The Smoker's Club Tour
By Brent Ables | 4 November 2011
We don’t get too many high-profile rap tours out here in Colorado. Ye and Jay aren’t coming anywhere close; Rock the Bells is 2,000 miles in either direction. Lil’ Wayne allegedly performed at someplace called the Comfort Dental Amphitheater a few months back, but I remain unpersuaded that such a place actually exists. But so when I read about the so-called Smoker’s Club Tour rolling through Denver, I gave thanks to the rap gods and prostrated myself before outrageous Ticketmaster service fees. I didn’t know much about the concept behind the tour, but the lineup, which featured Method Man, Big K.R.I.T., and Curren$y as headliners, seemed unbeatable. Two of my very favorite contemporary rappers joining a Wu legend to honor that most benign of hip-hop vices: I may have missed my own Halloween house party, but I couldn’t have chosen a better way to ring in the most un-holy of holidays.
After doing a bit of research in preparation for the show, what I learned about the “concept” behind the Smoker’s Club was that there isn’t one. These guys like smoking weed; they also like rapping. Often, they like to rap about smoking weed. So they decided to go on tour and do both of those things more or less simultaneously. They called it the Smoker’s Club Tour. That’s pretty much it.
The venue for the concert was Denver’s Ogden Theater, which is always serviceable if never especially memorable. The crowd consisted of about 95% white dudes younger than me. Most of them wore hats, some of which even faced forward. I arrived early enough to secure myself a good spot on the second floor level, which I would later be glad about when the mosh pit started below (we’ll get there), and I didn’t move from that spot for the entire 5 1/2 hour duration of the concert.
Well, except once. See, I had had this crazy idea of contacting some of the tour personnel before the show and introducing myself as a member of the press. We Major, after all; it was worth a shot. I didn’t expect a response, but I got two of them from two different people. They told me I was on the “press list,” and to contact a guy named Dutch when I arrived. Exciting, right? I naively began to cultivate fantasies of lounging around and smoking clouds of dope with Curren$y and K.R.I.T.—or, at worst, Smoke DZA and Young Roddy.
When I got to the show, I set about finding my contact. I asked one of the dreaded guys behind the merch table if he knew this Dutch, which he did, and although he seemed thoroughly perplexed by my reason for looking for him, he eventually gave him a call. Soon enough, Dutch himself came along, eyeing me perhaps a bit more suspiciously than the situation warranted. I knew before I said a word exactly how far this was going to go, but I gave him the spiel anyway, subtly hinting at backstage possibilities. His response? “If you want to write about it, then write about it.” And he walked away. So guys, don’t worry: I got permission!
My hopes thoroughly dashed, I returned to my spot. This being Colorado, joints were already being puffed and passed on all sides of me. By the time Payper Trail took the stage to start the show, there was already a considerable cloud of smoke permeating the place, and it would only get thicker and danker as the night progressed. Payper would prove to be the first of many, many openers. I did my journalistic best to keep up, but after about the fifteenth rapper to step forward (seriously), I finally gave up trying to remember all the names. I remember Payper Trail, but probably just because he was the first. Payper didn’t rap so much as tell us things. He told us to put our hands in the air. He told a guy near the front that he had fucked his bitch; she seemed only mildly amused. And towards the end of the show, Payper told us to Follow him on Twitter, like right now; this would be a common theme throughout the night. Many Smartphoners obliged these requests. I had left my broken cell in the glove compartment.
The signal for the real start of the concert was the DJ change: DJ Nectar was replaced by DJ Bombshell, who was. And along with her came the Jets. Corner Boy P was the first representative from Curren$y’s crew to hit the stage, and was soon followed by International Jones and Trademark. I knew these guys; I like these guys. Especially International Jones, who has a deep and soothing but surprisingly nimble flow, and it was the first style to really stand out amongst the endless parade of emcees. They each had little props that contributed to building up a veritable Jet World: Corner Boy P’s name was printed on a mock street corner sign, and Jones had a huge, fake cardboard passport. Said passport was supposed to stand up behind him while he performed, but it kept falling down, much to the consternation of DJ Bombshell.
