By Zane Warman
Marking the midway point for the first week of classes, the annual Mystery Concert at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts offered the student body a pleasant break from work with the three acts that performed. Organizers at the event predicted Wednesday night’s musicians — Ratking, Ghostface Killah and Jamie xx — would pack the 884-seat theatre, despite each artist’s disparate musical styles.
Ratking, a Harlem-based rap group known for its gritty lyrics, seemed to be a strange choice for the NYU crowd. As the lights dimmed, it took the encouragement of several audience members to get people to pool in front of the stage.
The three rappers stepped onstage and dove into the viscera of “Snow Beach,” a song notorious for its anti-NYU quips. Producer Sporting Life’s atmospherics and drill-influenced beats gave rappers Wiki and Hak their backdrop. Projected behind their set were clips of gang violence, police brutality and Warriors-esque crime, which mirrored their coarse lyrics — a reminder that the young, dystopic hip-hop scene is shining bright.
Ghostface Killah, an original member of the famed rap collective Wu-Tang Clan, followed shortly after. Accompanied by fellow Wu-Tang member Cappadonna, the two rappers and their DJ commanded the light crew and the crowd. When they carved into their back catalog of East Coast hip-hop, their 40-minute set radiated soul music samples, boom-bap beats and real record scratches, along with swift a cappella raps peppered throughout.
Unexpectedly, during fan favorite track “Protect Ya Neck,” Ghostface announced that he required the help of two audience members to perform verses of members in absentia. Before he could calm the tsunami of cheers, two men climbed onto the stage and claimed their spot. One, an independent rapper closely tied to Ratking and known as Ritty, provided a verse usually from Clan member Method Man. The other, a student, matched the veterans’ intensity. By the end, the room thundered with energy.
However, no other act of the night moved the crowd quite as much Jamie Smith, the private producer of the Mercury Prize-winning group The xx. Layering vocal lines over drum-and-bass loops, Jamie xx walked his DJ set down a line that was simultaneously artful and danceable. Smith interspersed remixes of work by Radiohead, Four Tet and poet Gil-Scott Heron throughout his set. Bursts of white light bounced off of suspended disco balls, giving the fog-filled theater a club-like ethos.
Smith concluded NYU’s first major concert of the year with a smooth finish, remixing his band’s song, “Islands,” and exemplifying the intense sound that makes the group irresistible.
Email Zane Warman at [email protected]