Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Album: Iron Flag
Rating: 10 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
With the release of their 4th group LP, the Wu has finally done it. They’ve released an LP that can, in many ways, be considered superior to their original groundbreaking LP, “Enter The 36 Chambers”.
Their 2nd LP, “Wu-Tang Forever”, while great in my opinion, never felt like what a Wu album should be- just too much filler.
Their 3rd LP, “The W”, released last year, tried to recreate the sound of their past, but lacked cohesiveness. It just didn’t sound like it was put together well.
This however, is an absolute masterpiece. It meshes the new production techniques that the RZA has learned throughout his many years producing, with that trademark grimy sound that all Wu heads know and love.
Oh yeah… a review.
1) In The Hood
A peaceful key loop opens things with an old movie sample, and much like “The W”, I’m frothing at the mouth. And then it all stops. And what do we get? A frantic horn sample over assorted gunshots, sirens, and sounds of guns being cocked. The drums in this track are amazing, and blend perfectly with the horns. Masta Killa reps first, and he’s not going slow, and he’s sounding REALLY dope. The chorus chimes in, with some low volume ragga chatter, and this is so dope. INS is up next, ripping it with his usual fervor, until someone who sounds like Street Life just RIPS the mic, with the best verse I’ve ever heard from him, giving various examples of what living in the hood is like. Just amazing, and ended with some great cuts.
ANOTHER amazing beat. Various classic Wu lines are sampled and thrown into the chorus, including the famous “Wu-Tang” chant. The backbone of the beat is an older 70’s sounding guitar lick that is just layered beautifully over the bassline. Just a gorgeous beat that would sound perfect on its own. But it’s not. The first verse in particular stands out, as Ghost addresses the September 11th bombings, tellling Mr. Bush to “sit down” because now he’s in charge of the war, and he’s gonna mess up Osama. Just awesome.
3) Chrome Wheels
The dreaded pseudo-R&B intro here, which quickly fades into a beat reminscent of the Bobby Digital LP’s, with it’s shuffling “digital orchestra” sound, and various digital blips. 12 O’Clock guests here, and drops a dope rhyme about what he remembers about the Wu crew and his life. B.O.B.B.Y. then pops in, and does the same thing, recounting the story of a young kid who grew up to be a thug. Rae drops a real short verse, and then Sunz of Man member Prodical (I think) pipes in with the final verse. The only downer? I’d say the chorus, but even THAT I can live with.
4) Soul Power
Of all the people to guest on a Wu album, Flava Flav was the last person I’d have picked. But here he is in full effect. This beat reminds me of ‘Let My Niggas Live’from “The W”, but with a less menacing undertone. It has a real festival feel to it, and a great flute sample that just bobs and weaves through the beat. Flava is kept to the chorus, which is GOOD, and the highlight verse comes from Ghostface, with his rapid fire emotional flow, as from the sounds of it, he recounts his release from prison a few years ago. And glory of glory, even U-God comes correct here.
5) Pinky Ring
The first single. Go listen to this. NOW. Heard it? Now you’ll know why advance hype for this album has been so good. This is VINTAGE Wu. RZA digs into his old-school catalogue to pull out one of the most infectious horn samples I’ve EVER heard, and layers it over a fast paced drum beat, and some well placed cuts. EVERYONE shines on this track, and when I say everyone, I mean all 8 members (minus ODB of course). Give me Meth’s and GZA’s verses though. A classic track.
6) One of These Days
A nice soul sample looped over a stutter step beat, with a jutting horn sample. INS opens things, telling a tale of one of his normal days. Some nice imagery here. Rae is next, and does the same thing, in a way that only he can, spitting at the same time, what seems to be gibberish, and a pretty good descriptive verse. U-God is on the mic next, and it seems like he’s improved since the last time I’ve heard him, actually staying on beat pretty well. Nothing special is said, but I can live with this.
7) Y’All Been Warned
The B-side to ‘Pinky Ring’, and a perfect complement. This track reminds me of ‘The Jump-Off’ from “The W”, but with a cleaner beat, and a better guitar lick sample that just flows from bar to bar. Mr. Mef does his thing like you’d expect, taking care of the chorus as well. RZA, INS, Rae, all do their part to tell all crews that have forgotten the Wu, that they’re back too. A great cut.
