Photos by Marco Torres
Rock the Bells Tour feat. Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, Cappadonna, Supernatural & Fat Tony House of Blues August 12, 2011
Near the end of Ghostface and Raekwon's hourlong set, Ghost stood at the edge of the stage like he was about to keel over. The rapper looked around and, with a tide of surprise, wondered why no one brought water bottles onstage.
"Because we drink beer, nigga," Raekwon quipped, and Ghost cracked a half-smile.
He was right to demand water, though. The duo, along with Cappadonna, had just blazed through a dizzying, six-minute rendition of Wu-Tang's "Triumph." And that wasn't even their best showcase.
The Houston stop of Rock the Bells convened wildly cherished New York acts Mobb Deep (Prodigy and Havoc) and frequent collaborators Ghost and Rae at House of Blues. Two pairs for the price of one. The plan was to bring two seminal '90s albums to life, with Mobb Deep performing The Infamous and Rae & Ghost playing Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
Mobb Deep's Havoc (left) and Prodigy
The show peaked early. A crisp opening set by Fat Tony primed the crowd for what was to follow. With Alchemist on the turntables, Mobb Deep stormed the stage to the tune of "The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)." Havoc could have passed for a security guard in his red tee and blue jeans; Prodigy favored his signature bandana, white tee, army jacket, blue and white Adidas, and a scowl that creased his temple like the face of a farmer.
If you've never heard The Infamous, Saturday was not a perfect introduction to the album. For the handful of Mobb Deep followers at House of Blues, however, the set was a gift. It seemed like everyone was a staunch fan. There were groups of people reciting every rhyme and exchanging handshakes. "Survival of the Fittest" sent the crowd surging into the stage barrier.
At one point, Prodigy looked down at the front row with a mix of surprise and concern.
They would go on to perform their classic album The Infamous in its entirety, pausing occasionally to pay obligatory visits to less memorable albums. The final six minutes - "Shook Ones Pt. II" and "Quiet Storm" - was the highlight of the show. The crowd was chanting so loud you could barely hear Hav and P.
Following the Mobb Deep performance directly would have been tough, even for Ghost and Rae. So freestyle specialist Supernatural took to the stage to prep the crowd.
We don't know what Supernatural wanted to be as a child, but we're convinced that he was born to freestyle. In 2006, he set a new Guinness world record for the longest freestyle rap while hosting a Rock the Bells gig in San Bernardino, Calif. He freestyled continuously for nine hours, stopping only to "take a piss and drink some water."
He only lasted 11 minutes onstage Saturday night, but it was 11 minutes of fierce, fresh, focused freestyling. He kept it old-school, incorporating random objects held up by fans. "Pass me a blunt instead of a fuckin' cigarette," he rapped to one fan who held up a cig.
Ice Cream Man: Tony Starks, pre-dehydration
Once Supernat was done toying with the crowd, they started chanting for Wu. Ghostface and Raekwon cheerfully obliged, kicking off their set with "Incarcerated Scarfaces," which features the "Me and the RZA connect" line revisited by Jay-Z and Kanye West on Watch the Throne.
Ice flowing through their veins, the clansmen powered through Only Built 4 Cuban Linx highlights like "Criminology" and "Ice Cream." But where do you go from "Incarcerated Scarfaces" and "Criminology"?
The set started out great, but gradually tapered off as it became more of a Cappadonna showcase than a Rae/Ghost tag-team. Midway, though, they rejuvenated the crowd with "Verbal Intercourse" and "Heaven or Hell." They also played jagged chunks of Wu staples like "C.R.E.A.M." and "Nuthin' ta Fuck Wit," as well as ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya."
Top Chef: Raekwon
Unlike the Mobb Deep set, which was all rapping, no yapping, Ghost took time to interact with the crowd. He narrated his favorite Houston story - the one where Wu-Tang Clan got chased out of Club Faces in the early 90s. It's all love now, he assured the crowd.
"Houston is one of the few spots I feel like I can move to," said Ghost. "My spirit feels like it belongs here." Following the "Triumph" performance and Ghost's request for water, a fan passed him a water bottle.
He smiled, and asked Rae if he had time for one more banger.
Personal Bias: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is No. 3 on our current list of all-time favorite hip-hop albums.
The Crowd: Sausage fest.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I'd love to hit that"
Random Notebook Dump: Supernatural is built for live shows. We'd see every hip-hop concert as long as he's hosting.
The Start of Your Ending Survival of the Fittest Cradle to the Grave Hold You Down (with Alchemist) Speaking So Freely Get Away G.O.D. Pt. III Win or Lose When U Hear The Right Back at You Cra Eye for an Eye It's Mine Got It Twisted Shook Ones Pt. II Quiet Storm
Raekwon & Ghostface:
Incarcerated Scarfaces Criminology Ice Cream Glaciers of Ice Apollo Kids Winter Warz Knowledge God One Blood Cherchez La Ghost CREAM Ain't Nothin' ta Fuck wit Triumph