My understanding is that this project kind of came out of left field, as Masta Killa has been working on an album he calls Loyalty Is Royalty for several years now. However, he apparently felt that his thoughts and feelings would be best expressed over musical vehicles that were informed by some of the great soul songs in history, even though none of the tracks on Selling My Soul actually sample any of those songs or anything.
Unlike his first two albums, No Said Date and Made In Brooklyn, Selling My Soul features almost zero involvement from the Wu-Tang Clan. Inspectah Deck checks in with a beat, and longtime Wu deejay Allah Mathematics handles a lot of production, but nobody actually contributes any verses, aside from Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound (of all people). An overhyped Ol' Dirty Bastard cameo actually ended up being...well, I won't give it away until you get to that track. So it could be argued that his brethren were either too busy (The RZA was off shooting a movie and all, and I think U-God had a thing) or too apathetic to give much of a shit.
Then again, Masta Killa has been on the lookout for a way to distinguish himself as a solo artist, so rhyming over soul-inspired instrumentals that aren't his usual cup of whiskey may not be a bad idea.
Wait, there's a skit before the rap album intro? Jesus fuck.
More than a little bit confusing. Over a repetitive Allah Mathematics loop that I guess could be considered “soulful” but is really freaking dull, Masta Killa riffs for about a minute, subverting expectations by molding his lyrics to ape well-known bars from the likes of his Wu brethren Cappadonna, Ghostface Killah, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Inspectah Deck, among others, and that's when he isn't just outright plagiarizing their bars. I'm not sure what our host was trying to accomplish here: as a member of a nine-man (or ten-man, depending on your personal stance on Cappa) crew, one would think that he would feel it more important to distinguish himself from the pack, as opposed to reciting their rhymes and promoting their body of work instead of his own. The fuck, man?
3. SOUL & SUBSTANCE
The Mediate Soul beat isn't really something that Wu stans have ever wanted to hear Masta Killa spit over, but it wasn't bad, and Elgin does an admirable job with his two verses, even though the overall song sounds incomplete. There's too much dead air and far too many repetitions of the (not so great) hook for there to have not been a guest artist or two originally in the cards before Masta Killa bumped his head, contracted the type of amnesia that one only sees on soap operas and bad 1980s sitcoms, and opted to run the who marathon by his damn self. Not especially soulful, and the substance on here was lacking, but this track was enjoyable enough overall.
4. R U LISTENING
Although it sounds soulful only in the way that producers ripping off The RZA can, Inspectah Deck's beat on “R U Listening” is actually pretty good, as it masks the fact that it's a simple loop by breaking it up with a hissing sound effect that makes it seem like Masta Killa recorded this shit while the song was still being built in a factory overseas. Elgin sounds entirely in his element, so even though some of his bars come across as more crude than I would have liked, this still ended up being the best track on Selling My Soul thus far, and not just because of the Wu-Tang connection, although that isn't saying much.
5. THINGS JUST AIN'T THE SAME
Produced by P.F. Cuttin', the guy who will forever be known as the dude who knocked the musical half of Blahzay Blahzay's Blah Blah Blah out of the fucking park, and released two full years ago, but it still made the final cut regardless. On here, the producer was much less successful; the beat was alright, but the vocal sample looped throughout (which informs the song's title) aims for nostalgia and ends up missing the target entirely, clipping an innocent bystander in the shoulder in the process. That would be Masta Killa, by the way. I'm pretty sure Nature Sounds released this as a single merely because they knew the older hip hop heads would whip themselves into a frenzy because of the P.F. Cuttin' thing, as Elgin's bars sure as hell didn't sell it.
6. PART 2 (FEAT. KURUPT)
No bullshit: this is a sequel to the introduction. The fucking introduction. And it follows a similar path: over the exact same Allah Math loop as the original, other rappers find their past verses honored and/or mangled, all in the name of homage. The only difference, and this is notable, and you may have guessed at this after reading the guest list, is that the rapper performing-slash-ruining these bars on here is not our host, but Kurupt, and he spends his minute revisiting his days on Death Row Records, which was weird, but also kind of interesting. Now that I understand what Masta Killa was aiming for (finally), I wouldn't have minded hearing a few more of these interludes from other rappers who are a part of a defined group entity. Which means that this is the final track of its type on Selling My Soul. Of course.
7. CALI SUN (FEAT. KURUPT)
Dash's beat sounds like an impression of a West Coast beat from a guy who once lived in California but who had never actually listened to hip hop until he moved to the moon. Masta Killa sounds extra awkward on here: while it's admirable that he would venture out of his wheelhouse, there isn't shit “soulful” about “Cali Sun”, so this doesn't even truly fit the project's alleged theme, so I fail to see the point. Kurupt sounded better on here than he did on the previous interlude, but that was only because he didn't have to carry this track all by his lonesome. And Masta Killa shot a video for this? “Cali Sun” makes the Wu-Tang Clan seem like amateurs who have no fucking clue who their audience is. Also, the video features a non-speaking cameo from B-Real (of Cypress Hill), who pops up so frequently that it's acceptable to question why he didn't just contribute a verse already.
