To celebrate the twentieth (fuck, I feel old) anniversary of the release of the very first Wu-Tang Clan album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), I've decided to give you two different reviews, each for a recent project from a Wu-affiliated producer (in this case, Allah Mathematics and True Master, respectively). I've been forced to do this because there really wasn't an alternative: apparently the Wu-Tang Clan proper are too goddamn busy to do anything to celebrate their own accolade (sure, they released a single track, “Family Reunion”, through the Soul Temple label earlier this year, but it seems all that talk about a final album was, as always, just talk), and also, there aren't any Wu-related projects I feel are appropriate to discuss on a day such as today (not any I haven't already written about, anyway). So for the Wu stans out there, enjoy! And for those of you who aren't fans of the Wu, get over yourself. You knew what you were getting into when you started following me.
Or you could also go celebrate the twentieth anniversary of A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. "Electric Relaxation" ranks among one of my favorite songs of all time, so that would be an acceptable alternative for non-Wu stans who can't believe I'm still writing this post.
Allah Mathematics's third full-length album The Answer (well, fourth if you count his instrumental project Soul Of A Man as an album) is allegedly a pseudo-sequel to The Problem, a project on which he posited that the main problem within our chosen genre was that there weren't enough songs out there with Wu members fluttering about. It was originally intended to be released a little bit closer to The Problem's street date, but things got in the way, specific things such as “The Problem didn't exactly sell many copies” and “Mathematics hadn't actually recorded any music for The Answer yet” and whatnot. To satisfy his core base of fans, consisting of his parents and that one cousin that never discouraged him from pursuing his dream, he leaked a free mixtape, The Prelude To The Answer, earlier this year, featuring tracks that were left on the cutting room floor (including a RZA production, no, seriously). That mixtape doubles as a default Eyes Low solo album, since that dude dominates the entire project, and he comes close to doing so on the proper album, as well. It must have felt like winning the lottery for him.
Instead of merely showcasing Eyes Low and actual Wu members, Allah Math chose to use The Answer as his own version of Dr. Dre's The Chronic: our host lets his less famous friends play with the big boys over instrumentals he crafted all by his lonesome. Although that same argument could be made for his other two projects, The Answer features more guest appearances by his weed carriers than ever before, proof that he has become more confident in their abilities to carry projects, or maybe he was just high as shit when he made this decision, I don't know. Regardless, your enjoyment of The Answer may be dependent on how much you love Wu-Tang Clan albums that don't feature all that much of the Clan.
In an effort to craft something more than just a collection of singles, Allah Math chose to frame The Answer around an album-length skit featuring a violent altercation between a veteran gangster and a hotheaded young buck. If that isn't a metaphor for what you're about to read about throughout this entire goddamn review, then I don't know what is.
1. INTRO - “THE CHRONICLES OF KILLER” (PT. 1) (FEAT. JIM O'BRIEN)
Really long for a rap album intro that has nothing to do with the fucking music.
2. COUSIN JACKSON (FEAT. EYES LOW & YAY HIGH)
Because Allah Math is still trying to build himself up as a talent scout of sorts, The Answer's very first song does not feature any members of the Wu: instead, “Cousin Jackson” runs with something called a Yay High and Math's go-to wingman Eyes Low, both of whom brag about how many material possessions they've each accumulated (even though neither is a household name, but this is hip hop, and sometimes (well, most times) it's all about promoting the fantasy, hoping that it will eventually become your reality). The gag is that “Cousin Jackson” refers to President Andrew Jackson, the dude on the twenty-dollar bill, so obviously these guys can't be ballin' out of control, but don't tell them that. Math's beat is okay, and even takes a twist prior to the the third verse, but this wasn't essential listening.
3. FOUR HORSEMEN (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK, METHOD MAN, RAEKWON, & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
As if to apologize for fucking with the listener on “Cousin Jackson”, “Four Horsemen” features, unsurprisingly, four of the Clan's heaviest hitters: the Wu-Massacre trio of Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon, and also Inspectah Deck appears. Math's instrumental kicks off appropriately dramatic, but even though it settles into complacency the moment anyone starts rhyming, it still manages to sound enjoyable. Deck, Rae, and Meth all turn in decent performances, but Pretty Toney, whose hoarse flow has him sounding Cappadonna-esque, steals the show, as is the way of the world. Not the finest posse cut, but hey, these guys still make posse cuts! That counts for something.
