I'm not a weed smoker. I quit shortly after I graduated from high school, back in the early '90s, mostly because it gave me "the fear." When my friends passed it around, their uncontrollable laughter was punctuated by moments of contemplating the universe and stuffing heroic amounts of food down their gullets. I, on the other hand, would inevitably slip down a rabbit hole of paranoia, with bloodshot eyes, gripped by anxiety over everything that was wrong in the world, real or imagined. It's just not my thing, and it's nothing that I'd spent any amount of time reconciling until GZA passed me not one, not two, but three gigantic blunts the last time he played a show in Atlanta.
It's true. I'd unwittingly infiltrated a group of dudes who were headed backstage, and one of them was the weed man or, at least, had the weed man's number. My involvement was ridiculous from the beginning. Before heading to the green room, a friend sized me up. "Just hang out," he said. "Look like you're a badass. Cool?"
I could do that. Why I was being enlisted as someone's faux muscle was beyond me, but whatever. Of all the Wu-Tang offshoots, GZA's Liquid Swords was the one album I've always returned to since it arrived in the fall of 1995. Pretty much everyone from Wu-Tang was good for at least an album or two when they branched out on their own paths, but Liquid Swords was different. It was, and remains, both progressive and primitive: "Living In the World Today," "Labels," and "Shadowboxin'" effectively channel the grainy, avant-garde textures of the Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat through the mind of a Brooklyn-based Shaolin warrior as he applies the knowledge gained from a lifetime spent digesting Kung-Fu films, hip-hop, and The Art of War. On Liquid Swords, he synthesizes all of these things through a haunted urban surrealism. Damn straight I wanted to be in the same room as the "Genius."
I fell in line, but there was no ruse. GZA and I hit it off immediately. I hovered in the background while the deal went down and tried to keep my mouth shut. I didn't want to advertise that I was a journalist because I didn't want to bug him out. But it was only a matter of minutes before another musician in the room playfully called me out.
"You're a journalist?" GZA asked. "Who do you write for?"
"Creative Loafing," I replied.
"No kidding? I rapped about you! It's in a song called "Publicity": "I show ya low post MCs, your whole style's we'll feast/Second to get your Word Up then the troops unleash Creative Loafing to the grand opening/With my Raygun scoping ..." he rapped. "I guess you haven't heard that one, it's on the record I did called Beneath the Surface."
I'd heard it, but didn't realize it. Most online lyrics sites list us in the lyrics as "Creative ?low fling?"
While this scenario unfolded, GZA was gutting three blunts, and chopping up the weed into two piles: one, his latest acquisition, and the other from somewhere else. No one had noticed a swarm of termites bustling in the corner until one of them wandered through the flotsam that GZA was scraping together on the table. With the delicate hand of a surgeon, he plucked the tiny trespasser from the drugs, brought it to eye level, and asked, "Who might you be, little brother?" After studying him for a few moments, he took a breath and in one mighty exhale blew the bug into the air. It was then that GZA looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Every living creature on the earth serves a purpose, know what I'm saying?"
A profound silence hung in the room. Nobody spoke until he added, "That must have been like a category six hurricane force wind from his perspective."
Within moments the Genius had expertly assembled three blunts, lit one up, and turned straight toward me. It was the moment of truth: Was I going to look GZA in his eye and explain to him that smoking weed wasn't my thing? Hell no. I took it and inhaled like a pro — again and again and again. It wasn't long before a large man wearing a security shirt entered the room and politely asked us to move the party outside, but not before taking a hit off of the joint himself.
The group had dwindled down to just four of us as we made our way to the loading dock. GZA lit the other two blunts and had them going at the same time — two different brands. He even A-B'd them. "Hit this one," he said. "Now hit this one; you can taste the difference, right? This one is some real shit. But this other one is what they call 'the codircial' (pronounced "cod-er-shul"). That's when they mix the commercial with the dirt weed. It's like comparing pebbles to pearls, but all weed gets you high."
We all agreed, and the conversation wandered through topics ranging from people's deformities, to how Gary Coleman's life was made even more miserable by the fact that he let people get to him, which made him pissed off all the time.
The drugs were not wasted on me. I didn't know that it was possible to be as high as I was, and suddenly, it was show time. Me and GZA hugged it out. He went to the stage, I went into the crowd. The rest of the crew with whom I'd embarked on this adventure had vanished.
Without warning, the sounds of swords slicing through the air and epic Kung-Fu battle grunts and punches were everywhere, and growing louder by the second — samples from Liquid Swords' title track.
The reality of what had just happened was sinking in. I was so stoned. The typically dark concert hall was alive with vibrant colors so animated that I almost convinced myself I was watching a movie — in Technicolor.
I was getting higher by the minute and was now on the verge of having full-blown hallucinations. I lost the ability to speak, and all I could do was bask in the noisy glory of the show. He was under the influence of the same weed that had simultaneously devastated and lit up my mental capacity. His performance was a testament to his superhuman abilities: He tore through a slew of songs, blending Wu-bangers from as far back as "Bring da Ruckus" off Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) to all the highlights from Liquid Swords.
It was while reflecting on all of this the next day that it occurred to me that "the fear" I'd experienced so often in the past wasn't a factor that night. I figured it was due to either a) the sheer volume and quality of marijuana overloading my lightweight system, or that b) the honor of partaking in such a ritual with the man who conceived and delivered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time had overpowered my synapses. Whatever the case, GZA is scheduled to return this weekend as part of A3C's lineup, and he'll be performing Liquid Swords in its entirety. That's pretty intoxicating on it's own, whether I'm hitting the codircial with him or not. I'm still high from the last time he was in town, but I'm down to do it again.
From headliners like Big Boi to West Coasters like Ab-Soul to East Coasters like Freeway to ATL's own Danny!, this fest covers every corner of the hip-hop nation
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Well, this years Music Midtown sucks!
I'm pretty sure he was 19.
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