Photo by Aaron Lai
Photo by Aaron Lai

Protect ya’ neck! Fans of the Wu-Tang Clan piled into HUB 302 on Tuesday night to witness the greatness of GZA, the oldest member of the most revolutionary group in hip-hop. Event-goers were greeted with priceless merchandise giveaways, the opportunity to discover their “Wu-Tang Rap Name,” Wu-Tang trivia and even a rap battle by fellow UCR students. The mood was set for a nothing-but-hip-hop-filled night, right?

Wrong. Students left the event with a valuable lesson learned, one that challenges the status quo and encourages others to boldly do the same. GZA arrived to UC Riverside with a much greater purpose in mind — a purpose he definitely fulfilled.

Despite the program’s delayed start, GZA was met with a standing ovation, a countless array of “I love yous” and dedicated fans proclaiming “Wu-Tang forever!” The legendary music artist began with a lecture based around a subject many would not initially associate with hip-hop: science. Born Gary Grice, GZA fondly reminisced about his younger self exploring Brooklyn and being curious as to how the things around him worked and why. His growing curiosity and never-ending questions led to his fascination with science and his current mission: encouraging today’s youth to develop a thirst for not only science, but education in general.

Also known as the Genius, GZA proceeded to talk about the development of the Wu-Tang Clan and how each member took pride in being able to produce intelligent and witty lyrics. They created a new and improved approach to hip-hop — one that has earned the group countless awards and the title of being one of, if not the most, influential rap group of all time. This is why GZA’s interest in science is so significant. Embracing who he is and where his passions lie provides him limitless possibilities to influence kids through the lessons of his lifestyle, illustrating that being different can bring about many paths for success.

GZA is part of a program called “Science Genius,” in which he makes surprise visits to schools and teaches children science through rap and hip-hop. Columbia professor and creator of the program, Christopher Edmin, was well aware that kids may half-heartedly listen to their teachers during science lectures, but when a rap legend enters the room, he has their undivided attention.

GZA had the crowd’s undivided attention as well –– not even a low murmur broke the audience’s attention in the HUB. Even as he began to speak of the many professors and scientists he has worked with and gone to for guidance concerning his scientific inquiries, the audience responded with encouraging applause and hollers. GZA brought the speech back around to hip-hop as he excitingly announced that he will be releasing an album entitled “Dark Matter” next year. Met with an almost deafening response from the crowd, GZA explained that astronomy and the vastness of the universe has always mystified and inspired him — and consequently helped him name his new body of music, producing an overall theme for the album.

“We are all made of stardust,” GZA explained, reminding us how amazing being human actually is. We are all connected, even when we feel the most alone. Feeling lost is no foreign emotion to a group of college students debating on what career path to take, questioning the unclear but alarmingly near future and just trying to find their place in the universe. GZA brought a sense of unity to the HUB that night, and in doing so he was praised appreciatively by the crowd. He left us all with a feeling of hope –– not only for the future of hip-hop, but for our future as a prosperous and peaceful community.

As GZA’s lecture came to an end, a Q-and-A was opened up to the floor with eager fans rushing to the mic in order to ask their idol a question. One student asked for his opinion on today’s hip-hop and where he sees rap music in the midst of other genres today. GZA replied that he has no current favorite hip-hop artists and that “rap is on a stretcher.” The crowd knowingly applauded as GZA explained that rap music has become less lyrically complicated and associated only with violence, fame and fortune –– something he’s hoping to change with his new project.

GZA ended the event with an unforgettable performance filled with Wu-Tang clan hits and new material. He even performed an acapella piece accented by rhymes so smooth and lyrics so intricate, you knew it could have only been produced by a rap genius. Cell phones and cameras went up as GZA brought everyone in the room to their feet. The music produced a unified head bob throughout the crowd, and it goes without saying that GZA put on a spectacular show.

But he succeeded in doing much more than that. More importantly, he taught us that it’s okay to be different. I mean, where else can you find an individual like GZA within hip-hop culture? He taught us there is more to everything than meets the eye, and to not let curiosity lay dormant. Get out, ask questions, be confused and then ask more questions. The world is ours for the taking, and as GZA answered in a Q-and-A question, “Being alive is great.” I’m certainly glad I’m alive, and to GZA, I’m glad you are, too. Hip-hop certainly needs you.