There’s something profound about returning to your old university union, without the weights of upcoming exams plaguing your mind, to watch a revered rapper return to the stage out from the shadow of his well-loved ensemble. On a night whose central theme is nostalgia, GZA arrives to the stage bringing all the intrigue of the smartest person in school arriving at a reunion. Unfortunately for GZA, as could be said of so many of our student days, his performance is marked by great potential but little motivation. 

Following dynamic performances from UnLearn The World and Glasgow-based rapper Bemz, the crowd is geared up for a lively evening. The pressure is on from the start, as the floors of the Queen Margaret Union are covered by a swarm of hard-core fans, including the self-proclaimed number 1. W-Tang fan. The set begins with an aura of confusion, as the Phunky Nomads take to the stage without GZA for longer than anyone would have anticipated. However, the band is charismatic and plays upon the crowd’s enthusiasm, creating an even greater sense of anticipation for the main event. This only sharpens the disappointment that comes when the Genius takes to the stage with as much interest as a student in a seminar for a class they know they’re going to drop. 

Despite GZA’s apparent disinterest, the audience manages to make the most of his set. The rapper’s elbow can be seen bouncing heavily throughout the venue, though it noticeably dips from time to time. It’s at its most potent during Liquid Swords tracks, luckily those lyrics don’t lose weight even when fighting against complete apathy. The tracks do however lose some lustre amidst the somewhat unnecessary complication of a backing band. Though the Phunky Nomads play with great zeal, the extra additions overwhelm the lyrics and straightforward rhythms/samples for which the songs are so applauded. Their addition is also somewhat unfortunate, as their magnetic performance easily steals the show from GZA, who spends the entire night with one hand in his pocket and no energy on his face. When he leaves the stage earlier than anticipated, the Phunky Nomads are left to close the event and bring a vigour that allows their moment to quickly become the most engaging part of the entire night. This has the audience leaving with the sense that the whole thing would have been much more enjoyable as a Phunky Nomads concert. 

It’s an evening that leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. The lacklustre performance couldn’t hold up to the expectations developed over the years. Yet, there’s a reason so many people still attend GZA’s concerts, and why so many left the lifeless performance still holding the artist in great regard. The great material he has supporting him, and the years he’s spent gaining people’s respect, have earned him a little room to be uninspired. Still, the lack of enthusiasm he gives off can only serve to his detriment as time goes on.  Ultimately, it may be time for the genius to face a harsh reality that comes for us all: at some point, you have to accept you can’t keep drinking in the union.