When I was a writer at AmbrosiaForHeads.com, we used to curate and host an annual tournament-style bracket called Finding The GOAT, where millions of the world’s most dedicated Hip-Hop heads would vote to determine the Greatest Of All-Time (GOAT) in certain categories. During my time there, I got to see the fan-voted tournament lead to the Wu-Tang Clan being crowned the Greatest Hip-Hop Group of All-Time, and Nas go as far as the Final Four of the Greatest MC bracket, ultimately getting out-voted by 2Pac in a tournament that lasted 9 months with over 200 MCs. In our Greatest Albums of All-Time bracket, Nas’ Illmatic was voted the GOAT, with Wu-Tang’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) landing in second. I say all that to say this: it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the N.Y. State Of Mind Tour to be one of the greatest Hip-Hop concert tours of all-time, as we have Hip-Hop’s fan-voted greatest group uniting with one of the Top 5 GOAT MCs, who between them have THE Top 2 greatest Hip-Hop albums of all-time. Real Hip-Hop heads know this shit right here ain’t nuthing ta fuck wit.
Besides the accolades at AmbrosiaForHeads, the legacies of both Wu-Tang and Nas speak for themselves. Before COVID-19, the Wu-Tang Clan celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in epic fashion, uniting for a world tour while unveiling the acclaimed documentary series Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men as well as a TV drama based on their lives, Wu-Tang: An American Saga (season 3 starting this week!). Meanwhile, Nas has been celebrating his acclaimed Illmatic for the better part of the last decade, the album earning prestigious achievements all these years later, such as being inducted into the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry. To add to the greatness that would be blessing the stage, it was announced just days before the tour kicked off that Busta Rhymes would be joining as a special guest. Busta may not have the same accolades as Wu-Tang and Nas, but he is definitely a fitting addition to the tour, being an MC from the same era and with the same longevity who should easily be considered one of the Top 5 greatest live performers of all-time.
For those who love seeing Hip-Hop in its purest form, this tour was going to be absolutely epic. While the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and Busta Rhymes have all done steady touring throughout their multi-decade careers, this tour in particular feels like a culmination of their success, as this show at Budweiser Stage would be the biggest concert venue any of them have performed at while in Toronto. Nas and Busta Rhymes have each performed at Budweiser Stage (formerly Molsen Amphitheater) in the past with RnB co-headliners like Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige, but this show would be different, with a focus on raw, unfiltered Hip-Hop with a more hardcore feel to it. With it only being the fifth stop out of the 25-city tour, there was still a lot of speculation about how the show would unfold.
We got to the venue with plenty of time to check out the merch booth, which had some fly shirts and hoodies made just for this tour, and also limited edition prints with Wu-Tang inspired designs that were unique for each city. We would find our seats as DJ Scratch got the party started by spinning some throwbacks. Scratch had a killer technique on the turntables, some standout moments including when he broke down that hype intro to LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells,” and when he chopped up Eve’s “Let Me Blow Your Mind” to make the beat play the melody from the nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” With the stage set up to look like a park jam in New York City, including park benches, lights, graffiti, and railings along an elevated platform, it would eventually be time to get the show started. The anticipation was high, as we had no idea which artist would be first to bless the stage.
The screens above and around the stage showed more New York imagery, including street signs from Queens and Nas’ logo, but to everyone’s surprise it would be Wu-Tang’s RZA coming out first, getting the crowd to chant along to the “Clan In Da Front” intro – “Wu-Tang Killa Beez, we on a swarm!!”
Similar to how Wu-Tang began their set last time they were in Toronto in 2019, RZA would hype up the crowd as he introduced his fellow Clan members one at a time, giving each one their deserving spotlight. First to follow him would be “the head when [they] form like Voltron,” the GZA, but rather than continue with his verses on “Clan In Da Front,” he would come out to his solo classic “Liquid Swords.” The crowd chanted along to the chorus with GZA as he slayed his verses, then RZA would next bring out Inspectah Deck for the rare Gang Starr collaboration “Above the Clouds,” giving an R.I.P. shoutout to Guru. After Deck killed his classic verse, the DJ would play that iconic John Woo dialogue, “he looks determined without being ruthless,” and we all knew Raekwon The Chef was coming out next to perform “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” The hype built with every new Clan member to come out on stage, as Raekwon rocked his solo classic then asked the crowd if they knew who his partner in rhyme was – everyone cheering knowing that Ghostface Killah was coming out next.
Ghostface brought a ton of energy to the mic as he came out spitting to “Mighty Healthy,” and would be followed by Cappadonna rocking “’97 Mentality.” With half the Clan now on stage, it was time to move away from the solo joints and get into some iconic group tracks from Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). RZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and GZA would perform the opening track off the album, “Bring Da Ruckus,” getting the crowd hyped before bringing out the rest of the Clan members in the building. They would go into “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” which brought out U-God on the first verse, Young Dirty Bastard covering his father Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s verse, and Masta Killa on the closer. The crowd was disappointed at the time to find out that there would be one missing member from the group, Method Man, who’s missed every show on the tour so far. Meth has since confirmed on Instagram Live that there are scheduling conflicts with his prior film obligations, and that he won’t be able to join Wu-Tang on this tour (but he’ll be touring Canada separately with Redman in November!).