4. NOTORIOUS (FEAT. REDMAN, MR. CREAM, & EYES LOW)
It's not that anyone sounds especially terrible on “Notorious”: in fact, Eyes Low, Mr. Cream, and the effervescent Reggie Noble (no, really, he's on here, that wasn't a typo) all come off pretty well over Math's attempt at a Southern beat, albeit one that focuses more on speed-rapping than trapping. What killed it for me was the sped-up-to-goddamn-chipmunk-heaven chorus, which is an interpolation of four bars swiped from The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Notorious Thugs”, and it's so goddamn awful that not only is the song ruined, you can almost hear the sound of someone pissing on Biggie's headstone. Allah Math may want to get a public apology to Christopher Wallace's family prepared.
5. SHORTY (FEAT. CAPPADONNA, MASTA KILLA, & JNY)
This ode to very special shorties is brought to you by Cappadonna and Masta Killa, who, weirdly, has a ton of love raps under his belt. It's weird because his rap name is Masta Killa, you see, unless he's always been implying that he's an expert vagina slayer and just never bothered to clarify with anyone. Anyway, both rappers sound alright enough, but the beat is pretty dull, and crooner JNY's hook is generic and bland. Unless this was intended as a statement on the current crop of love raps on the radio and their cookie-cutter format (take rhymes from artists that tend to discuss more violent or boastful pursuits and combine with a soft beat and an R&B hook, and congratulations, you just created a hit record), then this can be forgiven. But I'm pretty sure this was meant to be a real song, in which case, sigh.
6. COCAINE (FEAT. METHOD MAN, ALI VEGAS, & EYES LOW)
Method Man sees fit to share the stage with Eyes Low and Ali Vegas on “Cocaine”, an entertaining diversion that Meth completely steals. Low and Vegas bookend the star attraction, whose verse comes off as additional rambling after his hook at first, thanks to Mathematics not setting any boundaries, and Meth hasn't sounded this interesting since 4:21...The Day After. So it's too bad that the rest of “Cocaine” fails to live up to that standard. Still, Wu stans that sit through this will end up liking it just enough.
7. LIVE IN THE STAIRCASE (SKIT) (FEAT. POPA WU & EYES LOW)
There are two credited guests on this interlude, but only Eyes Low spits a quick verse, one which is alright but unnecessary. He could have used those rhymes on an actual song. I still dug the low-key hangout vibe of this skit, though.
8. MIDTRO “THE CHRONICLES OF KILLER” (PT. 2) (FEAT. JIM O'BRIEN)
Oh yeah, this narrative is still going.
9. RATHA SMOKE WIT U (FEAT. REDMAN, JNY, READY ROC, GROEGE CLINTON, WILLIAM COLLINS, & GARY COOPER)
Reggie gets top billing, but he pretty much only hosts this song, dropping a few random ad-libs when he feels the need. This is merely an excuse to have JNY ape Adina Howard's “Freak Like Me”, except he's singing about weed, and for Redman's Gilla House maintenance man Ready Roc to spit the lone actual verse. Think of this as Mathemathics's answer to Dr. Dre's “The Roach (The Chronic Outro)”: hell, both tracks even incorporate George Clinton somehow. But there's no need to sit through this more than the once.
10. MEN OF RESPECT (MADE MEN BLOODY VERSION) (FEAT. RAEKWON, METHOD MAN, CAPPADONNA, BAD LUCK, EYES LOW, & TERMANOLOGY)
A fairly massive posse cut that features three ringers, two of which are Clan members, two weed carriers, and also Cappadonna, who provided transportation. Rae and Meth graciously allow the rest of the contributors to fight over who gives the best verse, and the victor is Termanology, who pretty much kills it with his closer. Math's instrumental is conducive to a song of this nature, and although it doesn't quite bang, it gets the job done, and everyone involved is excited enough to be here.
11. BITCH NEVER! (FEAT. OL' DIRTY BASTARD, 12 O'CLOCK, LA THE DARKMAN, & EYES LOW)
Don't get too excited, damn it: Big Baby Osiris only appears on the hook, and it's a terrible one derived from a couple of his bars from something my head hurts too much to place, I'm sure. Eyes Low has the most lines, spitting generic sex raps and shouting out porn stars as though hip hop had never considered doing that before, while Dirty's own brother 12 O'Clock is forced to share his verse with a stubborn La the Darkman that doesn't even bother to complete his own fucking performance. There's a place in our chosen genre for fucking and songs about fucking, but the music still has to be good for anyone to give a shit.
