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Wu-Tang Clan – With Mary J. Blige – Xzibit, Fat Joe Rock Loud Records 25th Anniversary Concert

Wu-Tang Clan Xzibit, Fat Joe Rock
Rachel DiLouie

The early-to-mid-1990s saw the rise of a number of hip-hop labels jockeying to succeed Def Jam as the preeminent rap shop of the day. While Bad Boy, Death Row, No Limit, So So Def and the like were iconic in their own ways, no outfit came as close to Def Jam’s level as Steve Rifkind’s Loud Records.

Other labels resembled crews more than companies, with each act having an overlap in sound or point-of-view — think Bad Boy’s champagne lifestyle or Roc-A-Fella’s hustlers-turned-rappers ethos. This alignment, while powerful, would also often lead to petty disputes that threatened success.

Loud, on the other hand, featured a diverse roster spanning geographical regions, with talent such as the eccentric, kung-fu-loving Wu-Tang Clan, Los Angeles’ boisterous Tha Alkaholiks and Latin rap star Big Pun.

Their common denominator? As Xzibit told the crowd at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night at “The Loud Experience,” which served as the label’s 25th anniversary celebration: “One thing about Loud is you had to be able to spit or you couldn’t get on sh–.”

And spit they did.

The former MTV “Pimp My Ride” star was one of many MCs who inspired the marijuana-smoking, Hennessey-sippin’ crowd to nod their heads vigorously.

Sporting a blue, throwback Kobe Bryant jersey, the Los Angeles transplant delivered a swaggering rendition of his hit “What U See Is What U Get” before easing into his Dr. Dre-infused set. X raced through “What’s the Difference” and “B—h Please” before making way for his breakout single “Paparazzi,” which was dedicated to the late Lakers icon.

The audience, perhaps showing its grey, raised lighters in the air instead of their iPhones to acknowledge the moment.

The lighters went up again during tribute sets to Big Pun and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. Fat Joe and Remy Ma — herself a Loud signee and Pun protégé — led the charge in paying homage to the late Bronx rapper. The pair blazed the stage for “Twinz (Deep Cover 98),” Joe and Pun’s crime-caper cover of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Deep Cover.” Remy earned whistles and howls from the crowd as she nailed Pun’s famous “Dead in the Middle of Italy” tongue-twister rhyme. Later, they were joined by The Beatnuts (signed to Relativity Records before the label folded into Loud), who kicked things up a notch with “Watch Out Now,” the first high-profile appearance for Big Pun on wax. The Lox and Nature also pulled up for “Banned From TV,” with Remy once again covering Pun’s 16.

Mobb Deep’s Havoc brought guests to the party as well, notably Dave East, who was pitch perfect covering Prodigy’s verse on “Shook Ones, Part II,” and Lil Kim, who came out to thunderous applause during “Quiet Storm (Remix).” But the Queensbridge rapper did most of the heavy lifting himself. Havoc delivered full-throated renditions of Mobb favorites “Temperature’s Rising,” “The Learning (Burn)” and “Eye for an Eye (Your Beef is Mines).”

He proved a man of endurance by not only rhyming his own lyrics, but carrying the choruses to each song and he also added hype man duties as he backed Prodigy’s daughter, Fahtasia, who filled in for her father on “Keep it Thoro,” among other records.

DJ Pete Rock served as a bridge for most of the night, backing Xzibit for his set and serving up ‘90s hits in between acts when he wasn’t bringing out guests to highlight the era, from AZ to Sadat X, to a high-wattage performance of “Ruff Ryders Anthem” by DMX.

And true to form, Wu-Tang Clan was unruly, tearing through classics like “Protect Ya Neck” and “Wu Tang Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” before giving way to a solo performance by Method Man and Ol Dirty Bastard’s son, Young Dirty Bastard. Inspektah Dek and Raekwon invoked desperate times with “C.R.E.A.M.”, the track that launched Wu nationwide. RZA then thanked Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind and noted Wu was the first act from the label to go platinum. Mary J. Blige (“All I Need”) and Redman (“Da Rockwilder”) added oomph to the Wu’s already triumphant set. The Radio City house eventually cut the Wu’s microphones off just past midnight, bringing a raucous show to an end.

Earlier in the evening, a pair of less-heralded Loud acts,Tha Alkaholiks and Dead Prez, set the table for the night. Tha Liks spoke of their reverence for New York and what it meant at the time for the city’s fans to support a trio of California musicians, an unlikely bond in the midst of the 1990s coastal feud.

M-1, sans Dead Prez partner stic.man, spoke fondly of his label home for supporting the debut album from the group, an unlikely duo who were local activists with a Trojan horse of an LP that was a Pro-Black manifesto imbued with street-ready rhymes.

“I wanna give nothing but appreciation to Loud Records,” he shouted, ‘not only the executives but to the team — for believing in us.” Those words set the tone for a night of celebration and gratitude.