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The Genius of GZA

GZA, the legendary Wu-Tang Clan emcee, brings his revered solo catalog through the Observatory North Park Tuesday

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    GZA performs a special $5 show at the Observatory North Park Tuesday.

    There are few hip-hop groups that command as much respect as Staten Island's Wu-Tang Clan. A super crew of emcees whose sound -- hard-knocking drums, dusty samples and razor-wire lyricism -- helped to define much of rap music in the early '90s.

    There are eight core members (R.I.P., Ol' Dirty Bastard) -- nine, if you include Masta Killa -- but when it comes to the brains, and that Voltron formation, the de facto leader is the head, the GZA.

    He released his first album "Words From the Genius" in February of 1991 and it's an interesting point of reference, in that the project dropped before Wu-Tang had even formed (that'd happen a year later). Nonetheless, it's a glimpse into the early prowess and promise of the emcee, showcasing then what he'd be known for eventually -- fluid wordplay and complex train of thought.

    His debut saw modest success but it wasn't until 1993 and the release of the group's "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" that he would truly make his mark. The official Wu-Tang cornerstone, held together by RZA's raw production and snippets from kung fu movies, is a masterpiece highlighting a group of hungry emcees just beginning their journey.

    There are plenty of standout moments on the album and many come from the GZA himself: He bats cleanup on "Protect Ya Neck," delivering the classic line, "Who's your A&R / A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar," and holds down the entirety of "Clan in Da Front," one of only two songs that feature a solo emcee. And there's significance there too, as some members were still finding their individual voices, but GZA was developed, seasoned -- fully formed.

    It would take four years to follow up his debut, and in 1995 he re-established his own career, unleashing the superb "Liquid Swords." From there it was "Beneath the Surface" and then "Legend of the Liquid Sword" before his "GrandMasters" collaboration with Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs and 2008's "Pro Tools" on Babygrande Records.

    His is a three decades-plus tenure, the embodiment of staying power -- longevity in real time.

    Indeed, he's still sharp and on Tuesday, June 5, he'll make a stop at the Observatory North Park (a special $5 show no less), running through his catalog, playing hits -- and demonstrating what's kept him in demand for so long.

    J. Smith, aka 1019, is a San Diego native, rap fan and a San Diego Music Award-winning hip-hop artist.You can follow him on Instagram at 1019_the_numberman or on Twitter