*UPDATE: We caught that Method Man & Redman tour too, read our review here!*
Regardless of one of the most popular members missing from the group, Wu-Tang Clan still killed their performance, with Young Dirty Bastard adding a ton of youthful energy to his father’s verses, and RZA popping a bottle of champagne to spray on the crowd as Masta Killa hit the climax of his “Chessboxin'” verse. RZA would then do an emotional performance of his verse from “Tearz,” and GZA would get the crowd chanting along with him to “Clan In Da Front.” As with many Wu-Tang concerts, there is some chaos and disorganization to be expected, as Raekwon would start getting into a speech but would be cut off by a video interlude playing on the screens behind him.
The video would show some more New York imagery, including more of Queens, and this is when Rae and Ghost would bring out Nas to perform the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx classic with them, “Verbal Intercourse.” With this being one of the rare collaborations between Nas and Wu-Tang, it was one of the most anticipated songs to see get performed live on this tour, but the moment was hindered by poor sound mixing – microphone feedback was coming through the speakers and Raekwon couldn’t be heard at all while he was spitting his verse.
After Ghostface salvaged the “Verbal Intercourse” performance with his closing verse, Nas would give props to his fellow co-headliners, shouting out Raekwon’s Purple Factory barbershop where they held a meet-and-greet earlier in the day, and would kick off his own solo set with “The Message.” Being sure not to give the exact same performance as the last time he was here just a couple months ago for Beer Fest, Nas would perform some throwbacks he didn’t get to do last time, including “Got Yourself A Gun” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell.” He would also do some classics he can never leave out, including the first verse from his groovy “Get Down,” and a true New York park jam, “Represent.” Nas’ set would also include some rarities, as he pulled out The Firm joint “Phone Tap,” covering Dr. Dre’s hook before diving back into another Illmatic classic with “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park).” With this being called the N.Y. State of Mind Tour, Nas of course had to perform his song by the same name, delivering one of the most hype performances of the evening with the way he killed his monster verses and flowed over the live drums.
Getting the crowd to shout his name during the DJ breakdown at the end of “N.Y. State of Mind,” Nas would then give another shoutout to the Wu-Tang Clan as the beat from Mobb Deep’s “Eye For A Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)” dropped, and Raekwon joined him on stage to perform the rare collaboration. Despite this being another highly anticipated collab on stage, the moment was hindered yet again with Raekwon’s mic not being turned up for his verse. Rae would power through it though, as his mic eventually got fixed for what became a dope Only Built 4 Cuban Linx session.
Raekwon’s co-star on the album, Ghostface Killah, would join him on stage and they’d both spit verses over Jay-Z’s “Can I Live” beat before rocking several joints off of the classic 1995 album. Rae would perform the deep album cut “Knowledge God” on his own before Ghostface joined in for an energetic performance of “Criminology,” the synergy between the duo shining as they backed each other up. Cappadonna would then join them on stage, getting the ladies in the crowd to slow groove to the flirty classic “Ice Cream.” Ghostface was particularly flashy with a jewel-studded jacket brightening up the stage as he killed all his verses, him and Cappadonna next performing one of my favourites off the album, “Ice Water.”
Following Rae, Ghost and Capp’s Cuban Linx session would be Masta Killa getting the crowd to pump their fists, as he brought out GZA and Inspectah Deck to perform “Duel of the Iron Mic” with him. With GZA and Killa showing mastered synergy between their verses, and Deck killing his standout verse on the song, they would next get into more classics with Raekwon and Inspectah Deck performing “C.R.E.A.M.” RZA would return for an energetic performance of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit,” and U-God would pull out a rarity with “Uzi (Pinky Ring),” although the rest of the Clan didn’t join in after his opening verse. The Clan instead got the crowd to all light up their cell phones for a more mellow moment, getting everyone to wave their arms slowly as Rae and Ghost rocked the classic “Can It Be All So Simple.” They would then take a moment to return the love that Nas gave to them, bigging him up as they brought him back to the stage for another solo set.
Nas took over again with his “Stillmatic Intro,” rapping the opening verse until he got to the line “here’s another classic,” abruptly flipping to his standout single “Hate Me Now” and putting a ton of energy behind his verses. While Nas and Wu-Tang are most known for their work in the ’90s and early 2000’s, Nas made sure to show some love to his newer music released in the 2020’s, performing tracks off his Grammy award-winning album King’s Disease and Grammy nominated King’s Disease II, including “Rare” and “Blue Benz.” He’d then run through a medley of familiar joints, rocking the hook from “Oochie Wally” followed by a verse from “You Owe Me,” getting the ladies to dance. He’d keep this routine going, performing the hook from “Street Dreams” followed by a full performance of “Nas Is Like,” swinging the mic like a batter hitting a homerun out the park between songs. He’d then do the hook from “Wu For The Children” off his latest album, Magic, followed by a full performance of “Halftime.”
