When I first beheld the show listing on the Orange Peel’s website heralding an Asheville stop on The Smoker’s Club Worldwide Rollers Tour, my palms got sweaty, my stomach kind of flipped, and I felt an urgent need to get my clammy mitts on a ticket ASAP. And I wasn’t alone: Ashevillians packed The Orange Peel to capacity during a sold-out show featuring B. Real of Cypress Hill and headliners Method Man and Redman, who collectively delivered one of the smokiest, livest, and most feel-good hip hop shows I’ve ever experienced.
For those that snoozed on the last two decades, Method Man and Redman are amongst hip hop’s living gods, with careers encompassing critically acclaimed and commercially successful rap releases and also consistent acting work. Method Man, of course, is a member of Wu-Tang Clan and collaborators, besides Redman, include the likes of Notorious B.I.G and Tupac. Method Man and Redman have been making music and the occasional film project (who can forget How High?) together since the mid-1990s. These days, there are plenty of hip hop enthusiasts hoping to emulate Meth and Red when they buy beats online to produce rap music of their own, though not many people who have ever rapped can say they’ve had the longevity of either of these two.
This longevity was on my mind when I pulled up to the Orange Peel and confronted a line of fans that stretched past Wicked Weed. These dudes are hip hop luminaries whose contribution to the genre can’t be understated, but I was curious – not skeptical, mind you, merely inquisitive – what their live game would be like since they are both in their mid-40s and toward the end of a six-week national tour.
My musings however were cut short when I entered the venue and experienced both a sonic and smoke assault. B. Real of Cypress Hill had just taken the stage and the Orange Peel was awash in a truly impressive fog that lent credence to the whole Smoker’s Club Tour handle. The packed house consisted of the jolly and intoxicated and spirits were (if I may) high. B. Real bounced around, the most visible sporter of nighttime sunglasses (many shades were to be seen amongst the crowd), and he gamely spit Black Sunday-era verses that have aged pleasantly well. His voice sounded great and his energy was high, but I couldn’t help but noticing what sounded like a backing vocal track a few times when he put the microphone down. The man has been rapping live for two decades and touring in unimaginably smoky environs for well over a month, so there’s no judgement, but it’s this hip hop fan’s preference for the raspy sound of an unadulterated real voice – even if it fails – over the sort of conspicuous glossiness of recorded vocals.
Which reminds me: The Orange Peel, besides being an overall superlative venue to experience any show, does incredible service to the hip hop acts it books. We all know it: live hip hop can occasionally sound like shit, regardless of how talented the performers are. There’s something about the live sound, beyond my knowledge or fathoming, that is tricky to dial in. But I’ve seen a ton of hip hop performers at the Peel over the years, and a common denominator is very good to excellent sound quality that visibly frees the artists to give their all and connect with the audience. So, there’s that. Hats off to the Orange Peel’s awesome sound guys.
In the downtime between B. Real and the main event, the crowd was going nuts to the rap hits of yesteryear that were wisely being played. With the lights briefly up, I got to take in Asheville’s hip hop afficianados, and what a lovably motley crew we are: Festival Kids in dreads and snapbacks doing the sort of isolation-heavy dance moves that require psychedelics as a catalyst; tons of very serious looking dudes in flat brims and hoodies; an inordinate amount of bearded men; a lone pregnant woman. When the lights went down again, the collective anticipation was palpable. And when Method Man and Redman took the stage in a haze of smoke and lights, the crowd absolutely lost it.
Method Man and Redman performed for a ferocious hour and a half, dishing out hits running the gamut from early Wu-Tang days to Tikal to Blackout! They lavished much love on the crowd, declaring Asheville to be the “livest” crowd yet on the whole tour. They were incredibly smiley and their energy – for the whole show – was mind boggling. The guys managed audience participation with lots of call and response, and much tribute to fallen comrades including ODB was elicited. Both Redman and Method Man performed solo verses to scaled down beats in one of the more admiration-garnering aspects of the show, which served to remind one why these guys are legends.
One of the most striking aspects of the evening, as someone who has never seen Method Man or Redman live before, was the infectious good energy and humility they exhibited in a musical culture that glorifies megalomania. They thanked their fans for staying with them for 20 years. They thanked the sound guys, the security crew, and even shouted out the bartenders. My favorite moment happened after a rash of stage dives and crowd surfing by both Redman and Method Man. Method Man, whose charisma is on interstellar levels, dove in the crowd and started getting carried my way. He came to a stop about 10 feet in front of me, managed to get on his feet somehow, and supported in this insane pyramid move, towered over the crowd, a ridiculously smiley real-life rap god still as relevant today as he was over 20 years ago. I was paralyzed and made a belated grab for my phone to document it, but by the time I fumbled it out of my pocket, he had already surfed back to the stage and was tearing it up with Redman for a final exhilarating song.