Do the knowledge:
RZA: Birth Of A Prince – After mercifully retiring the ill-considered Bobby Digital persona, RZA finally delivered a proper solo album in 2003. Released a bit late to retain the classic sheen of the nineties releases, this one feels more like a compilation of stray tracks with little consideration for commercial appeal. And that’s good. “Chi Kung” in particular sounds like it was recorded at the tail of a night of too many honey dipped blunts, while “The Grunge” feels like a beat that was rescued from the Staten Island flood that washed away Inspectah Deck’s first solo album. Plus we get two Bronze Nazareth tracks, which sound more Wu like than anything else on the album. Favorite tracks: “Grits,” “A Day To God Is 1,000 Years,” and that goofy hidden “Hood Rat” song. Get your mind up.
Killarmy: Dirty Weaponry – Produced almost entirely by 4th Disciple with an eccentricity that matches the militant paranoia of the lyrics. Lots of sound clips and clever production techniques keep the act moving. For all of its dusty, off-kilter sample sound, this is a tightly constructed album that manages to conceal some of the deficiencies of the MC’s, who are often so eager to fit in every global war conspiracy reference that any sense of flow is lost. But that’s okay, it’s Killarmy, it all works. All three of their albums are consistently entertaining and I’m looking forward to new one supposedly coming in late 2004!
Cappadonna: The Pillage – First cracks in the Wu Empire can be seen quite clearly right here. First: it’s Cappadonna. Second: RZA’s production is in full Bobby Digi mode, which essentially means ‘messing around on a fancy keyboard.’ This was the first time RZA was outclassed by his production disciples and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, as True Master in particular shines here with “Slang Editorial,” “Dart Throwing,” and “Milk The Cow.” To say Cappa himself is outclassed by the guest spots would be redundant, but the man really has a cringeworthy lack of flow. Surrounded by the most gifted crew of lyricists ever in hip hop, poor Cappa sounds like a slow cousin karaoke version of the Wu style. “Vocabulary comin’ out my ass like shit.” Oh, it’s a metaphor, right.
Killah Priest: The Psychic World of Walter Reed – Released earlier this year, this double album is astonishingly consistent. You would think Priest’s act would have gotten old by now, all the crazy religious references and biblical revelations of his own lyrical prowess and so on but it’s filtered through his rhyme heavy flow that’s always clever and creative. His overall sound at this point has gotten a bit more focused without losing his unique vision. A lot of this is actually reminiscent of Nas during the more eccentric moments of his prime – listen to “Street Thesis” and you can’t help but think of a track the label would have cut from “I Am…” The whole thing may get tiring for one listen, but that’s not due to a lack of quality. Best Wu related release of 2013.
Wu-Tang Forever – The big one, the best double album since the Beatles dropped their white one. Papa Wu – the Wu’s version of the Maharishi – opens the album with a five plus minute screed about gods, earths, and eighty-fivers. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the uncompromising vision of this album – not content with critical success and regular MTV rotation, the Wu intends here to stake their claim on the universe. You don’t need to send the kids to summer school, they’re gonna get all the education they need right here. Three heroes of this album: Raekwon quietly carrying the the bulk of the songs with his dense lyricism that rewards repeated listens, Ghostface coming into his own with his surrealistic style, and Method Man achieving such peaks of high wisdom that there had to have been something really special in the weed. Two problems: “Shampoo” is awful, featuring the caterwauling of Blue Raspberry and the always awkward U-God; and then RZA’s introduction on the second disc in which he welcomes us to “side two of side B of this double CD.” First of all, it’s the first song on the second disc, not side two, not even side B; on vinyl, it would technically be the first song on side three, while on cassette it was the first song on side A of the second tape. Not that it matters much, because the trash talking on the rest of the spoken interlude with GZA is tremendous. Is it better than Rae and Ghost’s similar interlude on the purple tape? That’s for the scholars to decide. But this is the sort of thing more bands should do: just a short interlude to air out the biters and haters and set the culture back on the right course. Radiohead should have put an interlude like this on Kid A, it would have saved the world from some really awful music.