The RZA, Res, Blu Cantrell and City High braved the rain Tuesday in Harlem to kick off MTV’s VMA Music week with a free concert in Riverbank State Park.
With the rain sputtering then picking back up, Res, who has just replaced Alicia Keys on the Maxwell tour, opened things up. Backed up by a live band, the 23-year-old Philadelphia native sang a few selections from her current LP, Ice King, as well as a soulful cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.”
Using just a DAT, Blu Cantrell performed a short one-two punch set of the dramatic ballad “Till I’m Gone” and her hit, “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!),” as the sun finally decided to show up.
City High raised the energy level by mixing hip-hop with their acclaimed R&B vocal skills. Freestyling over the beat to Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” group member Ryan Toby rhymed about the group’s origins and introduced his partners Robby Pardlo and Claudette Ortiz.
The New Jersey collective, who often hit the stage with a band, opted for a DJ to perform cuts such as “City High Anthem,” “Caramel” and its remix, where Ortiz sings in Spanish.
“We’re representing peace and positivity,” Pardlo said before the group went into its closer, the VMA-nominated “What Would You Do?” As finales often are, this was a highlight with the mostly pre-teen crowd, especially during the breakdown in the song where the group uses a piece of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode.”
The hip-hop vibe was thrust ahead full throttle when the show’s headliner, Wu-Tang Clan’s the RZA, took the stage. Flanked by members of Killarmy and the Black Knights, RZA started off by rhyming his verse to “Duck Seazon” off of the Wu-Tang Forever LP.
“It’s Wu-Tang ni
, ain’t nothing changed ni
, still shame on a ni
…,” the Staten Island MC brashly rhymed on the mic.
He let out the heavy artillery with his verse from the riotous Wu-Tang classic “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit.” Aware of all the child spectators, RZA tried to keep his explicit language to a minimum, eliminating “f
” and chanting “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to buck with” on the chorus.
However, when it was time to transform into his alter ego, Bobby Digital, RZA – who released Digital Bullet under his alias last week – and his crew let the blue language fly during performances of Digital Bullet cuts “Must Be Bobby” and “Domestic Violence Part 2.”
“Your friends ain’t sh-, your wip ain’t sh-, pocketbook ain’t sh-” they chanted on “Domestic Violence” before RZA offered his apologies.
“Pardon our language,” he said to the kids. “But you know your moms and pops be cursin’ too. It’s hip-hop.”
RZA let it be known that not only his rap roots but his entire life’s origins started in Brooklyn, segueing into another Digital Bullet cut, “Brooklyn Babies,” for which he brought the track’s guest star, Masta Killa, onstage.
“A Brooklyn baby I was born up in Kings County/ Seven months before the Queen found me,” RZA rhymed over a synthesized track that gradually sped up and slowed back down as the song progressed.
The set’s finale was RZA’s current single, the Latin-flavored party song “La Rumba.” Method Man, one of the track’s three cameo performers, wasn’t in attendance; the other two, Killa Sin and Beretta, were on hand to lend support to their mentor. Two bikini-clad female dancers joined them onstage.
At the end of the show, RZA stood onstage alone, reiterating that his performance was in fun. “I hope we ain’t offend nobody,” he said. “To all the kids, respect your parents and all that.”
Neither the children nor their parents seemed to mind RZA’s onstage antics, as chants of “Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang!” went out as he exited.
VMA Music Week continues in New York Wednesday (September 5) with a free P.O.D. concert. The actual Video Music Awards emanate from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House on September 6.