Cappadonna was considered the “unofficial 10th member” of the Wu-Tang Clan in 1996. Soon enough, his performances on tracks such as “Triumph” and “Winter Warz” left no doubt about his status. Cappadonna was not only a full-fledged Wu MC, he was a major new figure in the rap scene. Today he’s an elder statesman, and 2013 is shaping up to be a huge year for Cappadonna, with a new double-CD set, “Eyrth, Wynd and Fyre,” coming out later this month and another album, “The Pillage 2” slated for an autumn release.
“I’m coming with the classic and the raw, combining it all in one score,” he says by telephone shortly after giving a lecture at Northern Kentucky University. “It’s all to line ’em up for the ‘Pillage 2’ album.” His lecture was titled “Leadership and Hip-Hop,” and he speaks from the standpoint of someone who has been in the industry long enough to have learned most of the lessons that the rap game has to offer. Born Darryl Hill in Staten Island in 1969, Cappadonna had a major hit with his 1998 album “The Pillage,” which put him on the map as a viable solo act. He’s been prolific ever since, releasing several more albums. “Eyrth, Wynd and Fyre” was planned as a home for assorted recent songs, clearing the way for the big event that Cappadonna hopes “Pillage 2” will be. “Eyrth, Wynd and Fyre” grew to the size of a double album as the quality material just would not stop pouring out. “It’s named after the elements, the climates that I’m coming through,” he says. At live gigs, Cappadonna revisits some of his older records, but in many cases, he ventures off into new territory at a whim. “I like to slip it and dip it sometimes,” he says. “And strip it. Sometimes I might do half (of a song) and then go into something else. I might come up with a whole new rhyme off of that beat.” Saturday, Cappadonna brings classics and new material to Smith’s Downtown Tap & Grill in Mishawaka. He’ll get support from locals Breon Warwick and DJ Eric Street, among others. Where some MCs excel at negotiating creative ways of cramming tons of syllables into tight spaces, Cappadonna rarely raps at high rates of speed. His flow tends to be more drawn out, as he investigates ways of placing the words at hip spots within the songs’ beats and rhythmic structures. Cappadonna’s rhymes on Wu-Tang Clan albums have been authoritative, but his guest spots on Wu members’ solo ventures have been critical as well. Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” and Ghostface Killah’s “Camay” both benefited from Cappadonna’s lyrical contributions.
His arrival as a top-line Wu logician was cemented in 1996 with “Winter Warz.” On the cut, Wu stalwarts U-God and Ghostface set a high standard with their early verses, but Cappadonna appears at the end for an extended metaphysical reverie of Wu wizardry. He usually includes a version of “Winter Warz” in his live shows, but the spontaneous circumstances of the original session were such that no backing track survived the date. The RZA — Wu-Tang Clan’s mastermind and producer — ran the music while the rappers did their thing, but the instrumental music track is presumably lost now. “We went so hard on that, there’s nothing even to loop,” Cappadonna says. “We’ve been searching for that one for a while.” The lyrics on the first few available cuts from “Eyrth, Wynd and Fyre” reflect messages of positivity.
Cappadonna makes repeated reference to “bringing light to the 85.” This pertains to the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths, a quasi-Muslim sect that has always been a major source of the Wu aesthetic. A fundamental tenet holds that 85 percent of the world are lost souls, 10 percent are exploiters and 5 percent are enlightened benefactors. Still, the erudite Cappadonna finds time for fashion. A committed wardrobe king early in his career, he still rocks just the right gear for the occasion. “I like to look presentable, but I can remember performing in big sweaters,” he says, cracking up. “Performing in leather. I like to do that stuff, but if I want to be comfortable, I might just throw a white tee on. What I love the most, normally, is striped shirts. Striped shirts and fitted hats that match the shirts. I like to look casual but sporty.”
In concert Cappadonna and several local opening acts perform at 6 p.m. Saturday at Smith’s Downtown Tap & Grill, 110 Lincoln Way E., Mishawaka. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. For more information, call 574-255-2227 or visit the website facebook.com/SmithsDowntown.