Hip Hop Legends Deliver Stellar B.C. Set

Shaolin Soars with Wu-Tang’s West Coast Takeover

Who: The Wu-Tang Clan
Where: PNE, Hastings Park, Vancouver
When: Sat., July 2
Vibe: An homage to the good, old days
Highlight: Young Dirty Bastard helping kids over the barricade and on to the stage.
Next: Aug. 30, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in St. Louis, MO, to kick off the NY State of Mind Tour with Nas.

Less than 24 hours after headlining the nearby Laketown Shakedown festival in Cowichan. BC, seven iconic MCs take to the PNE stage. The Wu-Tang Clan jolt their audience and a pulse surges through the open-air amphitheatre.

After years of mandated isolation — the time between concerts fraught with ecological and political turmoil — gathering this summer to appreciate the legendary group feels something like waking up. And according to RZA, that’s all part of their decades-old mission: “When Wu-Tang sells a million records — that’s a million people that has woke up.”

Under an electric-blue sky, RZA now asks, “What time it get dark in this motherfucka?”

With him on stage are Cappadonna, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Masta Killa, Mathematics, U-God and Young Dirty Bastard (who bears a striking resemblance to his late father); other members sadly couldn’t make it due to travel restrictions. Despite these absences (and some minor audio issues), the Wu-Tang Clan’s chemistry is nothing short of magic.

Fans raise their hands in Ws and thousands of mini-phoenixes bow to these kings of hip hop. We’re welcomed into the Shaolin universe, a liminal space at the intersection of seemingly unrelated concepts: kung fu and hip hop, politics and art, the Five-Percent Nation and the corporeal realities of gang culture.

In this Vancouver amusement park, the Wu-Tang Clan perform songs about Black empowerment to a predominantly white audience (this reviewer/superfan included). The lack of racial diversity in the crowd is hard to miss, and in the docuseries Of Mics and Men, the collective expressed varying opinions on the evolving demographics at their shows.

When 36 Chambers was released nearly three decades ago, the MCs were speaking on frustrations with class entrapment, police brutality and other anti-Black violence. Little has changed in the ways of institutionalized racism since the band’s debut, though cultural appropriation and performative activism may create the illusion of progress.

This music isn’t made for a white audience, and its consumer base should be backing up their enjoyment of Black culture with meaningful and authentic allyship. Is every one of these ticket holders doing the work?

The aforementioned awakening incited by this concert is both political and spiritual in nature. For the duration of the two-hour set, a mass of Vancouverites emphatically sings along to every bar and, through the Wu-Tang Clan’s transcendent words, this community connects.

Our commander and leader for the evening, RZA, puts it aptly: “Music brings us all together.”

While the tranquil Laketown Ranch and Western Canadian lifestyle may seem antithetical to the Wu-Tang way, it’s only fitting that the East Coast group brought the ruckus to B.C. this Canada Day weekend, a national holiday that calls for both disruption and unity.