Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Album Review: Wu-Tang Clan, Legendary Weapons

One of the most daunting challenges in music is duplicating the success of and allure surrounding a group's critically acclaimed debut album. While it is possible, few have succeeded in this tricky arena.

One of those groups happens to be the Wu-Tang Clan, who arguably outdid their first album with Forever, the double CD released four years after 36 Chambers simultaneously launched nine separate careers well into and beyond the Hiphop stratosphere.

The Wu exploded into a million directions, branching off into clothing, liquor and video games, to name but a few of its lucrative endeavors.

One of those ventures was to launch a series of Wu-Tang Clan compilation albums consisting of Wu-Tang affiliated artists and producers while still featuring the talents of its core members, who, for the most part, would not be rapping alongside one another on these compilations.

This Legendary Weapons album is one of those albums.

And that is not to say that's a bad thing at all. Some of the Wu's best moments have come from these albums, including The Swarm, where Ghostface debuted his once-prominent nonsensical style of rhyming on the song Cobra Clutch that he later perfected for his second album.

Legendary Weapons picks right up where those albums left off.

Only this time, instead of exclusively recruiting those same Wu affiliates who have themselves gone on to solo careers, the Clan brings along some of today's most heralded underground rappers who have previously never collaborated with the Wu, including Sean Price, Roc Marciano, AZ, M.O.P., Action Bronson and Termanology.

While this description might turn off some fans, the move to feature non-Wu affiliates on this album was a shrewd one and will most likely attract a brand new crop of Clan fans as well as satisfy a legion of longtime fans whose expectations of dope beats and rhymes are more than met on this album.

Not to mention that the core Clan members, when they do rhyme, are in rare form on this album.

Ghostface is featured the most on this album, appearing on four of the album's ten songs; RZA is on three tracks, U-God and Cappadonna each show up twice, and Meth, Raekown and Inspectah Deck only contribute one verse each.

But all of the Clan verses are supplemented (and complemented) by the inclusion of these Wu outsiders, and the marriage of the two is nothing short of magic.

None of the tracks are produced by RZA, but they all have that Wu-Tang sound to them, provided in part by some guy named Noah Rubin who obviously channeled his inner Ruler Zig Zag for this project, Kung Fu soundbites and all.

One of the most unexpected features on the album comes from Killa Sin**, a member of the defunct Wu offshoot Killarmy who was rumored to have just been released from jail. Not heard from in what seems like at least a decade, Sin, on his solo track Drunk Tongue (video is at the bottom of the page), sounds hungry and determined to affirm his allegiance to the streets:
Glock with the double clutch
You don't want no trouble, trust
Rug cutter your jugular
Promise you your blood or guts
Dead smacked in front of us
Get clapped dead you front on us
Your back bled, you rats dead,
Can't front like you one of us.
On Start the Show, the album's first track, RZA balances out Sin's eventual tough talk with his own righteous rhymes speculating about a metaphorical puppeteer controlling geopolitics and waging war on Islam, asking "you ever stop to consider who's pulling these strings?" before posing more questions: "Is there an unseen hand with an unseen plan? The unclean man from the unclean land. ... Who really has the power, is it theirs or is it ours? Is it democracy, or demonic prowlers? Do we have a press or president? Is it a test or a testament? Pest or Pestilence? Who got the evidence?"

The crowning moment of achievement on this album, though, comes from the long awaited pairing of Ghostface with his lyrical doppelganger Action Bronson on the brief but hard-hitting song Meteor Hammer (one of many martial arts references), which also features Boston area rapper Termanology. All three are in rare form, kicking quotables galore.

Pretty Toney gets descriptive: "Ghost be mostly looking pretty toasty, front row at Mayweather vs. Mosely with a bin Laden bottle and Brazilian model;" and Bronson gets brolick: "I was born to rep, you fucking with a hornet's nest, old shooters in the corner like Hornicek." But it's Term who steals the show:
Puerto Rican version of Scarface
Fuck what the gods say
Disrespect, piss in ya broad's face
Chain stays chunky like Oprah belly
Got the purple and the brown, peanut butter and jelly
When I step up in the spot with the rocket
You see the popular poppin rappers
Go in the pockets and pull out they wallets
When I click clack, now, get up on the ground
Cuz I Onyx Pete Rock Chuck D shut 'em down!
The album is filled with comparable lyrical excellence throughout, but some unforgiving Wu purists just will not be able to wrap their heads around GZA's glaring absence from the project as well as the fact that there isn't one single RZA beat to be heard.

But people have to accept that it's no longer the 90s, and RZA will most likely never again produce an entire Clan member's album. Hell, he probably won't ever produce 100% of his own future albums, as we saw on 2008's Digi Snacks.

If fans could ease up enough for a moment to sit back and fully digest this album before condemning it for everything that it is not, then they will be able to appreciate everything that it is -- superior rappers rhyming to boom bap Hiphop music with that Wu-Tang appeal.

Buy the album HERE.

** Fun fact -- At a Wu-Tang concert in DC about eight years ago, I was buying drinks at the bar in between acts, trying to hurry before the Wu went on stage. In my haste I paid for and grabbed my drinks, spinning away from the bar without looking, bumped into a tall guy, my face rammed into his chest, which was covered by a bunch of gold and diamond chains. My beers spilled a bit, but his drinks actually fell out of his hand and all over the floor. Knowing the place was filled with thugs, I immediately apologized and offered to buy the guy more drinks while I knelt down to see if I could salvage the wasted cocktails. When I got back on my feet I finally looked up at the guy in his eye, and it was none other than a smiling Killa Sin! He told me to save my money, that these things happen, and he proceeded to get himself more drinks while I apologized again and ultimately made my way to my buddies to watch a great show. Because that situation could have ended any number of negative ways, I will always ride for my man Sin!

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