August 21, 2006

One of the best aspects of the second disc of Wu-Tang Forever was that it featured a whole lot of the RZA’s trademark babbling. Now unlike most rappers who make dumb boasts on wax and only end up sounding insecure and half-way retarded, the Rza manages to turn normally empty braggadocio into the stuff of minor prophecy. Hilarious minor prophecy. See his soliloquy on the album’s first track “Intro” where in just two minutes the RZA describes how the Wu “ain’t no wack R&B bullshit,” calls other rappers “Cat in the Hat ass rappers, Dr. Suess Mother Goose,” and describes himself as “the King Ruler Zig Zig Ziglar.”

But perhaps the best evidence of the RZA’s knack for prediction comes at the end of “Bells of War.” In the track’s denouement, RZA tells “shorties that they ain’t even got to go to summer school.” Instead they should pick up the Wu-Tang Clan double CD where “they’ll get all the education they’ll need this year.” He also claims that people “ain’t even gonna’ figure it out until the year 2G.” Lastly, he claims that the group is “gonna come back like a comet.”

Flash forward nearly a decade, where any fan of hip-hop has seen the rise and fall of the Wu. And what a rise and fall it was. From the years 1994-1999, the Wu dropped more eight classic albums in just five years. In that period, the world saw the release of Enter the 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Forever, Ironman, Liquid Swords, Tical, Return to the 36 Chambers, Uncontrolled Substances, and of course, Only Built For Cuban Linx. This isn’t even including Cappadonna’s The Pillage, an album which proves way before the Game that an average rapper could make a pretty great album with the right production and guest appearances. Indeed this five year streak might be the greatest run of any group in hip-hop history.

The Other King Ruler Zig Zag Ziglar (No Word On Whether Or Not He’s a Fan of the Wu)

Okay fine, so the RZA was sort of wrong. The Wu did return in 2000 with The W, which I wouldn’t exactly describe as being like a comet. It was more a roman candle, it had some solid tracks that were pure fire, but it also had “Conditioner,” featuring Snoop and ODB. It might be one of the ten worst songs I’ve ever heard by a great band. Pretty much you know you’re in for a bad Wu-Tang song when its name involves some sort of hair care product (see “Black Shampoo.”)

In the new century, Wu-Tang has been maddeningly inconsistent and seem to have done everything possible to alienate their fan base. With the exception of Ghostface and to a lesser extent the GZA and Masta Killa, every Wu release prior to this year had been sub-par. $10 bucks if you’ve listened to Immobilarity or Mr. Excitement more than twice. And I’m not even going to touch the debacle that was Tical 2000, because despite the album’s forward-thinking name, it dropped in ’98, which could just as markthe start of the Wu’s decline.

To compound their middling albums, the Wu’s live show continually left their fan base disappointed. During this period, I once caught the Wu at the House of Blues. Not only did the group come on three hours late, but they came out sans Method Man and ODB (well…no surprise there). On top of that, they played for just 45 minutes before spending the last 15 minutes of the show having an impromptu dance party with the skeezy ho’s in attendence (are there any other kind at a Wu-Tang concert?).

On another occasion, Crockett and I attempted to see Inspectah Deck and Cappadonna. Not only did I get two joints confiscated at the door (still the only time this has ever happened to me), but Deck and Cappa never even showed up. By midnight, all we’d seen was a group of no-names who had repeatedly called out “all white devils,” in spite of the fact that the audience was roughly 75 percent cracker. Then at 12:15, a voice blared from the loudspeaker that Deck and Donna were “stuck in traffic on their way home from dinner and they’d be there soon.” As it was a Tuesday, we decided to bail and no, they weren’t offering refunds.

If It Were Socially Acceptable, I Would Drape Myself In Velvet

By 2006, almost everyone had left the Wu for dead. Sure, a Wu member would put out the occasional solid solo album, but for the most part, any Wu fan believed their glory days to be in the past. But this year has proved that logic to be extremely myopic. Because as the RZA long ago foresaw, the Wu indeed have returned like a comet.

Almost everyone reading this blog is aware of the greatness of Ghostface’s Fishscale. Not only is this Ghostface’s best album since 2000’s epic, Supreme Clientele, but it’s likely the best major label rap album since Jay-Z’s Blueprint in 2001. Contrary to popular belief, not all bloggers had been drinking the Ghostface kool-aid prior to Fishscale. Sure, I can pretty much recite the contents of Ironman and Supreme Clientele from heart, but The Pretty Toney Album and Bullet Proof Wallets were wildly inconsistent. Yet with Fishscale, Ghostface has managed to secure his legacy as one of the 10 best rappers to ever grace the microphone. It’s the equivalent of Barry Bonds at 36 years old, suddenly exploding for 73 bombs. You knew he was destined for the Hall of Fame beforehand, but in its wake, he became a first ballot HOF’er.

Leapfrog Anyone?

But the return of Wu hasn’t just been the work of Ghostface, as Masta Killa followed up 2004’s strong No Said Date, with this year’s Made in Brooklyn. Despite the fact that Ian threw a C at this record in his Stylus write-up (the best written review I’ve ever completely disagreed with mind you) and Pitchfork was also mixed, only giving it a 7.2, I’m willing to go to bat for Masta Killa’s latest album. Is it great? No. But it’s a damned solid record from start to finish.

