daniel Corrigan

If it's physically possible to be simultaneously amped and fatigued, Ghostface Killah proved that the former can eventually overcome the latter. Not that you could blame him for spending almost every moment he wasn't holding the mic dabbing at his head with a towel: even though the high today—a staggering 96, matching the year Ironman dropped—had dropped nearly twenty degrees after sundown and made the hourlong wait between door time and entry tolerable, the inside of the Varsity hadn't cooled down nearly as fast. This didn't prevent the customary (and entertaining) b-boy/b-girl circle, but it might've explained why one dude clambered up onto the stage in the middle of the opening DJ's set and tried playing the Rhythm Roots All-Stars' drumkit before being carried out horizontally by a couple security types. (OK, let's say heat + wastedness.) Like a lot of "solo" rap shows, the stage was a lot more crowded than you might expect otherwise, though only part of it was due to Theodore Unit coming in for the typical "I brought my crew" business (and there's worse dudes to shout along with Ghost's lines than Trife da God). The aforementioned Rhythm Roots All-Stars, a latin/funk/reggae group from L.A., provided all the instrumentation for the show and completely killed; hearing them push the aggro funk of "Daytona 500" back a bit towards its smooth Bob James roots or switch briefly into Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" in the middle of "Ice Cream" was more of a startling thrill than most non-Roots-related rap-with-a-live-band moments I've experienced in the last few years. Ghost, meanwhile, compensated for his waning energy—something that wasn't particularly noticeable until a good six or seven songs into his hourlong set—by controlling the whole damn show. He played to the historians in the crowd with his shouts to Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, though he exchanged the infamous "Laffy Taffy" mockery of sets past for a diplomatic you-do-your-thing-I'll-do-mine aside. He brought a dozen women of all shapes and sizes up onto the stage for a mostly-instrumental runthrough of Dawn Penn's reggae classic "No, No, No" and a full-throttle version of "Cherchez LaGhost". He cruised through "Holla" bathed in red light with a beatific smile across his face. He represented the Wu ("C.R.E.A.M.") and the late, lamented Ol' Dirty ("Shimmy Shimmy Ya"). He dropped potential dates for new Wu album 8 Diagrams (September/Octoberish) and his next solo album (November—though he didn't mention if it was long-awaited MF DOOM collab Swift & Changeable). And nearly every phase of his career was represented, from the aforementioned Only Built for Cuban Linx and Ironman tracks to a good selection of stuff from The Pretty Toney Album ("Biscuits"; "Run"), Fishscale ("The Champ") and his masterpiece Supreme Clientele ("Nutmeg"; "Apollo Kids"). The most notable omission? Maybe More Fish's "Outta Town Shit," the storytelling rap where Ghost spits about nearly catching wreck during a dice game up in Minnesota—but that would make it in town shit up here, and up here he caught nothing but love.

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