If you answer the question “Who’s your favorite member of Wu Tang?” with “The GZA” (as New York’s mayor elect Bill De Blasio did last mont in XXL Magazine), you’re affiliating yourself with the Wu’s most senior member, a man who’s formally known as “The Genius.”
In 2013, this is the new “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” game, with most aligning themselves with the boundless creativity of RZA, the ephemeral style of Ghostface Killa, Method Man’s utter coolness, or the frenetic energy of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (may he rest in peace).
But the GZA’s calling cards have always been more subtle (aside from the lyrics, which have earned him the “Genius” moniker); mature in his philosophies and his demeanor, he’s called the group’s “spiritual-head,” who once alluded to a project free of profanity and called cursing in hip-hop “filler which is not needed.”
All of this is why, when GZA took the stage at Velvet Jones on Friday night, he didn’t waste much time posturing. All told, the beginning of his set was pretty lackluster — understandable given the distractedness of the crowd and the technical issues being dealt with by DJ Symphony. But as the set wore on, the music built, and fans began rapping along with the lyrics of Wu-Tang classics and cuts from GZA’s critically acclaimed 1995 output, Liquid Swords. It all eventually came to a head when GZA asked the age of a Wu-Tang-shirt-adorned member of the pit, prompting the following exchange:
“How old are you?”
“19? How long you been listenin’ to the Wu?”
”Like, five years.”
”Since you were 14? This man wasn’t even born when we made this music, and he knows it by heart. That touches me.”
A “family photo” was then taken from the stage, with GZA posing against a wall of fans, and then a call went out into the crowd:
“Who here knows the lyrics to ‘Triumph?’”
The evening ended with one of the Wu’s signature ballads, a tribute to GZA’s fallen comrade and cousin ODB, as the microphone was passed among a handful of the dozen-or-so fans brought up to the stage. GZA stayed afterwards and signed hats and shirts, took pictures, and generally talked story with a fan base who have had to discover his music on their own. It’s the type of intimacy that only happens when an artist and an audience know each other, helped tremendously by the fact that the now 47-year-old GZA clearly knows himself. In overcoming technical issues, communication issues, and a crowd that seemed oblivious early on, the GZA proved to everyone at Velvet Jones on Friday night that he truly is a genius.