Amid Tales of Thug Life, a Wu-Tang Family Reunion @ The Filmore
On “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt II,” the rapper Raekwon plays paranoid, egomaniacal drug dealers: men who can’t give or accept a compliment well. They’ve got work to do, and they’ll praise themselves, thank you, while noting the appearance of a suspicious van in front of the drug den, the anticipated revenge by a rival, the violent flip-out of an associate.
But on Wednesday night at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza, his gig — promoted by the radio station Hot 97 (WQHT FM, 97.1) — was organized around the giving and receiving of compliments.
The new “Cuban Linx” is a sequel as they’re seldom made, in music or film: a full, unapologetic reimmersion into an old state of mind. Its fascinatingly chaotic production and woolly songcraft feels both profoundly out of date and easy to love: upon its release in September on IceH2O/EMI, it went to the top of the iTunes chart for three days.
Backed only by DJ Symphony on turntables and Raekwon’s brother Don P on vocals, the set could have used the energy of the other rappers who invade the album. Raekwon’s set ran to 90 minutes, but it felt here and gone. It included the appearance of a huge cake in the shape of a purple cassette — the original “Cuban Linx” album, from 1995, is commonly called the Purple Tape — and an assortment of friends and business associates, either texting or appearing to smoke weed onstage. Two notable things happened, neither musical.
The songs came fast, one after another, without stagecraft or pacing. The set went back to early tracks by his old collective, the Wu-Tang Clan, touched on “Cuban Linx” Part 1 and settled in for stretches of the new album, including the scabrous, seedy “Gihad” and the imagistic, violent “Surgical Gloves.”
There weren’t as many Wu-Tang Clan cameos as might have been expected, aside from Cappadonna, who rapped verses on “Ice Cream.” But halfway through, another member of the extended Wu family appeared: Cherry Jones, the mother of the Wu-Tang rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who died in 2004. She and Raekwon hugged, without speaking, for nearly a minute. Raekwon praised Dirty and his mother and then performed “Ason Jones,” a tribute to Dirty on the new CD, with some emotional difficulty, his movements creaky, as if he needed oil. (He stopped the song at one point, shaking his head in sorrow, swearing and then collecting himself.)
Near the end — after the duo Capone-N-Noreaga briefly hijacked the set — Busta Rhymes, a longtime Raekwon booster, came onstage to congratulate his friend. Busta Rhymes likes to talk. Ten minutes later he was still there, praising Raekwon’s rhymes and metaphors. Raekwon slumped against the opposite wall, looking humble, grateful and worn out.