Liquid Swords is considered by many to be one of the top hip-hop albums of all time (Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The Guardian). Released in 1995, by GZA of Wu-Tang Clan fame, the album quickly found an audience and critical acclaim. Despite the dark subject matter of ‘Liquid Swords’ it stands as a lyrical masterpiece showcasing GZA’s philosophical styling. So it was no wonder that when news hit that GZA would be playing the entire album at The Observatory, the show sold out.
While we waited for GZA five, maybe six, openers performed, I had lost count around three and honestly was enjoying what the DJ was spinning between sets more than the performances themselves. Most of the crowd seemed to feel the same way and literally booed the last opener off stage. It happened to be Wu-Tang Parental Advisory which happens to be a side project under the Wu-Tang umbrella, but no one cared about that, they wanted what they came for, and that was GZA.
So when a voice boomed on the speakers, “What up OC?” it was no surprise that the crowd erupted. They chanted “Wu-Tang” and raised their hands in the air in the shape of a ‘W’ welcoming their philosopher to the stage. The set started just as Liquid Swords does, with a voice-over of a boy telling a story about his father who was a samurai. Once the beat dropped and GZA began rapping, there was no stopping the wave of excitement from the crowd. They rapped EVERY SINGLE lyric right along with GZA.
There was an immediate connection between us and GZA and he seemed to know it and feed off of it. We were showing him what this album meant to us and he was relishing it like a proud father would when his child recites a poem from memory. Some fans formed a pit, a few held up vinyl copies of the album or pictures for GZA to sign. Others recorded every song on their phones, while some instead focused on lighting joints and fading into the music. It didn’t matter what they were doing, everyone, everywhere in the entire place was throwing love at the stage.
GZA kept things moving and even brought Killah Priest up for several songs, holding the mic out to fans to rap parts of other songs. He even requested that fans move so he could walk amongst them down on the floor. It got a little hairy there for a moment when they instead pushed up against him and he said he was “gonna start popping Mother Fuckas in the head” if they didn’t move. They moved. GZA didn’t just stick to Liquid Swords, though. He gave us his most iconic song from Wu-Tang, “Clan in Da Front.” Everyone was rapping along with him hitting a frenzied height for the night.
Liquid Swords, clearly still stands up to all the accolades it received 20 years ago and the noteworthy place of honor it holds in the evolution story of hip-hop. I think it has to do with the cerebral lyrics and story telling of the album that has resonated with fans and what has made it stand up to the test of time. Or maybe it is the way that GZA makes us think about what we are listening to instead of relying on “throw your hands in the air” and repetitively yelling expletives like some performers tend to do. Whatever it is, it really doesn’t matter because GZA is a modern day philosopher, a performer that connects to his audience in way that transcends the physical world…he’s a Genius.
Words: Anne-Marie Schiefer
Photography: Wes Marsala
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