RZA Brings Soulful Set To City Winery, NYC 2-18-17

Robert Fitzgerald Diggs – aka Prince Rakeem, Bobby Digital, and most commonly known as RZA – is one of Hip Hop’s most celebrated names. Bouncing around from one location to another as a child, amidst legal run-ins, RZA found a home in music when he and his cousins Gary Grice, aka GZA, and Russell Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, along with other friends, would go on to form the Wu-Tang Clan.

An alliance that would lead to one of the most successful Hip Hop groups of all-time, during a time in the early ’90s when Gangsta Rap ruled the scene, Wu-Tang Clan would make the East Coast leaders once again. A group with many talents, many personalities, at the head of it all was RZA acting as producer on all their records as well as leading rapper. A brand that even those outside the Hip Hop world recognize, a lot has changed since Wu-Tang Clan’s epic 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), but what has not changed is RZA’s undying love for music.

With work outside Wu-Tang Clan, including Horrorcore group Gravediggaz, releasing four solo records, producing other bands, forming record labels, and acting in a list of films, RZA has grown as an artist as well as a person. Along his journey, he has learned his share of life’s lessons, and within that has made a select group of individuals his friends.

Which leads to present day where RZA & Friends made their way to the famed City Winery in New York City on Saturday, February 18th. Dubbed a concert event not to be missed by countless websites, once the doors opened around 10PM, the energy was palpable as fans of all denominations shuffled inside. 

As everyone settled in, the mood was set with red and blue lighting as a DJ spun classic Hip Hop including Lauryn Hill, NAS, Q-Tip, Beastie Boys, DMX, and of course some Wu-Tang Clan. Different than a normal concert experience, the setting was intimate with glowing candles, dim lighting, and lounge-like decor. Then, as the music faded out, the live show began, first with surprise guest Cream.

Wearing a shirt which read G.A.M.E., standing for Global Affiliated Music Entertainment, the talented Cream came out in high spirits ready to pump up the New York City crowd. Expressing he named himself after the classic Wu-Tang Clan track “C.R.E.A.M.,” he busted out some killer tunes including Fat Joe’s “All The Way Up.” 

A brief showcase, the DJ spun some more classic tunes until another guest came onto the stage, Popa Wu, a mentor to the Wu-Tang Clan. The voice fans have heard on the intro of cuts such as “Wu-Tang Forever,” Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman,” as well as Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,” among others, he would introduce Wonder Woman. A Wu-Tang affiliate, Wonder Woman would go on to offer approximately fifteen minutes of music, singing powerfully and making the mood that much more relaxed.

Now well after midnight, RZA’s live band, Stone Mecca, soon came out. A band RZA has worked with for some time now, he describes them as “A modern day example of what heart and soul music is.”

Setting the table for the rest of the night, the band played a cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” soon followed by RZA himself approaching the stage. With a candle in hand, RZA received a round of applauses as he sported a leather jacket, a Punisher t-shirt, and sunglasses, looking to spread love, handing the candle to an audience member up front. Relaxed and ready to go, RZA stated, “This will be an evolved version of my music and I hope you like it.” 

A statement which would brace the crowd for what was ahead, it would be a RZA live performance like no other. Mixing in friendly conversation with fans, he would go on to offer a set that included songs from throughout his career, beginning with “Long Time Coming” before removing his leather jacket to go into beautifully emotional “Don’t Be Afraid To Call My Name,” both songs from 2008’s Digi Snacks. From there, other portions of RZA’s history were put on display with “No Regrets” and 2003’s “The Grunge.” Then, taking it all the way back to 1994, Gravediggaz’s “1-800 Suicide” contained new dynamics and textures with the assistance of a live drummer, bassist, and guitarist.

Well timed and creating a cool mood, RZA continued on sharing music, and even some of his champagne and Grey Goose vodka, with fans. Feeling more like party with friends and family, everyone was deep in the groove as other songs such as “Booby Trap,” “Brooklyn Babies,” “We Pop,” and “Grits” flowed out. Already hitting Digi Snacks, 2001’s Digital Bullet, and 2003’s Birth of a Prince, there was no telling where RZA would go next, but much to everyone’s delight, it was a killer mix of more from Birth of a Prince with songs such as “Fast Cars,” “Drink, Smoke + Fuck,” and moving, melodic “A Day to God is 1,000 Years.” 

More than a retrospective of RZA’s own music, he and his band also sprinkled in some tributes including a majestic rendition of Prince’s “Kiss” performed by backup Vocalist Flower. There was also a splash of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” 2Pac’s “California Love,” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.”

Having everyone laughing, smiling, and having a good time, some would say he saved the best for last when exploding into Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” before Wu-Tang’s “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit,” “Duck Seazon,” “Tearz,” as well as GZA’s “4th Chamber.” Pure ecstasy to any Wu-Tang Clan fan, sadly, the show did come to an end, but not before Popa Wu himself returned to gather fans’ items to be signed by RZA on stage, leaving them with a memory that will last a lifetime. 

Certainly a unique evening, this was not an average Hip Hop show; it was a spiritual-like experience where RZA bared his musical soul to fans. No doubt songs handpicked by RZA himself to perform, it was easy to see he was heavily into each and every one.

As for his band, they were on point with smooth instrumentation and backing vocals that added an extra layer to the music. While the rest of the Wu-Tang family are spread out doing their own thing as well, the entire Wu-Tang Clan will reportedly be performing together at the House of Blues in Anaheim, California on March 17th and then at Governor’s Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island in New York City come June, so prepare for these epic events. 

Photos by: Laura DeSantis-Olsson Photography

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