At some point, Jones told us that Curren$y had a broken ankle, which scared me: did that mean he had stayed home, and wouldn’t appear, and would dash my wounded hopes even further? Sadly, the question seemed all but answered when the Jet boys cleared the stage and Big K.R.I.T. replaced them. But hey, it was Big K.R.I.T.—how much could I complain? I had suspected that K.R.I.T. might have trouble sustaining the show’s energy, but it turned out that he was more than capable of amping up his flow for the occasion, and he amped up the rest of us along with him. He was all smiles for the duration of his entire set, and seemed to be enjoying the hell out of himself. When the “R4 Theme Song” kicked in, he held his hand up and out in front of him in a way that made him look less like an emcee than some kind of prophet. I bought it; right then and there, under the bump of those speakers, I would have followed the guy through the Red Sea.
Then K.R.I.T. finished his too-short set, and things started to get kind of weird. The tour crew started bringing stuff on stage—not props this time, but instead full-size stage backdrops. And a big couch. They seemed to be turning the stage into, like, some guy’s house. We would soon learn that the guy in question was Curren$y. He eventually hobbled out to the stage, took a seat on the couch, and explained that the doctor had told him to stay home and not move around too much. So he had just brought his house with him. Here I had been thinking that a broken ankle would keep Curren$y down, but I had forgotten that this is a rapper whose work ethic and commitment to the Game is pretty much unparalleled. So he did the entire set sitting on the couch with one leg limply hanging to the side, except when he hobbled forward and leaned on Smoke DZA’s shoulder to do “King Kong.” Shit was impressive, to say the least.
Spitta was generous with his selections, pulling at least a few songs from all of his recent albums and mixtapes. He focused on the Pilot Talk (2010) records, which was fine with me; really, anything that allows Curren$y to bust out his dextrous, lithe, absolutely commanding flow is fine with me. As he performed, people started wandering out from backstage to occupy the couch’s vacant spaces, and, to paraphrase Danny Brown, they proceeded to smoke blunt after blunt after blunt. Occasionally someone would pass the joint to Curren$y, but he usually passed it back. (That work ethic again.) The whole scenario was utterly perfect in a way that is hard to express. I mean, here’s a guy whose music very often sounds like it was made by dudes chilling on a couch and smoking weed. And so it was.
And then, finally, came Method Man. DJ Bombshell exited the stage, audibly disappointing many of the males in the audience, and was replaced by none other than long-time Wu associate Allah Mathematics. Meth himself came out soon after. Legendary as he is, it must be said that Method Man has been more or less a non-presence in the rap game for a number of years now. He occasionally shows up to drop smoldering verses on his compadres’ albums—remember “House of Flying Daggers?”—but for the last decade, he’s been better known for his roles on shows like The Wire and Oz. Accordingly, Meth didn’t, like Curren$y and K.R.I.T., have a well of recent material to draw from. Instead, he did what all Wu-Tang members apparently do these days when they perform solo: pick out select verses from their own careers, the careers of fellow Wu members, and the immortal Wu-Tang discography itself, and do just these verses in isolation. So, in Method Man’s case, this means forty seconds of “Do You Really,” and then the first half of “Meth Vs. Chef,” and then just a little bit of “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber.” I have endless love and respect for the Wu-Tang Clan, but frankly, it’s a shitty way to do a concert. Meth sounded great, but I mostly just felt what I felt when I recently saw Raekwon: this guy needs his Clanmates.
What Meth has that Raekwon didn’t have, however, is some serious fucking charisma. The guy was absolutely pumped, doing multiple stage dives and backflips into the crowd, moshing with the people down in front, pacing the stage like an enraged lion, and so on. This energy, combined with the unstoppable force of classics like opener “Release Yo’ Delf” and his eponymous anthem from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993), made it possible to overlook the weaker selections from 4:21… The Day After (2006) as well as the scattershot nature of the set itself. Still, by the end, it was ultimately hard for me to see him as much more than a seasoned, highly accomplished veteran of the rap stage—which he is—whose set came off as rather a lifeless alternative to Curren$y and K.R.I.T., who are, to be fair, two hungry young emcees at the absolute top of their game. If I had seen Meth perform two decades ago, I have no doubt his performance would have blown both of these guys out of the water. On this occasion, however, the night belonged to the students and not the master.
Then Meth said goodnight, threw some t-shirts into the audience, and went backstage. Dazed and sort of cushily numb from the smoke, I made my way back out into the cold autumn night and to my car, already thinking about this feature and trying to come up with some kind of ending—a cheesy pun, maybe—to sum up a show that was both kinda ridiculous and utterly, gloriously immersive at the same time. Then I started my engine and drove back out into the Mile High City.