While Nas is known to leave a lot of gaps in his lyrics for the fans to shout out for him, touring with the Wu seems to have brought out the competitive spirit in his live performances, as he went acapella for the second verse of “Halftime” and rapped every word himself. Not fucking around at all, Nas brought out the big joints to move the crowd, performing the classic “The World Is Yours” followed by a hype performance of “Made You Look,” giving a shoutout to Queensbridge as the beat flipped to Mobb Deep’s “The Learning (Burn)” for the second verse, then back to the original Salaam Remi production for the third. Nas would then pull out one more big chune to captivate the crowd, teasing the Amerie hook from “Rule,” which transitioned smoothly into his classic Lauryn Hill collab “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That).” As always, the crowd sang along to the classic chorus and rapped along to Nas’ verses.
In another changing of the guard, Nas got the crowd to start a “Wu-Tang!” chant as he shouted out all the individual members of the group, and kept the chant going until eventually RZA joined him on stage. They’d give each other props, bigging up each others’ legacies before RZA gave a speech about uniting all races and got the crowd to sing along to a quick cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” After uniting the crowd, next he’d unite the Clan, bringing the rest of Wu-Tang back out on stage to perform “Reunited,” with GZA rocking the first verse from atop the balcony platform. RZA made mention of the 11pm curfew Budweiser Stage has for all of its concerts, saying the crowd needed to give them energy if they were to go past that. They’d drop the beat for “4th Chamber” for the crowd to jump to, restarting the track to get everyone extra hyped before RZA killed his verse on the track. It would’ve been extra hyped if Ghostface and GZA joined in for their verses on the track, but regardless, having assigned seating on the floor rather than an open mosh pit made it tough for anyone to turn up all the way.
GZA would tease the next segment, rapping a few acapella bars off of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo” before making way for Young Dirty Bastard to take over. YDB would truly shine as he performed covers of his father’s classics, putting all his energy into “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and getting the ladies to groove to the hook for “Got Your Money.” The Clan backed him fully, Ghostface proudly proclaiming that’s his nephew, as YDB effectively captured the spirit, charisma and energy that Ol’ Dirty Bastard used to bring to the table. He’d even cover the intro to “Triumph,” shouting “let’s take it back to seventy niiiine!!” before the rest of the Clan all took turns spitting their verses on the iconic song, RZA popping another bottle of champagne as Raekwon killed the last verse. Being a group that represents pure, authentic Hip-Hop, RZA would then talk about how the foundations of the culture come down to one mic, and the crowd got hyped as we all knew this meant Nas was returning to the stage to perform the classic “One Mic,” with the rest of the Clan backing him.
After a rollercoaster performance that saw Nas’ energy go from yelling to whispering, and everything in between, Wu-Tang and Nas would all say peace to the crowd and leave the stage just before that 11pm curfew. Young Dirty Bastard would return on his own, waving that W hand symbol and hinting at the crowd to get hyped if they wanted an encore, but despite this being a sold-out show, the crowd just didnt show that energy and actually started to clear out instead of chanting for more. I imagine if they really wanted to, Wu-Tang could have paid the fines to break curfew and returned to perform their classic “Protect Ya Neck,” among other classics they missed. On top of that, there was still no mention of Busta Rhymes, who had been performing last at other shows on the tour but never came out in Toronto. One can only imagine what would’ve happened if the crowd actually brought the right energy.
Overall, this was still an epic concert despite a few hiccups. With a track record of excellence, any shortcoming can be seen as a negative, but the fans still got incredible performances by both Wu-Tang and Nas, and got to see the rare collaborations between them on stage. Busta Rhymes and Method Man not showing up was a letdown, as I imagine it would’ve been epic if they performed songs like “What’s Happenin’,” “Grand Finale,” “About Me,” “The Monument,” or “Suicide Bounce,” but we still got plenty of epic joints between the entities that were on stage. Wu-Tang’s set list was incredibly well structured, as they went from select solo joints to introduce each member, to segments highlighting iconic albums like 36 Chambers and Cuban Linx, to other well-placed selections capturing highlights in their discography. Nas’ performance was one of the most energized and focused I’ve seen from him, as you can tell he wanted to come sharp on the mic and not get out-rapped by the Wu-Tang swordsmen.
While there were things left to be desired, the N.Y. State of Mind Tour still lives up to the hype, as Nas and Wu-Tang each command the stage on their own without relying on specific members or extra guests, and seeing them go back and forth and collaborate on stage is truly a monumental display of New York excellence.
Check out this playlist of Nas concert videos from all the times I’ve seen him over the years.
Check out this playlist of Wu-Tang concert videos from all the times I’ve seen them over the years.
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