Of course, there are stumbles (putting your daughter on wax is never a good idea, hear that Eminem?), but Made In Brooklyn recalls a period when you actually could press play on a rap record and not be besieged by a barrage of ignorance, hate and misognyny. I’ve said this before, I don’t necessarily hate modern rap for the fact that they rap about hateful things. Hell, I loved Dr. Dre and Snoop as much as anyone, I hate them because they are bad rappers that rap about hateful things. Two strikes and you’re out in my book.

Masta Killa’s album is a solid 8.0 in my book. Some of the beats are sub-par and there is of course the filler that accompanies any rap record, but I’ll be damned if the album doesn’t also feature some of the strongest rapping that you’ll hear all year. Tracks like “It Is What It Is,” “Nehanda and Cream,” “Street Corner,””Easy MC’s,” and “Ringing Bells,” could fit nicely onto any classic Wu album. And then of course, there’s “Iron God Chamber,” which features guest spots from U-God, Method Man and the RZA, who delivers one of the most hilariously fierce verses I’ve heard in a long time. “I was born in the bower of razor blades/right next door to Hades/I used to be afraid of the devil as a boy/but now as a grown man I realize he is just a toy.”

Download the track here and if you like hip-hop and the Wu, I recommend picking up Made In Brooklyn, it’s a worthy addition to the group’s canon.

Apparently, the Fourth Time’s The Charm

But perhaps the biggest surprise in the re-birth of the Wu is the latest album, from Method Man. Entitled 4:21: The Day After and slated to drop on August 29th, Method Man’s new album might be the best work he’s ever done.

Over the past few years or so, Method Man has gone on record as being pretty much angry about everything. Whether he’s complaining about the treatment that his ill-fated television show with Redman received, or Jay-Z’s work as Def Jam label boss, or the lukewarm critical reception of his recent solo albums, Method Man reminded me of a one-time phenom who blew his oppportunity to play in the bigs by constantly trying to hit home runs every time he came to the plate.

Sure, Tical is a great album, but no one would ever rank it in the first-tier of Wu classics. And his subsequent two solo releases are among some of the worst to ever come out of the Wu camp. In paticular, Tical 2000, easily ranks as one of the worst purchases I’ve ever made. 27 tracks deep. 24 of them unlistenable. So despite the fact that the singles I’d heard off 4:21 seemed pretty promising, I had low expectations for Meth’s new album. I shouldn’t have.

4:21 is the album that Meth should’ve released in 1998. Full of anger and rage at those whe slighted him, Method Man sounds re-born, his vicious swaggering slurring flow still pristine after all these years. Simply put, the album is a clinic on how to rap. Few rap albums don’t bore me after 30 minutes let alone an hour (4:21’s run-time), but Method Man’s album is as close as any rap album will come to Fishscale this year.

It might not feature the virtuouso story-telling of Ghostface, but the album is replete with furious raps and hard-hitting beats (Scott Storch might even have partially redeemed himself for making the Paris Hilton album). Practically every member of the Wu drops in on this triumphant comeback album. A full-fledged review is unneccessary as Oh Word has already done the work for me, but this album is worthy of all the praise you’re inevitably going to hear about it.

Download “Intro” here, (No RZA babbling but a great track nonetheless)

If Only ODB Had Been Alive to Do a Cover of “Miss You”

If mainstream rap sucks in 2006, the Wu has done their part to resurrect the art form, dropping the best two rap albums of the year. For the first time in seven years, I’m excited to hear what the future has in store. Rappers are notorious for having abbreviated careers, but the Wu has proved to be the one group that may beat the odds. Indeed with this late-career resurgence, the Wu have turned themselves into the hip-hop analogue to the Rolling Stones. If Enter the 36 Chambers was their Aftermath and Supreme Clientele their Exile On Main Street, and Iron Flag, their Black and Blue, the Wu seems to be past their mid-70’s “heroin and Hefner” phase and entering their late 70’s glory period. In that vein, 4:21 may just be the Wu-Tang’s Some Girls. If that’s the case, the Wu has at least one great album left in them. Perhaps they can call it Tattoo Wu.

The Round-Up
If you haven’t already checked it yet, Ian also made a triumphant return to the blog world today in typical classic form. Don’t miss his epic post about pop music and music criticism in the year 2006. And while you’re at it, check out his post over at Stylus about Ghostface’s Ten Greatest Spoken Word Moments.

Also check out this new video of Dylan’s new video for “Cold Irons Bound,” off of his forthcoming Modern Times album. (via Goldenfiddle).

From Slate: Who’s Who in the Middle East Rap Game? Rumor has it that Hezbollah can’t get enough Rick Ross.

Also, the always on-point You Set the Scene, lists his Top 10 Thus Far in 06.

I co-sign Skeet On Mischa’s points about Snakes On a Plane. Entirely.

And lastly, Cole Slaw blog takes on a very important issue for the youth of today.
Namely, girls that think it’s acceptable to show their ass-crack.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!