After a short interlude, and another dreaded R&Bish intro, ‘Babies’ starts up, with a VERY laid back beat, with some beautifully layered production, higlighted by a head nodding bassline, and some piano keys that sound like they were literally sprinkled all over the track. The vocal sample that seeps in also adds a great touch. Ghostface drops a great verse, with some dope imagery of a gunrunner, and how he spreads guns to the inner city youth. Just amazing. Part two has Rae doing the story thing as well, explaining a disturbance below his place on the street, and a drug bust, with the subsequent police violence, retaliation, and jailing. Super eloquent. Give me the 3rd verse though, as the master himself, the GZA follows the lead of his fellow group members, recounting his youth in school, and how hard it was growing up. The wordplay is just magnificent.
9) Radioactive (4 Assassins)
As you’d expect- 4 MC’s on this track. Unlike some tracks of this vein though, the beat is off the meat rack. The loop used for the rhythm is simple enough, as are the drums and bass…it’s the extra spacey sound effect that’s chopped up and echoed throughout that made my jaw drop. Listen to it on a good system to hear how they move it around from left to right, in front and behind. Just awesome. GZA, Meth, and Masta Killa are the MC’s of choice, with the choicest lines coming from Meth –
“Y’all niggas got the motherfucking nerve
To critic when I write, that’s my motherfucking word
Blah, blah, blah
Like N’Sync kiss that ass
Bye bye bye
No what I’m saying? I ain’t playin”
10) Back In The Game
Wow – they used the “Shaolin shadowoxing” sample at the beginning here… but this track has the main ingredient for disaster – Trackmasters production. Featuring Ron Isley, the beat surprisingly is not a disaster, mostly because the Trackmasters refrain from glitzing things up AT ALL. The beat is actually VERY smooth, with some nice strings, and a nice organ base. Ron Isley is extraneous here in my opinion, and once again GZA slays it, explaining why people were wrong to write the Wu off, and using a card game as his metaphor. Ghost does the same… every MC on this track just puts a smile on my face. Not only that, but they incorporate the shadowboxing sample into the actual song too. A nice chilling track.
11) Iron Flag
This is reminding me so much of “Forever”. A sped up looped vocal sample, and some cuts intro the cut, and then the beat is flipped to a more frantic feel, with some nice layered violins. Some shout outs to RZA by Rae, and the theme of the “Wu coming back” is kept in check. A smooth track that falters a bit when compared to the rest of the LP – don’t get me wrong though, it’s still hot. And just when you think it’s done… weirdness as another track comes in after the silence. THIS is grimy. Sounds like live instrumentation, and the vocals sound recorded very amateurishly…damn it sounds like their demo. I LIKE it though. Cleaning this up would have ruined it methinks.
12) Dashing (Reasons)
An upbeat beat for the final track, with a key accentuating the bass drop, and a faster pace, with a flute interspersed. I’m NOT feeling the singsong beginning, but I’m in a good mood, so I can forgive it. With that over, we get into the song proper, and the beat gives it a very different feel. INS provides even more energy with a nice bragging verse. Unfortunately the singing at the beginning IS the chorus, so I’ll have to put up with it. GZA again rips it (like I have to say that) too.
Things end off with a classic kung-fu sample. And the journey is over.
See, THIS is what the people wanted. But it’s not just that which makes this LP so awesome. It’s more that the Wu has finally done what so many artists have had a hard time doing- combining the best of their past with the best of their present.
There’s NO Cappa on this. Apart from Flava, and Ron Isley, there’s NO outside guests. The Sunz members don’t count. Production isn’t completely in house, but even the tracks done by outsiders were dope (see the Trackmasters).
Most importantly, they played to strengths – there’s lots of GZA. Ghost was always paired with Rae. INS kept his flow upbeat. Meth was his usual charismatic self. RZA wasn’t all over the LP lyrically. Masta Killa improved on his flow. Even U-God came correct. And in a shocker – they avoided the excess of most hip hop LP’s today. At 55 minutes, this is trimmed of all fat. Just the meat. No skits.
And as an endnote, this album can be attributed solely to the fact that the Wu have been shitted on repeatedly by the public and the media for the last 3 years. There is a real theme behind this album, and it’s “We’re back. We’re hungry as ever. And we were playing with you all this time. Give us our throne and crown back.”
My highest recommendations. A classic LP, and a certified 5 mic LP.