Ghostface Killah RBC Bluesfest, Ottawa ON, July 7

Ghostface Killah RBC Bluesfest, Ottawa ON, July 7
Photo: Chris Bubinas
5
Ottawa's RBC Bluesfest has had a divisive relationship with hip-hop in recent years.
 
Back in 2015, the inclusion of Kanye West sparked such outrage that petitions and Facebook groups were created to try and stop him from playing the festival.
 
Then, in 2017, ten festivalgoers were taken to hospital after all sorts of carnage broke out during a night that featured Migos and Lil Yachty, among others.
 
In response, organizers have dialled back on the amount of hip-hop at this year's festival. But if they thought an appearance by 48-year-old Dennis Coles (aka Ghostface Killah) would appease old-school heads while keeping the youths at bay, well, they were wrong.
 
On Saturday night, one of the rowdiest and confusing crowds of the festival thus far descended on the intimate Black Sheep Stage, forming a sizable pit that seemed to confound the Wu-Tang Clan member throughout his entire set.
 
The energy was off even before Ghostface hit the stage, as DJ Technician tried to warm up the crowd to mixed results. By the time he came on with Killah Priest in tow, not much had changed.
 
At the start, they did their best to get the crowd going — performing a bit of "Special Delivery" here, a little "Ice Cream" there. But as waving hands turned to broken call-and-responses, it became pretty clear that the majority of the young crowd hadn't heard many of his most famous bars.
 
Seeming somewhat discouraged, the rapper retreated into the shadows, first in the form of many asides with his DJ, and later by letting Killah Priest do most of the heavy lifting. (Even during "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" he stopped right before his breakthrough verse.) Mosh pits would break out sporadically, only to die down once another song started. It was strange, to say the least.
 
Still, Ghostface tried to keep things positive, attempting to get the kids singing along to the Fugees' "Killing Me Softly," something he does at every show now. "It makes me feel really good," he told them. A fight broke out in the crowd seconds later.
 
Soon, it seemed simpler to play songs by other people than Supreme Clientele cuts, and DJ Technician cued up a number of tracks that got the crowd jumping along, including Queen's "We Will Rock You" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
 
With the night's energy improving, Ghostface put out an open call to anyone who could rap ODB and Method Man's parts to "Protect Ya Neck," but came up short repeatedly. "You can't be drunk," he reminded/advised the audience after two guys climbed on stage and didn't do much of anything.
 
Finally, two dudes wearing Toronto Blue Jays gear were able to get the job done. That's more than can be said for the Wu-Tang Clean member and his affiliates, who continued to turn out other people's hits (The Eurythmics, Al Green) in an attempt to get any sort of consistent reaction.
 
"I love ya motherfuckers," Ghostface Killah told the crowd as Bob Marley played over the speakers. It was a peaceful end to an evening that saw the audience go from releasing pent-up rage to placid in seconds.
 
Then, for some reason, DJ Technician dropped System of a Down's "Chop Suey." Why? Like most of the night, who knows?