GZA‘s performance at the Tiny Desk was a rare appearance for the legendary Wu-Tang Clan emcee, in part because he’s notoriously introverted, and because he brought along The Soul Rebels, an eight-piece New Orleans brass ensemble. Once they stepped behind the desk they got right down to business, opening with the sparkling “Living In The World Today,” from GZA’s 1995 solo album Liquid Swords. These 23-year old lyrics and metaphors felt timeless.
GZA continued his onslaught of poetic precision with another beauty from Liquid Swords, “Duel of the Iron Mic.” “I ain’t particular,” he spat, starting to break into a sweat behind the desk. “I bang like vehicular/Homicides on July 4th in Bed-Stuy.” At one point, GZA even channeled his cousin, the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who provided the hook on the original version of the track.
Most rap fans would name RZA as the head of the Wu-Tang Clan. But Wu purists know that GZA, or The Genius, is the crew’s unspoken elder statesman. By the third and final song at the Tiny Desk, driven by unbridled passion and his command of the room, GZA was soaked in sweat as they broke into the title track of Liquid Swords. The Soul Rebels perfectly recreated the track’s seamless horn hits while adding on a bit of their own flare. The cherry on top arrived when GZA used his final minutes to tell the story of how the hook originally came together. In RZA’s basement, smoking and drinking with fellow Wu lyricist Masta Killa, RZA was sold on a routine he, GZA and ODB used to perform as teens. But I’ll leave it to him to tell you all about it in this unforgettable performance.
This set was recorded when The Soul Rebels were in Washington, D.C. for a performance at the 9:30 Club that featured GZA and Talib Kweli. It was one of just a handful of live concerts GZA has done with the group.
- “Living in the World Today”
- “Duel of the Iron Mic”
- “Liquid Swords”
GZA (emcee), Lumar LeBlanc (Drums), Derrick Moss (Drums), Manuel Perkins (Sousaphone), Julian Gosin (Trumpet), Marcus Hubbard (Trumpet), Erion Williams (Saxophone), Corey Peyton (Trombone), Paul Robertson (Trombone)
Producers: Abby O’Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Beck Harlan, Kara Frame, Dani Lyman; Production Assistant: Joshua Bote; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.