Wu-Tang rapper loves ‘dope concept’ of The Breaks fest: classic MCs meet the new
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Inspectah Deck, one of the nine original rappers comprising New York’s venerated hardcore hip-hop crew Wu-Tang Clan, is unequivocal in his sentiments re the Windy City. “I love Chicago,” Deck stated in a phone call from his native Staten Island.
The whole Wu-Tang collective — celebrating the 25th anniversary of its paradigm-smashing debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” — tops the bill Saturday at The Breaks Vol. II, a daylong, two-stage hip-hop festival Saturday at Toyota Park in southwest suburban Bridgeview. Headlining artists include Yasiin Bey (the East Coast MC formerly known as Mos Def), Chicago’s increasingly renowned rapper-activist Vic Mensa and veteran New York rapper-activist Talib Kweli.
Seasoned rhymespitter Twista, long recognized as Chicago’s first official rap star, rounds out the hometown coalition along with Hurt Everybody (the hip-hop group that spawned hot young West Side rapper Supa Bwe), MCs Freddie Gibbs and Alex Wiley, and assorted locally based DJs.
“We’re definitely trying to hold it down for Chicago,” said co-promoter Chris Figgy. He and his business partner, Chris Triebes, founded The Breaks; they’re also part-time working musicians. The latter, from Wheaton, has been acquainted with the former, a native of Portage, Indiana, since both were individually staging smaller shows in their respective regions.
“Triebes was booking artists that I wanted,” Figgy recounted, “and I was like, ‘Who is that guy? I want to work with him.’”
The Breaks Vol. II
When: noon Sept. 8
Where: Toyota Park, 7000 Harlem Avenue, Bridgeview
The Chrises mounted their first show as a team in May 2017, when they presented Philadelphia-based rapper-singer-songwriter Lil Uzi Vert at a club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A scant three months later, the pair launched their initial iteration of The Breaks festival. Its name, Triebes acknowledges, is a tribute to Kurtis Blow’s historic 1980 single “The Breaks,” the first rap song to be certified gold.
Some “4,000 hip-hop heads,” says Triebes, came to Soldier Field Sept. 3 last year to catch the hip-hop festival’s varied slate of acts, among them Kansas City’s formidable independent rapper Tech N9ne, Peruvian-American MC/activist Immortal Technique, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man (performing with Redman, his frequent collaborator in music and comedy).
“I’d never booked the full Wu-Tang Clan,” Triebes said, though “I thought they’d be open [to it].” And indeed, all nine MCs are scheduled to perform at the festival: eight original members (RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Ghostface Killah) plus more recent addition Cappadonna, who officially became No. 9 over a decade ago following the death of Wu-Tang’s co-founder, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Triebes and Figgy’s stated goal for their event, in featuring both “classic hip-hop artists and newly emerging MCs,” is to “bring multiple generations of fans together.”
“That’s a dope concept,” remarked Inspectah Deck, observing, “Right now you have a lot of O.G. [“Original Gangster,” i.e. veteran] rappers out there, still keepin’ the culture alive. But then you have the new generation; they basically dominate which way the culture shifts, and a lot of us veterans get upset.
“I used to be one of those dudes: ‘Aw, man, they messing it up, they [effing] it up,’ ” Deck admitted: “But when you really sit down and listen to a lot of them, they’re talkin’ their pain, they’re talkin’ their struggle, they’re talkin’ the same thing that we talked. And I had to put myself in their shoes. Man, if I was 21, I would be bouncin’ on these beats, too.”
One new artist who changed Deck’s view, he revealed, was none other than Vic Mensa. The youthful MC who’d founded hip-hop/art collective SaveMoney (Chance the Rapper, Towkio, Joey Purp) emerged last year with an ambitious, brilliant debut album titled “The Autobiography.”
“I’d heard Vic Mensa’s name all through the industry, all the time,” Deck said. “But I had wrote him off like, hey, he just one o’ these young dudes, prob’ly spittin’ that same old yada-yada-yada.”
And then, Deck said, he caught Mensa throwing knockout verbal punches in an MTV rap battle, as well as freestyling at New York radio giant Hot 97, “and he killed it. It made me check his music out.”
The Inspectah’s findings? “Yo, this little dude is dope,” Deck pronounced. “When you hear people rap, you can tell if they’re a student of the game; he’s done his homework.”
Sure enough, “I grew up studying all these guys,” Mensa said. “Wu-Tang, Yasiin — these guys are heroes to me.” The rapper-activist was chilling in a steamy lunchroom at the West Englewood Community Center on a sweltering Sunday, awaiting the start of his charitable foundation’s shoe giveaway event, dubbed “Anti-Bait Truck.”
“The Mos Def albums, and Black Star [Def’s duo with Talib Kweli], are building blocks for me as an artist,” Mensa declared. “It’s an honor for me to be able to share a stage with them.”