Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Album: The W
Rating: 8 / 10
Back in 1998, when “Wu-Tang Forever” dropped, it was the general consensus that the once no-frills underground group had got a bit too big for their home-made Wu Wear boots. Forever was awesome, it was dope and it was, in my opinion, a classic. But the term overblown could never have been more aptly used. Just listen to the two intros from the two CDs. It was a monsterous experience, but the result of making it so fucking huge was that every MC in the Clan got a chance to shine, and spit a decent amount of verses. Even Ol’ Dirty fans got a good dose of madness. For a group so uniquely diverse and for it to have so many different members with different styles, a two CD set was perfect. And so, I was disappointed when I found out that the follow up, “The W”, was only 13 tracks long, which is tiny by modern hip hop standards.
No sooner has the needle hit the vinyl than the RZA skims a kung fu sample over the soundscape, and having heard only Wu solo releases which were rather detached from the Clan setup sound-wise since “Forever”, this is dope. Now you’ll remember that nearly every track on “Forever” was a straight no hooks posse cut. I thought this was ill at the time, and still do, a no-bullshit setup suits a no-bullshit group. No bullshit is good, but sometimes hip hop can get just too “no frills”, with no themes to the song or shit. This affected Forever greatly, and obviously led to the album sounding roughly the same all the way through. It’s great to see that for this release, most tracks at least have a bit of individual character while retaining the world class rhyme skills.
The Wu-Tang Clan still Ain’t Nuthin To Fuck Wit, and reinforce that through some straight braggadocio/street verse tracks. Allah Mathematics takes over production with excellent results for ‘Do You Really’ while the more energetic Wu bang verses alongside junior member Streetlife. Is it just me, or is Streetlife gradually getting worse since he first really shone on “Forever” and “Tical 2K”? His verse on Meth & Red’s album was poor, and this is nothing special either. Deck’s verse here is particularly ill though, and utilises heavy multi syllables in a interesting style.
The RZA’s production on this album is on a whole very dope indeed, but the backdrop he provides for Deck, Meth & Red on ‘Redbull’ is below average by his high standards. However, all three MCs blaze the joint with verses which equal their individual best. And an appearance of rap’s finest MC duo since Run DMC is particularly phat. Red – “I ride through ya hood in a Mr. Softee truck, then pull a mac out a box of snow cones”. Meth – “And just because my outfit match don’t make me pretty” and “In a room full of crackers I might cut the cheese”.
‘Chamber Music’ creates a dark mood to set off the album, as the typical style verses from Raekwon and Masta Killa revolve around the mysterious knowledge of GZA and Method Man’s playboy humorisms and deadly hook.
Not one to ruin a good thing, the RZA carries the sinister, gritty feel of ‘Chamber Music’ onto the frighteningly potent gun narrative ‘Careful (Click, Click)’. Despair kicks in half way through though, as through the black smoke of the track lurches the Staten Island village idiot Cappadonna, spouting some incoherent bullshit in his nails-down-a-chalkboard voice about how he’ll “stab you with the vocab”. I really, really despise Cappadonna.
For all those fans of Rae & Ghost still reeling from the lack of “Cuban Linx” soundalike material on the duo’s second albums, there is ‘Hollow Bones’, which also has a dope Deck verse. However, the beat on this track is bizarre. Consisting of a loop based around a moaning sample, it ends up being completely unlistenable, to me anyway. The sample is jarring to your very soul, as it loops over and over again while interfering with the MCs and generally fucking up the track. You’ll either love it or hate it.
The Wu have gone out of their way to accommodate guest MCs on this LP. Along with Redman and Snoop Dogg (I’ll mention him later), there is Nas and Busta Rhymes. Nas reunites with Raekwon again on ‘Let My Niggas Live’, presumably to try to recreate Verbal Intercourse. The RZA provides the heavy bass of the beat, Rae provides the hook and some ghetto narrative, and Nas provides one of his dopest verses in years. Most of Nas’ shit is very straightforward, no nonsense ish, but this is some abstract, complex-rhyme-scheme flow sacrificing all the content which you feel was supposed to be there for raw style. And it works very well. Busta, however, doesn’t impress one bit. A obscenely unimaginative – “smack a nigga right in the face like this was handball” – and choppy verse from him appears on ‘The Monument’ alongside Rae and GZA.
All this braggadocio and street flow is dope, but the Wu prove on two occasions they can rock the house alongside the best of ’em. Posse cut ‘Protect Ya Neck II (The Jump Off)’ gives every Clan member except Dirty a chance to spit a few bars over its sizzling bassline and funky samples. Meanwhile, ‘Gravel Pit’, which I’m sure y’all have heard many times, is by far the most interesting track on the album. Its beat is a swinging stampede of head-bopping drums, and the vocals are filled in with dopeness by Meth, Ghost and U-God. All this with a sultry female hook. It’s highly amusing to me that the radio and TV stations don’t know what “gravel pit” means, and leave “Check out my gravel pit…” completely uncensored.
You can’t party your life away, as the Wu once said. And they don’t, by any means. They need a little time to get real emotional. Fuck this, I’ll say it straight up – ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’ is a masterpiece. I’ve never seen so much emotion being conveyed in a single song, in hip hop or in any other genre. Just listen to the RZA’s verse and try and stop the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end, while Isaac Hayes’ hook adds to the whole experience.
The album ends with ‘Jah World’, which sounds kinda similar to ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’, but not enough that this similarity would be a downside. It has exactly the same MCs, in the same order, as ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’ (Ghost and RZA). Reggae MC Junior Reid, who also guests on track 5, the Masta Killa solo joint ‘One Blood Under W’, sounds very dope on this song, especially towards the end.
And yes, we now come to the most intriguing part of the album. The Snoop appearance. I was outraged when I read a preliminary tracklisting for “The W” and saw this “rent-a-thug” had somehow got a place on the album. I dreaded to think what his flows would sound like alongside RZA, GZA, Masta, Rae etc. But in actual fact, the shit’s turned out good. The Doggfather has a verse on ‘Conditioner’, on which the only other MC is the equally wasted Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The RZA’s production for this is pretty basic, and sounds similar to his early work and to the ‘Maria’ beat from “Forever”, but when you’ve got two of the most perennially confused and disgustingly dope rappers on the planet, who cares? ODB opens the cut with some rambling about, yes, bitches, before breaking into a verse which compared to his explosive raps on “Nigga Please”, is mellow. However, it’s not exactly quality stuff, and you get the feeling that Dirty’s now a lost cause. It’s not like it’s brilliant insanity either, like his amazing verse on ‘Reunited’, it’s just boring. Dirty soon collapses (probably) half way through the track to make way for Snoop. And Snoop, being the character he is, doesn’t do anything we didn’t expect him to – a verse about bitches and weed, hurrah!!! And he turns out to be a very worthy addition to this puzzling cut.
On a whole, this is a dope album. The majority of tracks are top quality, the variation in sound throughout is good, and most lyrics are as good as you’d expect from the Wu. But you get the feeling you’ve not heard anywhere near enough of the Clan. You want to hear more of almost everybody – each Clan member doesn’t get nearly enough coverage and verses, the only one who just about does is Deck. U-God gets a puny three verses, two of which are only a few bars. And I know U-God’s probably the worst rapper in the Clan, but he’s still ill. RZA also gets no chance to actually show how good a conventional hip hop MC he is. And it’s about time that the Wu Killa Bees, like Killah Priest, Shyheim or Killa Sin got chances to shine on the Clan group efforts, I would have been more pleased to see them here than Snoop and Busta. In losing that aspect of “Forever” which suited the Clan so well – gigantism – this album now seems to be missing something.