How many people are going to say no to “guest +1” for a hip-hop show starring M-1 (from Dead Prez) and the legendary Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah? I’m certainly not one of them. Thanks to the generosity of Audible Treats me and my man Dave slid in the door on the guest list, and the Sokol Underground in Omaha was definitely a packed house. I heard of people driving all the way out from Chicago and I can’t say I blame them, I’ve done the same thing in reverse just to see Common and Mos Def rock the house. Despite three day’s growth of facial hair I still got ID’d at the bar (guess I must have a babyface) and wristband on hand I swilled down a cold one as we waited for M-1 to open the show.
To no one’s surprise a lot of unbilled local acts actually went on first instead of M-1. The first artist was named Surreal the MC and the host for the night got virtually no reaction on announcing his name. His stage presence was a bit lacking to boot, as he stood in one spot the entire time while rhyming. The set seemed to be three songs long, and when called upon to freestyle he spit some unimpressive bars on how he was going to “wrap up the mission and clean up the kitchen” which got an apathetic reaction from an unimpressed crowd. He didn’t seem to have a lot of originality in general as he spit to Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” at one point and then did an ear-shatteringly awful rendition of BizMarkie’s “Just a Friend.” I’m not saying Surreal is whack on wax, but on this night live he wasn’t cutting it.
In fact the ones cutting it were CMB and DJ Mills, entertaining the audience on the ones and twos as we patiently waited for M-1 to come on. Just when it seemd like it might actually be time the master of ceremonies introduced ANOTHER local act. I believe their names were Jamize and Mars Black, but I can’t say for sure as they weren’t on the bill and their name was only announced once before they went on stage. They did a quick three song set with songs that from the chorus had to be called “We Runnin Shit,” “Murder His Mind” and “Ya Done Ya Want Some.” The latter was a particularly high-energy rap as both MC’s flowed at a speed even Twista would have found impressive, and on the whole their set was much better received than Surreal. Everybody was getting antsy at this point but our host introduced yet ANOTHER local artist named Bobby Dangerfield, and some cat named Articulate. I went to the bar for another beer.
Thankfully somebody realized the crowd was getting ready to kick a hole in the speakers pull the plug and then jet, because after the typical encouragement to “make some noise” M-1 finally hit the stage accompanied by his homey Omie. The negative energy flowing around the room was quickly reversed as everybody got into a short set from “Turn Off the Radio” including the track set to Black Rob’s “Whoa” and the unheralded underground gem “We Need a Revolution.” M-1’s rhetorhic was well received as he told the Sokol crowd that the U.S. government was on trial tonight, with lots of people shouting back “THEY’RE GUILTY” before M-1 encouraged everyone to buy the new album “Confidential” and launched into more of his tracks, both solo material and his half of raps from Dead Prez tracks with Omie occasionally filling in as Stic.Man. M-1 covered all the bases, going from “Behind Enemy Lines” on “Let’s Get Free” to “Hell Yeah” from “Revolutionary But Gangsta” – the latter being the second best-received song of his whole set save for the Dead Prez classic “Hip-Hop” which the crowd enthusiastically rapped along with.
Along the way his homey Omie got to do a solo cut from his own shit which may have been titled “Let it Echo in Your Heart” and M-1 gave a shoutout to a fellow soldier named Aaron Patterson who he referred to as “captured” instead of jailed. I know of at least one complaint afterwards that M-1’s set was too militant and pro-black, to which I was honestly thinking “What the hell did you expect?” I mean it’s M-1, not P. Diddy. Besides after 20+ years of hearing the white man called everything from “caucasoid devils” to “cave dwellers” I’m pretty well inured to the shit, and M-1 repeatedly told the crowd we were ALL in the struggle together since the government had their thumb on each of us. M-1 clearly had the stamina and enthusiasm to go longer, as he clearly lives up to his own standards for mental and physical fitness from “50 in the Clip,” but as the hour was late and Ghost had yet to hit the stage he reluctantly stepped off the stage. He performed “Till We Get There” to close the set and told us to visit a website I belive was called bussup.com – my attempts to reach it were a dead end and when I tried the spelling “bustup” instead I got something that was either in Chinese or Japanese and couldn’t be read.
Before Ghost hit the stage there was yet another delay, as we had a local freestyle battle which Bobby Dangerfield was definitely on the losing end of. He didn’t suck per se but the crowd was bored and pissed off at one unknown unbilled local after another and they let him have it with boos, which he didn’t take too kindly. Unfortunately again due to the excess number of local (and mostly whack) Omaha groups this meant that Ghost didn’t hit the stage until close to midnight, and on a Monday night that’s bad news. He’d lost half the crowd already due to people leaving who had jobs/school/college classes et cetera the next morning, and on top of that Ghost was clearly pissed off due to the fact between his set and M-1’s somebody fucked up the sound system. He got things started off hot with his verse from GZA’s “4th Chamber” but afterward we were subject to a barrage of complaints from one ticked off MC. He kept stopping mid-song and saying “Yes sir my Lord, ay tell Mike to turn this shit the fuck up! Turn my mic up. My Lord.” Under the right circumstances that might be comical but this wasn’t funny at all. He was upset, the crowd was impatient, it was starting to feel ugly.
Fortunately Ghost finally got mic levels he was satisfied with and the show went on. He ran through a lot of abbreviated versions of songs like “Ice Cream” and “The Juks,” which led me to a revelation I should have known in advance – Ghostface raps so well with others there aren’t nearly as many solo tracks in his catalogue as you’d think. Sure it’s nice to hear “Apollo Kids” but it’s a little bit weird to not have Raekwon the Chef there doing his verse. Ghost seems like he could use at least one guest from the Wu to share his spotlight and make things go smoother; unfortunately he turned things over to Theodore Unit for 5-10 minutes and I don’t think anybody was feeling that. They’re a fine group, don’t get me wrong, but these fans had on their Wu-Wears and were throwing up the W signs for one reason and one reason only – they wanted GHOST. When he came back he asked for audience requests (we yelled out “Daytona 500” and “Camay” as well as “Impossible” among others) but then he teased doing all of them and ended up doing NONE. Was he just fucking with us? Perhaps that’s why he’d hold the mic out and get silence back in return – not doing the shit people wanted to hear and actually knew all of the lyrics to. The only silence thatWAS appropriate was when he had everyone hold up a lighter or a cell phone in memory of ODB, and then did a performance of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” afterwards in tribute.
Trying to keep the crowd happy with Wu tracks led to some weird moments. I know Method Man’s classic “Guns of Navarrone” rap from the Wu classic “Triumph” was performed, but that only seems right if Meth himself is doing it, not Ghost and Theodore Unit. Ghostace got more and more frustrated when he did some old Wu bangers expecting the crowd in the front to rap his verses, but the front rows were mostly skanks who wanted to sleep with a rapper and kids who are way too young to have been hardcore Wu fans back when they first came on the scene. The hardcore heads were in the back drinking beer and trying to stay cool in a hot and crowded club. Largely because of that, the late hour and the fact he was still pissed at the sound man, the set ended fairly early at around 12:40 although he did say he was staying to autograph shirts afterward. It was a good set from M-1 and a dissapointing one from Ghost which I didn’t really feel promoted “Fishscale” well at all. It’s still great to finally see Ghost live but for my money (which was after all free) it was M-1 who stole the show.