East Coast hip-hop royalty descended upon the Midwest as Wu-Tang Clan and Nas kicked off their “NY State of Mind Tour” (grab tickets here) at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in St. Louis on Tuesday night (August 30th). The house was packed; lawn tickets were being sold for the same price as a 25-ounce Bud Light at the concession stand, and the strategy paid off. If it wasn’t sold out, the turnout had to have been close to the venue’s 20,000 capacity.
Given that the tour’s namesake is derived from Nas’ legendary Illmatic track, nostalgia was the evening’s leitmotif. The night would lean heavily on material from Nas and Wu-Tang’s classic albums, with both making frequent references to hip-hop’s golden age and those who were there to live it.
“Who here had a hip-hop album on cassette tape?” asked Nas at one point, summing up the concert with a proper IYKYK question. When a younger fan replied in the affirmative, Nas retorted: “You were too young, but thanks for coming.” For all the Millennials and Gen Z kids in attendance — and there were many — this night was for the heads who were blasting beats off boomboxes back in the day.
Wu-Tang Clan were almost in full force: RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, U-God, and Young Dirty Bastard — the son of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard — all appeared at some point (Method Man was noticeably absent). They kicked off the festivities, opening with GZA’s “Liquid Swords” before hitting the best of 36 Chambers: “Bring da Ruckus,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit,” and “C.R.E.A.M.” The crew seamlessly traded verses through each song like it was 1993. Massive video boards behind the stage displayed Shaolin iconography and vintage scenes from New York, further adding to the time-traveling immersion of the performance.
The full concert was cleverly broken up into rotating sets, with Nas appearing at the end of Wu-Tang’s first set donning full camo and a bucket hat — a look not far removed from those seen in the nearby rural towns of Missouri. Backed by two DJs and a live drummer, Nasty Nas held down the stage on his own, also dipping into his bag of classics. Illmatic staples “N.Y. State of Mind” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” were shoe-in crowdpleasers, and he even paid homage to his origins, giving a shout out to Large Professor and Main Source before dropping his guest verse from the latter’s “Live at the Barbeque” — Nas’ first appearance on a record, pre-Illmatic.
A permanent cloud of blunt smoke now lingered in the air as Raekwon returned to the stage. “Where’s my other half at? You know who…” Thus appeared Ghostface Killah, and the dynamic duo ran through “Ice Cream” from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. Ghostface wasn’t enthused by the somewhat sleepy STL audience. “Wake the fuck up,” he admonished before bequeathing the stage to RZA.
Wu-Tang’s formidable producer would introduce the son of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Young Dirty Bastard, who appeared in a splitting image of his father to perform “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Got Your Money.” It was the only moment of dissonance during the concert. Maybe the people up front were just stunned to see and hear YDB look and sound so similar to ODB, because the reaction was tepid. YDB departed the stage before finishing the last verse, and his body language suggested that he’d had enough.
Any negative energy quickly evaporated when Nas came back out, now wearing a far-more New York outfit with the obligatory Mets cap. “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” and “Hate Me Now” highlighted this second set, with drummer Daru Jones stealing the spotlight with a pocketed beat on the latter. Nas would depart after this second performance, but there was one more surprise left in store.
Announced as the support act just days prior, Busta Rhymes and his trusty hype man Spliff Star took the stage, backed by a DJ with two turntables. The most minimal and old-school set of the night, Busta and Spliff finished each others rhymes while actively participating with the crowd. Those in the pit, reserved until now, finally mustered some arm waving and call-and-response interaction. “That’s what’s great about hip-hop, bringing generations together,” Busta said, reflecting on Nas’ comments earlier in the night.
A final Wu-Tang encore of “Triumph” would close out the night, preluding a parking lot nightmare no living soul should suffer (but hey, nobody wanted to leave early). All in all, the show was over by 11:00 p.m. — due in part to the highly optimized and compact flow from set to set. After all, this is the “NY State of Mind” tour. It’s a Tuesday, and we gotta work tomorrow.
Wu-Tang Clan and Nas next play the Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, IN on Thursday, September 1st. Tickets for that show, and for the rest of the tour, are available via Ticketmaster.
Bring da Ruckus
Da Mystery of Chessboxin’
Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit
Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Got Your Money
For Heavens Sake