20 years after Wu-Tang’s seminal piece of work ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ the old gang have reunited for what might be their last ever album together. There has been much dispute and tension within the group over this record mainly due to the fact that it’s The RZA’s curated project essentially. He got the whole group back together for this and brought along his massive bits of live instrumentation with him to do it; as a result there is a distinct lack of Raekwon on this album.
Right from the open you can hear it’s a The RZA curated project as on the opening track ‘Ruckus In B Minor’ he starts with the lines ‘Huh, after all these years, what you said was true. The Shaolin and the Wu-Tang is very dangerous’ which references the opening track to their classic album. Not only this though, but the beat to this opening track has his and executive producer Rick Rubin’s fingerprints all over it. On this track though, it’s hard to see what all the fuss Raekwon was making was about; this track has them spitting over these beats and doing it extremely well, even Raekwon himself. But then the album rolls on and on and the instrumentation only serves to make this album feel awkward. He tries to sound similar to The Roots but fails to take into account what all of his fellow MCs are in terms of what they’re used to. Amazing rappers like Ghostface Killah sound really toned down when paired up with these that don’t complement them but instead compete with them. Even when Martin Luther King shows up later on in the record it’s hard to hear what he’s saying because of the instruments around him. Some of the best beats on this record happen to be produced by someone else, ‘Necklace’ has an interesting beat that sounds a bit harder than the rest almost giving us some nostalgia of why Wu-Tang used to be so great.
It’s not just The RZA’s fault though, some of the other MCs could have at least sounded like they were trying to get on well with these beats and ideas, no matter how bad some of them are. They all sound like they were intentionally trying to distance themselves right from the project to shift the blame for anything bad said about the album, to the point where it sometimes feels like an RZA project with a load of guest features. A lot of the lines on here do feel so lazy like Masta Killa’s line ‘A live scene theme from a Godfather saga / A Martin Scorsese classic and I’m the author’ c’mon really? That’s the best you could come up with? When all of these rappers flow off of each other it doesn’t feel quite like a ‘Family Reunion’ rather than actually makes them feel more distant than ever. There’s no way that this would have all been recorded while they were together.
Of course there are genuine moments where it the MCs do shine on this record, they’re just too few and the reason they deserve to be criticized for this is that they could do SO much better. If this was a new Hip-Hop group I would no doubt say that ‘this record has some promising MCs they just need to drop the nostalgia, figure out a better sound to spit over and clean up round the edges’ and that’s what Wu-Tang sound like these days; a group that needs mentoring rather than some of Hip-Hop greatest ever artists.