Live Review: Gods of Rap @ Manchester Arena
Ever since the announcement that Gods Of Rap - Wu Tang Clan, Public Enemy & De La Soul were set to tour in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their most notorious releases, sold-out performances at some of the UK’s biggest arenas have proven hip-hops longstanding popularity. With the legendary line-up destined to provide an unforgettable night, the anticipation in Manchester on May 11th was high. Hosted on a Saturday night at the 20,000+ capacity Manchester Arena, the rappers shouldn’t have had their work cut out for them. However, at times the night ultimately became testing due to a lack of crowd participation.
DJ Premier was the first famous face to grace the stage, riling up the crowd initially ‘til 7pm with a setlist filled with golden era bangers, from the likes of Dre, Rakim to KRS One. Throughout the warm-up Premier communicated constantly with the crowd, judging reactions and releasing fan favourites to loud responses. During the 30 minute intermissions, DJ Premier took centre stage and inspired the fans with tributes to fallen rap gods, dropping anthems from Phife Dawg, Prodigy, Big L, Guru and more. His energy was a high-point of the entire evening, entertaining the audience from start to finish.
When De La Soul burst on-stage, the crowd roared their appreciation. The music boomed and the emcees took every intermission opportunity to show the audience love. But the response they got back often felt unenthusiastic, with a few pitiful “I say, you say” moments receiving lukewarm receptions. It was as though a majority of the crowd was hearing De La Soul for the first time, judging from the stunned silences whenever the music cut out during their greatest hits. Nonetheless the emcees gave an impassioned performance and continued to receive the fans with gratitude throughout. It was an enlivening setlist filled with feel-good anthems and the crowd responded positively, reflected by the enormous applause as they finished their set. De La definitely brought the soul, but unfortunately Manchester didn’t for the opening set of the night.
Next up stepped Chuck D of Public Enemy, "Get your fists in the sky and get ready for Public Enemy Radio" is his opening line - and for a good reason. Accompanying him is DJ Lord, Jahi and two armour-clad dancers known as S1W, altogether known as Public Enemy Radio - another version of Public Enemy. Notice the absence of hype-man Flavor Flav? The audience did too. The loss was initially hard to swallow yet the emcees still gave an enlivening performance which was entertaining nonetheless. Jumping from track to track with very brief pauses, it was a quickfire performance that was hard to turn away from. The politically charged rhymes continued to strike chords in 2019, intertwining between hard knock boom-bap bangers to more relaxed hip-hop styles. Halfway into the set, the building was 90% packed and the noise reflected the capacity. Taking a rare moment to talk to the crowd, Chuck D called Theresa May “A confused woman” before leading chants of “Fuck Brexit” and “Fuck Donald Trump” to enormous applause. Then in true anti-authority fashion, D launched into the fist-bumping anthem Fight The Power which got everybody moving. Soon after DJ Lord took over the set, providing a masterclass in turntablism which raised the tempo and received a phenomenal response. Towards the end, Chuck D dropped a fast thinking freestyle which exhibited his lyrical finesse. Overall, Public Enemy Radio effectively brought the noise and elated the energy to new extents.
The finale was performed by a full bodied Wu Tang Clan, minus Old Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.) who was aptly replaced by his son, Young Dirty Bastard. Prior to the tour commencing, Method posted a tweet announcing that he wasn’t performing, which gave fans a heads up in advance. The loss of Method Man was another big blow to the evening, however to witness the Wu Tang Clan in the flesh was still worth the ticket price. Before the Wu approached the stage, the crowd collectively chanted “Wu, Tang” with their Wu hand signs as far as the eye could see. This was the set a majority of the audience came for, and at certain points the crowd noise surpassed the sound of the microphones. To begin, Wu launched into Bring The Ruckus, the opening anthem of their 36 Chambers album and almost every audience member recited the words. It kick-started the performance perfectly, before leading into Shame On A Nigga. The set continued almost chronologically through the 36 Chambers album, however the performance was ultimately broken up with famous singles from later releases. The collective strength was awe-striking to witness, the emcees rhymed with passion and purpose, excelling the energy to new extents. There were also moments of disappointment though, the frustration of which was notably reflected by Wu. For example, whilst performing Can It All Be So Simple? the DJ skipped the chorus to let the crowd singalong, yet the silence each time was staggering, as though no-one knew the words or maybe they just couldn’t be bothered. The crowd had to be told, “the energy you give to us, we give back to you” in an attempt to inspire more participation. Although the fans responded with more noise, it was short-lived until more recognisable tunes such as Protect Ya Neck and Gravel Pit pumped from the speakers. A certain highlight was witnessing YDB perform Shimmy Shimmy Ya to tremendous effect, jumping into the crowd and evidently enjoying each second of it. By the end of the sets duration, the expressions and body language between at least half the Wu portrayed a disappointment with the reactions they had received. After saying only few words of gratitude to the audience, much of the audience was already piling out the arena before they had even exited the stage.
What started as a exhilarating nostalgia trip almost ended in an anti-climax. Despite the artists giving their all for the most parts, at times the fans failed to reciprocate the emcees energy enough to inspire a performance of their fullest potential. Nonetheless the sets went off without any hitches, the lyrical renditions were flawless and the DJing was impeccable. It was undeniably an experience of a lifetime, and with news of another Gods Of Rap 2 tour on the horizon we wouldn't skip on a chance to relieve it all over again.
For more Gods Of Rap performance highlights, check out the gallery below.