Hip-hop, still one of the most dominant forms of music, has now existed for more than 30 years. The genre is filled with pioneers, legends and early innovators as well as plenty of young up-and-coming artists influenced and inspired by the genre’s forefathers. Both the legends and rising stars were represented at the Echoplex on Tuesday night, as rappers Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs opened for GZA, the famous Wu-Tang Clan lyricist.
It took a while for the small club to fill up before Compton native Lamar took the stage. Noticing the somewhat weak crowd, the rapper sarcastically quipped, “I love the intimate shows.” As soon as Lamar demonstrated his rapid-fire flow and confident stage presence, however, his words seemed believable.
Lamar ended his 20-minute set with a guest appearance by promising local rapper Jay Rock. Interestingly enough, this collaboration of rising artists helped improve Lamar’s otherwise relatively average performance.
As Lamar left the stage, the crowd swelled in size. It was a diverse audience filled with everyone from the guys who cheered when Lamar gave a shout-out to his hometown to Echo Park hipsters.
Surprisingly, much of this crowd’s attention was focused on second opener Gibbs. One member of the audience even said he “loves GZA but came to see Freddie Gibbs.”
Gibbs, a Los Angeles resident via Gary, Ind., recently received praise from popular indie music site Pitchfork as well as hip-hop publications including XXL Magazine. The magazine featured Gibbs and Jay Rock on this year’s prestigious “Freshman 10” list, a compilation of newly successful hip-hop artists.
It’s no wonder then that the diverse crowd was impressively enthusiastic about Gibbs’ performance.
On stage, Gibbs was highly energetic, powering through songs off his mixtapes like “Slammin’” and “National Anthem.” While on stage, the rapper was also not shy about expressing his affection for marijuana, even claiming the plant is “the reason [he] moved to L.A.”
With numerous songs about the struggles of living in the harsh ghetto of his Midwestern hometown, it’s likely there were a few other reasons for Gibbs’ move to the West Coast.
After Gibbs left the stage and the wait for GZA drew on, the crowd’s energy began to dwindle.
As soon as the legendary Wu-Tang rhymer emerged from backstage and grabbed the mic, no one cared about the long wait anymore.
Although GZA had a low-key and laid-back stage presence in comparison to his more youthful and energetic opening acts, there was still no question that the MC is a veteran performer. He remained calm and collected yet captivating and commanding. After maintaining an influential presence in the hip-hop community for nearly 20 years, this is only to be expected by GZA. The rapper could probably simply show up on stage without performing and still be well-received and respected.
GZA, of course, did not just show up — he ran through his prolific catalogue full of complex lyrics impeccably, pausing between songs only briefly. Accompanied by Clan affiliate Killa Priest and members from the group Black Knights, GZA performed Wu-Tang classics such as “Reunited,” among a few others. GZA also performed several classics off his critically acclaimed 1995 album Liquid Swords, including “Duel of the Iron Mic,” “Shadowboxin’” and the crowd-pleasing title track. Plenty of the group’s signature hand “W”s could be seen held high throughout the crowd.
With a mid-set shout-out to fallen Wu-Tang member ODB as well as opening acts Lamar and Gibbs, GZA explained that true legends never really die. After witnessing GZA’s entertaining set filled with classic songs off classic albums, there’s no doubt that GZA will live on as a legend himself.