8. WHAT U SEE
Masta Killa squanders the first forty seconds of “What U See” by repeating its title out loud. This wouldn't be a big deal, has the song not only been two minutes and sixteen seconds long. However, it wasn't terrible, although, just like every track on here, it marks a departure for our host, as he adopts the persona of a lady-killing, confident rapper dripping with excess swag, and he almost pulls it off, except for the fact that his second and final verse seems to end abruptly, as does the song itself. Weird.
If one is going for a “soulful” sound, you could do much worse than hiring producer 9th Wonder, who makes “Food” sound like a lost Little Brother joint. Elgin flows effortlessly over the proceedings, so much so that you fail to catch that he's reciting a chorus until you realize that you've heard some of these words before. The track itself was alright: our host seems engaged, and although he's focused on non-Masta Killa pursuits such as getting girls to shake their asses and trying to fold a stack of bills that total one hundred grand, you're right there with him...until the very end, where he recites the hook in a drunken stupor, it seems, which will leave you cold. That's how it worked out for me, anyway.
Dear Lord, this shit was annoying. And I mean drive up to Masta Killa's townhouse, ring the doorbell, and sock him in the jaw when he answers the door-annoying.
11. ALL NATURAL
Masta Killa wanders down the aisles of his local Whole Foods Market and rhymes about the random finds. Okay, that's not really what “All Natural” is, although, as an outspoken vegetarian, Elgin could possibly record a song such as the one I just described and make it halfway entertaining. No, this track is basically a return to his roots and a claim for hip hop dominance, albeit set against a Allah Math backdrop that forces our host to sound reserved rather than antagonistic. Still, not bad.
12. WISE WORDS
This isn't really a song as much as it is a spoken-word interlude, which, if I had to choose one member of the Clan to succumb to this kind of shit, Masta Killa probably would have been my first choice, now that I think about it. Over a self-produced beat that uses the same sample as 2Pac's “Keep Ya Head Up” (a fact not lost on Elgin during the track's intro), Masta Killa stands at the pulpit and tries his bestest to sound wise. Although he makes some interesting points, the beat is distracting, and I don't care for this type of fuckery on most rap albums, so the fact that this appears on a Wu-Tang Clan member's project just hurts my heart.
13. DIVINE GLORY
Elgin returns to the actual music in the goofiest manner possible, with a beat that approximates how R&B sounded on the radio in the mid-1980s, and I mean that as an insult. Masta Killa attempts a love rap that is blocked at every turn by said beat, until the halfway point, where he drops the self-produced music and our host goes at it acapella. He sounds genuine and all (Masta Killa actually isn't bad at this hip hop sub-genre), but the music itself was fucking ridiculous, and in turn, so was this song. And thus.
15. DIRTY SOUL (FEAT. OL' DIRTY BASTARD)
Before you get too excited, you two need to know that “Dirty Soul” doesn't actually feature the late Russell Jones. Instead, Masta Killa merely mentions Ason Unique while running down a list of all of the musical acts he considers to be soulful, and then, in his infinite wisdom, launches into an awkward and ill-advised cover of the first verse from Ol' Dirty's “Hippa To Da Hoppa” (from Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version), with a few of his sound bites from the original thrown in to somehow justify a guest starring credit, because that apparently worked for Jay-Z and Kanye West. Randomness of the overall track aside, Blackinati's beat really does sound like something Russell would have thrived over, so that was a nice touch, and hearing Masta Killa acknowledge the forgotten Wu affiliates (such as Buddah Monk and the Zu Ninjaz) toward the end was interesting, but was there really a reason for this to even be recorded? “Dirty Soul” conjures up some conflicting feelings: as a song, it's entirely useless, but as a quick bump of nostalgia, you could do worse. Still, I'm really glad this album is already over, as short as it was.
There's apparently supposed to be a sixteenth track, “Wisdom”, but it isn't anywhere to be found on either the iTunes or the Amazon versions of Selling My Soul, although it is mentioned on Masta Killa's website, which seems to have been created solely to sell this album. I've listened to a snippet, not enough to give an official opinion, and it seems to be a prolonged skit (or outro, more appropriately) featuring an extended sound bite without any of Masta Killa's actual involvement, but I could be wrong, since I can't find the full track anywhere. So what the fuck happened to it, Nature Sounds? I demand an answer, even though I don't plan on working especially hard to receive one.
THE LAST WORD: Some of you may have noticed that my review was kind of lacking in parts: that's because I could never muster up much of an emotion while listening to this project. A lot of critics are erroneously referring to Selling My Soul as a companion piece to Ghostface Killah's "R&B" album, Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry In Emerald City, but while Pretty Toney's vanity project had some semblance of a heart underneath its shiny facade, Masta Killa's departure from the norm won't be quite as well-received. For one, it's really fucking short, which isn't always a bad thing, but the songs never linger long enough to make much of an impact. Secondly, the beats fail to connect, for the most part: hiring big names such as 9th Wonder and P.F. Cuttin' doesn't automatically mean that they will craft something worth bumping in your speakers. But my real issue with this album is Masta Killa himself: he struggles so obviously with some of these songs that you almost want to skip to the next album on your iPod just because you feel bad for him. When he locks eyes with the track and has a moment, the audience feels it, but most of these tracks are instantly forgettable, so much so that I just forgot what album I was talking about. So, in conclusion, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is worthy of your time and money.