The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, and his highly influential production sound, are much too easily taken for granted. You’ve got his Minnie-Ripperton-on-helium tape speeding methods, to which Kanye will forever be indebted; the filthy, resinous 36 Chambers aesthetic that’s informed everyone from MF Doom to Portishead; his prophetic, narrative skits that have irreversibly shaped the dynamics of the hip-hop album.
Even after 20 years in the biz, the Staten Island icon and famed kung-fu fetishist continues to shepherd the hip-hop form in bold, new directions. Expect RZA to reinforce his prestige when he takes the Mezzanine stage this Thursday, with a full live band in tow.
It’s worth noting that, despite his prolificacy, RZA has just one proper solo record under his belt. This makes the prospect of a live show all the more compelling, as his discography offers a seemingly endless diversity of material to cherrypick from. Of course, there’s the Wu-Tang archive, and his productions for colleagues like Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man; his recordings under the Bobby Digital moniker; his wide-ranging collaborative efforts, including work with Nas and System of a Down; his kung-fu-centric soundtrack contributions for the likes of Quentin Tarantino (with whom he also worked on his own upcoming film, The Man With The Iron Fist, directed by RZA and co-written by RZA and Eli Roth) and Jim Jarmusch.
Adding to the mystique, is the relative lack of publicity surrounding the lineup of RZA’s band, and its plans to approach his almost entirely electronic production sound. How will a live drummer approximate the precarious, lo-fi thud of his synthetic beats? How will the melodies and samples be replicated, and on what instrumentation? And, perhaps most intriguingly of all, what effect will live, human interplay have on the loop-based foundations of his recorded output? The addition of a live band to RZA’s domain raises an abundance of tantalizingly unanswerable questions. For those fascinated by musicians pushing themselves into exploratory situations, this live appearance ought to be nothing short of essential.