Last Friday night (November 3) at AMC 34th Street theater in New York City, we had the honor of being on hand for Urbanworld’s special screening of A Wu-Tang Experience: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. There, the iconic NY rap group’s founder and the film’s co-director RZA graced the red carpet before the 7:30 p.m. ET screening, while also participating in a Q&A with his fellow co-director Gerald Barclay afterwards.
When answering a question on the red carpet about creativity, an essential trait needed for the execution of Wu-Tang Clan’s August 2021, 60-piece orchestra-assisted performance, RZA explained that his career experiences conditioned his mind for bright ideas like these.
“Life should inspire creativity,” he said. “So, you know, in the beginning of my career, of course, we were living in the projects and we’d hear the sounds of the projects. You’d hear the sirens in my tracks. Then as time [went] on, I got a chance to travel the world and I’ve been to Rome and Greece and all that, and now you hear orchestration and you hear different things [in my music]. So, as an artist, [you should] let yourself be an antenna to receive the signal, and also to transmit the signal.”
As noted above, A Wu-Tang Experience documents Wu-Tang’s stunning performance at the prestigious Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado two years ago. Along with being joined by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for the show, Wu-Tang’s setlist that night was crafted by RZA to serve as a live score for the 1978 Chinese kung-fu movieThe 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which was projected on stage during the concert.
It’s no surprise RZA chose this film to score, though, considering it inspired the title and approach of Wu-Tang’s 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which turns 30 years old this week (November 9). In fact, A Wu-Tang Experience even notes that the posse had been performing this setlist/score of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin at multiple shows before the Red Rocks appearance, but that the Red Rocks stint required much more preparation because of the orchestra’s inclusion.
“For me, I was fortunate enough to have done a version of this over and over, so I had it all in my brain already,” RZA said during the Q&A. “I just had to translate it to everybody else.”
Overall, A Wu-Tang Experience wonderfully captures the energy of that night, making sure to acknowledge all of the important angles of the story. These include Wu-Tang’s evolution as a group over three decades, their boundary-pushing willingness to merge their sound with classical music, their cult-like fanbases’ eagerness to catch their Red Rocks set, Young Dirty Bastard filling his late father ODB’s shoes by performing with the group, and much more.
In fact, one of the most pleasant surprises of the doc comes from the interviews with the orchestra members, including their conductor Christopher Dragon. On top of showing tons of respect for hip-hop culture and Wu-Tang, Dragon displays a great deal of excitement and nervousness in preparation for the show.
“Chris and some other people in the orchestra were younger and they grew up [with] hip-hop and they actually love Wu-Tang, love Nas, love [Dr.] Dre and Snoop [Dogg] and all of us,” RZA said in the Q&A. “They were excited to sit there and be able to play with us.”
Another impressive facet of A Wu-Tang Experience is the camera work and editing. Shot with over a dozen different cameras, confirmed by Barclay during the Q&A, the film not only does a great job of capturing the on-stage action of Wu-Tang, but also incorporating behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive interview content as well.
Though it’s unclear when or if this documentary will earn a larger, more accessible public release in the future, its creation does a fantastic job of highlighting the strides hip-hop has made in its half-century existence. Coming out just weeks after the genre celebrated its 50-year anniversary on August 11, A Wu-Tang Experience: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre shows RZA and the gang successfully stepping out of their comfort zones, a concept that has always been a pillar in the hip-hop community.
“At one point, they had to plug into a light pole just to get electricity to do hip-hop,” RZA said.