It was like a scene out of the kung-fu movies that inspired the Wu-Tang Clan: The young swordsman, played by Kid Cudi, surprises the crowd by sauntering out of the shadows and onto the stage, looking to challenge the elder samurai, in this case, Ghostface Killah. After singing two bars of his own "Day 'N' Nite," Cudi tells the DJ to cut the music. Cudi looks to Ghostface and says, "Strawberry," hinting that the two go toe-to-toe on Ghostface's Bulletproof Wallets track. There's a look of bewilderment on Ghost's face; he's surprised by this obscure selection as he digs through his memory banks to recall the verses.
The music starts, Cudi looks ready, like he's recited the song a million times. Ghostface is more concerned about something that's going on at the side of the stage. The verses kick inâ€¦ and Ghostface blows Cudi off the stage, effortlessly spitting out the words as Cudi struggles to keep pace with Tony Starks' fiery delivery, stumbling at the turns while a slight smile on his face concedes victory. Ghostface has won this battle, that's why he's the self-proclaimed Wizard of Poetry.
And that's when the fight really breaks out, literally.
Ghostface Killah took the stage at New York's Hiro Ballroom — itself modeled like a set from a Akira Kurosawa film — at 11:30 p.m. last night, 90 minutes after he was scheduled to perform, but 90 minutes earlier than anyone really expected him to grab the mic. The show was a MySpace gig celebrating Ghost's new album Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, and a half dozen video cameras captured the action. Out of the gate, Ghostface, flanked by his Theodore Unit on both sides, blistered through his verse from "New Wu," the centerpiece track on his fellow Wu member Raekwon's exceptional Only Built For Cuban Linx II, and followed that up with his verse from "Ice Cream," from the original Cuban Linx.
Ghostface next took a trip through his own extensive catalog, ripping through Big Doe Rehab's "We Celebrate," Iron Man's "Fish," Fishscale's "Be Easy," Supreme Clientele's "Nutmeg" and "Ghost Deini" before finally pausing to name check his new disc. After a quick run-through of some his most famous rhymes — notably "4th Chamber" from GZA's Liquid Swords and "C.R.E.A.M." — Ghost was beginning to show signs of wear, the non-stop promotional tour seemingly taking its toll on the prolific rapper. Thankfully, this was when the special guest portion of the night kicked in.
First out was the Wu's U-God, who got the crowd riled up with "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit." With the opening sirens of The Pretty Toney Album's "Run," Ghost came back to life, bringing a desperate energy to his verses that made it seem like he was still being pursued. The other star of "Run," Jadakiss, emerged from backstage and grabbed a mic for his verse. Next out was Redman for "Tonight's da Night," followed by an awesome cameo by Main Source founder Large Professor. However at this point, the stage had become crowded with all of the guests and their respective posses clustering the stage, forming a Molotov cocktail of different New York boroughs that — by the time Cudi finished getting schooled by Ghostface — eventually exploded.
Even during "Strawberry," you could see Ghostface was preoccupied by the shoving going on at the side of the stage. The yelling grew louder during "Not Your Average Girl," and it seemed like all of the MySpace cameras descended on the brewing violence rather than Ghostface's performance. Eventually the stage was cleared of all the combatants, U-God joked "Brooklyn and Staten Island together, you know how it goes," but after Ghostface introduced singer Raheem DeVaughn for the Wizard of Poetry showcase, the fight that had occurred onstage spilled out into the audience. Finally, after five minutes, the situation was pacified, but the energy that had built up during all the cameos had been sucked out of the room and Ghost himself seemed dejected from that point on.
DeVaughn and Ghost performed a pair of Poetry songs, "Do Over" and "Baby." His mind elsewhere, Ghostface encored with two of his best, "Cherchez LeGhost" and "Back Like That," before concluding his set with the obligatory tribute to Ol' Dirty Bastard, "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." After the show's explosive beginning, it wasn't the ending that Ghostface had hoped for, but the performance at the Hiro once again proved, to everyone in the audience and especially Kid Cudi, that Ghostface is still at the top of his game with only occasional signs of slowing down.