Last Thursday I saw the legendary Method Man with Inspectah Deck, Mastah Killa and a host of Wu affiliates at the 9:30 club on V St. N.W. This was the third or fourth hip-hop show that I’ve caught at the venue and to be honest, I had some reservations about the $25 cover charge. I’m a fairly seasoned vet when it comes to live hip-hop. My experience has been that the only way to pull it off is to totally and absolutely transfer the stage energy to the audience. There is little live instrumentation in the traditional sense. Two turntables make up the entire rhythm section, so to get the crowd hyped the emcee really has to bring some stage presence. When done right there is no better live music to see; when done wrong, you wonder why you even listen to hip-hop in the first place.
So back to the Method Man show. He is currently on tour to promote his newest release 421: The Day After. I must say it’s a strong album, and there are very few mainstream hip-hop albums released this millennium that I would call ‘strong.’ What can I say; I’m not a huge fan of the synth-dominated dirty south movement that has dominated the radio waves for the last few years. I like the raw, boom-bap, sample-based beats of yesteryear (See: the RZA). And 421 brings back the boom-bap. Well, at least parts of it do.
So with high hopes I entered the club at 10 P.M. After making my way to the bar for a $5 Budweiser (on an intern’s budget…ouch) I reserved my little plot of standing room a few rows back from the stage. The opening act sounded pretty horrible and should never be allowed to grip microphones again. Luckily they did their thing quickly and got the hell off the stage (no offense, fellas). Next up was Mastah Killa. He did a few songs to get the crowd warmed up then turned the mic over to Inspectah Deck, who is actually one of my favorite members of the Wu. Deck did a decent job of building some momentum for the headliner, which seemed to be his goal. He definitely wasn’t out to steal the show.
As Deck’s set came to an end you could sense the crowd (which by this point was beginning to fill out nicely) start to buzz. Suddenly a chant of “MAKE MARIJUANA LEGAL! MAKE MARIJUANA LEGAL!” poured through the speakers. The beat drop and Method Man entered stage left. The energy level instantly quadrupled. He spit the intro verse to his newest album with intensity and the crowd erupted. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s good to see a guy have the same gusto for live performance 15 years into his career. As with any live show, the energy hit peaks and valleys. Strikes and gutters. However you want to say it, Meth put a ton of force into bringing the energy levels up when needed. And the crowd had no choice but to respond. Meth put his physical well-being on the line for the sake of crowd participation. The dude must have stage-dived at least four times (which was funny, although I’m not sure how I feel about being covered in sweaty rapper) and even used the crowd’s hands to walk and stand on. That was something I had never seen before.
At some point the pungent odor of pot smoke became apparent to my sensitive nostrils. If you’ve listened to Method Man before it shouldn’t come as any real surprise that 1) respecting laws and authority figures is not his forte and 2) the dude smokes copious amounts of weed. Now I’m not the type to either condone or impede the use of illegal substances amongst total strangers. Color me indifferent. But it let me know that this was Meth’s show, Meth’s crowd, and for the hour and a half he was on-stage, Meth’s 9:30 Club. At that exact moment and that precise time he was the authority.
At the end Mastah Killa and Inspectah Deck came back to join Meth and they kicked their verses from the classic ‘Triumph’ (which if you don’t know you undoubtedly better ask somebody). What impressed me most was Meth’s dedication to the crowd. On more than one occasion he let us know we paid a boatload of hard-earned money to see him and it was his job to entertain— a job that he took very seriously. In a time of self-serving musicians in both the underground and mainstream of all genres it was refreshing to hear this. He was also adamant about the current state of the music industry. His overall message was that in this era of internet and i-pods, the consumer has more control over the music than ever. Tune out the garbage on the radio (HEY! WHOA! Deep breaths, I’m pretty sure he was talking about commercial radio) and stop letting the record companies dictate what sells. I left in a very good mood and once-again reminded of the reason that I am such a rap nerd.
-Rob Charnley, Performance Today