On Friday, February 16th, hip-hop fans braved icy winter conditions to witness a unique performance at Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall. Wu-Tang Clan members RZA (real name Robert Diggs) and Raekwon (real name Corey Woods) accompanied the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for the night.
The ensemble performed a special rendition of the 1995 project, Only Built for Cuban Linx… RZA’s production, Raekwon’s raps, and the Orchestra’s classical sound were combined for a never-before-seen re-imagination of the critically-acclaimed album.
Wu-Tang: Past, Present, and Future
Since forming in 1992, the East Coast collective Wu-Tang Clan has been one of the most dominant groups in hip-hop. Rising to prominence with their collective and solo albums in the 1990s and 2000s, the group and individual members have crafted a strong brand that resonates with hip-hop fans to this day.
Last year, the collective co-headlined an extensive tour with fellow East Coast legend Nas (who will also be performing with the Colorado Symphony later this year). Additionally, the group stopped by Colorado in September for a pair of shows in Denver and Dillon in addition to a Las Vegas residency this upcoming March. Four decades into their careers, Wu-Tang Clan shows no signs of slowing down!
Wu-Tang and the Colorado Symphony
Throughout their prolific career, Wu-Tang members have found innovative ways to perform music from their extensive discography. Examples include performances with diverse musical configurations such as live bands and orchestras. Other shows have also been focused around specific members and albums.
On a similar note, the world-famous Colorado Symphony is known for their collaborations with musicians outside the sphere of classical music. The Colorado Symphony has teamed up with musicians of a various genres to bring unique performances to Colorado audiences.
It makes perfect sense that both groups would partner up and merge the worlds of classical music and hip-hop. In 2021, Wu-Tang Clan and the Colorado Symphony joined forces at Red Rocks Amphitheatre for a historic night that included distinctive arrangements of hits such as “C.R.E.A.M.“
Last February, Wu-Tang leader RZA reunited with the Colorado Symphony for the premiere of his A Ballet Through Mud production. The musical experience incorporated spoken word, ballet dancers, and orchestral instrumentation into the Wu-Tang universe.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
This time around, RZA and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra were joined by fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon. The focus of the night was the rapper’s 1995 debut studio album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… This was the first time that the album was performed with a live orchestra.
The critically-acclaimed album was Raekwon’s first solo project and was produced by RZA. The content was derived from experiences and situations in the rapper’s life but portrayed in a manner influenced by organized crime and mafioso culture. The album itself is composed like a movie where RZA is the director and Raekwon is the star. The cinematic quality was only enhanced with the inclusion of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (led by resident conductor Christopher Dragon).
The performance followed the album’s track sequence, but the individual song formats varied throughout the night. The orchestra began with instrumental versions of the opening tracks before RZA entered the stage accompanied by an assistant who laid out a display of money stacks. Shortly thereafter, Raekwon made a dramatic entrance donning a shiny, luxurious suit.
Throughout the night, key players weaved on and off the stage. Some songs only featured the orchestra; others had RZA join them on producer duties, providing turntable scratches that aligned perfectly with the classical instruments. At other points, RZA rapped along with Raekwon. The variaton in song structure kept the audience entertained and wondering what would come next.
Although the album contains features from all of the Wu-Tang Clan, no other members were present for this performance. Instead, the special guest was singer Blue Raspberry. Her history with Wu-Tang goes way back to when she was the in-house female vocalist during the first round of solo albums. She took the stage to perform her chorus from the track “Rainy Dayz” and was featured on other songs throughout the night. Her soulful voice added yet another powerful element to the performance.
A Night with The Colorado Symphony
Throughout the night, the strong connection between everyone on stage was palpable. In between songs, RZA and Raekwon shared stories about the making of the album, including their influences and how songs came about. The producer also gave praise to the orchestra for their efforts in learning the music and putting together their renditions of the songs. With the merging of all the different musical components, the group was able to provide an intimate and noteworthy presentation that will be remembered for a long time.