Sword play

Chief among the criticisms lobbed at last year’s Moogfest was its lack of a sufficient hip-hop presence. Among the more adventurous and successful styles of electronically rendered music, hip-hop is intrinsically tied to the legacy the festival is meant to honor. This year, organizers correct the omission with sets from acclaimed Atlanta MC Killer Mike and confrontational rap outfit Death Grips, among others. But no 2012 artist boosts Moogfest’s hip-hop credibility more than GZA, the Wu Tang Clan member unironically referred to as “The Genius.”

“Festivals are youth driven,” GZA told the Xpress via email. “Hip-hop has a grip on the youth like no other genre of music. How can they not include us?”

In an acknowledgment of hip-hop’s importance that far outstrips anything from the festival’s first two years in Asheville, GZA will perform his acclaimed 1995 release Liquid Swords in its entirety. Full-album performances have become an intriguing Moogfest staple. Last year, Suicide caused a stir when they played their manic synth-punk debut from front to back. In its own way, Liquid Swords is an equally important record, a marvel of lyrical dexterity and mood management that has stood as a measuring stick for every MC who has emerged in the years since its release.

“It means so much to me,” GZA says of the opportunity to perform the album at Moogfest. “Liquid Swords is one month from being 17 years old, so it is an honor and blessing, and I am very grateful.”

Over the course of 13 songs, Liquid Swords manages to distill the darkest elements of the group’s ghetto-life explorations while enlivening them with jaw-dropping wordplay. GZA and his cohorts indulge in gruesome detail, but it’s still a blast to hear their words twist without mercy. The album was — and is — a stunning accomplishment that set GZA apart as one of the most gifted rappers around, once and for all removing any doubt that he deserved his self-appointed nickname.

“Anything I do that is perceived as being great will always increase the pressure for what is next to follow,” he says, speaking to the burden of living up to the early career classic. “It makes me feel great because whenever I compare and contrast the past and the present I see so much growth and development.”

GZA has accomplished much in the years since the album’s release. He’s unleashed a string of critically respected solo LPs, regrouped with Wu Tang and made memorable contributions to other members’ individual efforts. But none of it matches Liquid Swords.

Approaching that legacy in a live setting, GZA drafted some unusual help. Nathan Williams, leader of the brightly skuzzy pop-rock outfit Wavves, is tasked with recreating the chilling grit of RZA’s iconic beats, an unenviable task that GZA’s fans will judge quickly and harshly.

“What makes it work is that he has an interesting, unique sound,” GZA says. “[It’s] a little distorted and adds a different element to the songs.” — J.L.

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