Artist: Masta Killa
Album: No Said Date
Label: Nature Sounds
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Eleven years from the beginning of Wu-Tang Clan’s legendary assault on Hiphop, the forgotten man of the Clan, Masta Killa finally drops his debut solo release. While all the other members went for theirs’ capitalizing on and (in some cases) more recently living off the initial acclaim their Wu work created, Masta Killa for one reason or another never made it out, with his long-promised solo effort. Its hard to argue with the theory that no matter how good this album may be, it will struggle to sell because of Masta Killa’s low profile – there’s the distinct lack of a promoting angle (where Rae was the one with the intricate rhymes, Meth was the lovable ladies man, ODB was the crazy one, etc… Masta Killa was just… Masta Killa), but also because its generally agreed that Wu-Tang’s train has left the station – the iron grip they had on the industry has turned into little more than a feeble pinch, and they really have no relevancy as a unit anymore.
Despite this Masta Killa, as seems to be his task in life, has struggled to finally push “No Said Date” to the masses, even taking a tongue-in-cheek shot at the label politics he’s continually fought against with the title of his debut. “No Said Date” is also probably the closest we’ll get to anything to a new Wu-Tang Clan album too as it features guest appearances from Rae, Ghost, Meth, RZA, U-God, GZA and Deck. With rumours of internal strife between U-God and RZA, and minimal Wu fam cuts on recent albums (Meth, U-God, and Ghosts are all low on other family member appearances), the chances of an REAL Wu-Tang Clan album being released any time soon, are similar to the chances of George Dubya finding WMD’s in Iraq. In fact Georgie Boy will probably hit paydirt long before we see the Clan go back in the studio together.
However, don’t think that everyone put their differences aside just to go back in the studio and help MK get his shit together – popular rumour has it that the Masta has been sitting on the majority of these tracks for 8-9 years, which may well explain why a lot of them sound like vintage Wu-Tang clan songs, with every member hungry to impress on the mic, and the didn’t-know-you-missed-them-till-you-heard-them-again karate samples sprinkled through the mix.
‘Grab The Microphone’ opens things up with a simple rolling loop and sparse synths supporting a 50 Cent-ish sounding Masta Killa as he spits. Instantly the major problem with MK on the mic resurfaces – his lack of charisma is a major failing. He may well be spitting the same clever metaphors and similes wrapped up in Eastern mysticism that the GZA often comes with, but his vocal tone rarely changes from the monotone drawl, liable to leave a listener tired at the conclusion of the track.
With RZA behind the boards though, you’re at least guaranteed some switch-ups in sound and tempo that weren’t present on the Brock-produced opener. The title track takes things to a new level, with a quick groove interlayed with flutes and live-sounding percussion inspiring Masta Killa to modify his flow a little to lose some of the blandness, while the later ‘Old Man’ (the first single) sees MK bouncing off RZA rhymes and the unpredictable behaviour of ODB over a Meters-ish backing track. ‘School’ meanwhile jumps all over the place, as many a RZA track tends to do, with a menacing heavyweight drum track awkwardly supporting Masta Killa’s reminisces of lunchroom rhyming, before a 100 mile-per-hour tempo shift, sees RZA machine gunning verbal bullets over a rapidly sped up soul horn sample.
Elsewhere, its Wu-Tang production affiliates True Master and Mathematics who hold down the majority of the boardwork with stunning results. ‘Last Drink’, ‘D.T.D.’ and ‘Whatever’ are shining examples of how Mathematics has expertly picked up the production techniques RZA has shared with him. ‘D.T.D.’ and ‘Whatever’ especially stand out, with Masta Killah unsurprisingly being pushed into the background on the former track by the “Cuban Link”-era chemistry of a cool Raekwon, and an animated Ghost, as Math roughly loops a familiar Otis Redding sample, while on the latter, Mathematics beautifully-constructed soul sample is ripped vintage Wu style by MK, Prodigal Sunn and Streetlife.
True Master meanwhile favours more hard edged beats – ‘Secret Rivals’ is little more than a stuttering drum track, but somehow the combination of MK, Killah Priest, and a pre-gassed up Method Man pull off the feat of making the shit sound dope; ‘Queen’ is built around a chopped up drum sample of Mtume’s ‘Juicy Fruit’ and a breathy female vocal, as Killa drops his ode to the Earths. Its ‘Silverbacks’ that should get Wu fans salivating though, with the everyone-at-their-peak combination of MK, GZA, and Inspectah Deck destroying True Master’s bluesy backing track, as they spit the urban science that we’ve been missing for so long.
The three other tracks here produced by ‘outsiders’ are a mixed bag – the futurisic Choco-produced ‘Digi Warfare’ continues (or precedes depending on what you believe) the Bobby Digital theme inspired by RZA, who appears on backing vocals here along with U-God (though I can’t hear Golden Arms here for the life of me.) Sandwiched between ‘Secret Rivals’ and ‘Old Man’ though, it sounds decidely average. ‘Love Spell’ sounds like its been tacked on at the last minute for the ladies, with Dave West’s thick bassline limping along underneath Killa’s uninterested flow and a sickly vocal hook. The final track ‘Masta Killa’ at least tries to fit in with the theme of the rest of the album, with producer Baby Dooks bringing an grandly oriental theme to the table. Again though, perhaps because it ain’t a true Wu-family cut, MK sounds a little below par on his mic performance.
Overall, this is a solid album. The whole Clan appear at various points throughout, and its obvious that there’s a chemistry on the cuts where they share mic time. Production-wise, the RZA, True Master, and Mathematics cuts are as close to classic Wu-Tang as you’re liable to get these days. The only drawback is Masta Killa’s flow which at times does seem a little one dimensional, and its at these times that you can’t help but feel that there was a reason he was left to the bottom of the pile when release date after release date passed. However on the flip side, though as Guru said “its mostly the voice”, if you can look beyond how he says and more into what he says, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by lyrics awash with detailed thoughts and imagery that draw influences from not just all the good points of other Clan members, but from modern history and science teachings, current affairs, and biology and chemistry texts – be prepared to learn something by the end of this album!
You could do much worse than give “No Said Date” a chance – Ghostface efforts aside, this is the only relevant Wu-Tang album to have dropped in the last 4-5 years, and musically it should be an automatic choice anyway.