12. DOLLAR $ BILL (FEAT. STREETLIFE, SKANKS, & MAIN EVENT)
13. NEWCOMER (FEAT. BAD LUCK, BLVD BENNY, FAMEUS “HOL-UP” VET, ALLAH REAL, POPA WU, & EYES LOW)
The only way that song title could be more accurate is if you made it plural, since “Newcomer” features pretty much every one of the Allah Mathematics bunch, and also, for some reason, Wu-Tang orator Popa Wu. Math's instrumental sounds like something a Wu-Tang Clan team of imitators would use to spit their huge posse cut over, which is to say it isn't bad, but you can practically see the formulaic-ness of it all. Nobody sounds offensive to the ears, but that being said, nobody stands out much, either. Oh well.
14. OUTRO “THE CHRONICLES OF KILLER” (PT. 3) (FEAT. JIM O'BRIEN)
The story ends the only way it could: Bruce Willis was dead the entire time. There's no way he could have survived a bullet from that close a range. Think about it.
15. DA BONUS (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK & EYES LOW)
Couldn't even come up with a proper title, huh? (“Da Bonus”, the bonus track that wasn't, appears to be a late addition to The Answer, tacked on at the end when Math decided to leave an unknown Bad Luck track named “State My Claim” on the cutting room floor. “State My Claim” appeared on the original tracklisting that floated around online, so if anyone has it or has listened to it, leave your thoughts below, because I don't give enough of a damn to track it down myself.) Inspectah Deck and Eyes Low help close out The Answer over a celebratory beat that sounds like it's using the same guitar licks that A Tribe Called Quest utilized for “Lyrics To Go” slowed waaaaaaaaay down. (Hey, that song also appeared on Midnight Marauders. Synergy!) Low probably relished the opportunity to appear alongside the Rebel INS, while Deck seems kind of bored, obviously having used up all of his best rhymes for Czarface. But as a closing track to a project that lives and dies by its peculiar team-ups, it could have been awful, and it isn't. And with that, we're done.
THE LAST WORD: First off, good for Eyes Low: Allah Mathematics's BFF appears on over half of the project's tracks, so The Answer will sound like goddamn heaven to those of you Wu stans who couldn't get enough of him before. However, I don't know of any Wu stans who would actually prefer to hear Eyes Low over, say, Method Man, so for everyone else in the real world, The Answer is a disappointing response to a question nobody ever asked. It's at least a tighter effort that his previous two non-instrumental releases: the number of skits in the tracklisting make The Answer appear to be longer than it really is. And some of the beats sound pretty decent, too. But nothing on The Answer knocks, and that lack of commitment on Math's part shows in the finished tracks. Some of the guest verses are downright inspired (see: Termanology, Method Man on “Cocaine”), but everyone else seems unimpressed by the recording process and have adjusted their expectations and respective work ethics accordingly. The Answer was insufficient. Then again, I've felt that way about all of the Mathematics projects, so you really shouldn't be surprised here. For diehard Wu stans that have tons of disposable income and nothing else better to listen to only.
True Master has been far less successful than Mathematics at getting his point across: even though he has secured more actual production credits on actual Wu projects, he still hasn't released a proper solo album (his project with KRS-One, Meta-Historical, doesn't count for obvious reasons). He also hasn't worked nearly as much as his counterpart within today's post recently, although a lot of that can be chalked up to legal issues and his alleged attempted escaping from said legal issues (the man goes by Derrick Harris when he's getting arrested for alleged sexual assault).
Master Craftsman, as such, is his first real solo album, released through his own website, and it features eleven tracks with whoever he was able to pin down to deliver a verse over the past twenty-odd years it took for this shit to get off the ground. I'm joking: in no way does Master Craftsman sound as though twenty years' worth of thought was put into it. In fact, for the most part it sounds like he churned this shit out in about thirty minutes and decided to unleash it upon the world (well, the part of the world that would give a rat's shit) without doing anything so demeaning as “finishing” the tracks or “mastering” them. Yeah, Master Craftsman pretty much sounds like a demo tape for much of the run time.
Like Mathematics, True Master only works the boards on Master Craftsman, choosing not to take to microphone at any point. Unlike Allah Math, though, Derrick has more rhymes under his belt, his GZA-like flow having graced tracks alongside the likes of Royal Fam and, of all people, Guru (R.I.P.). Given how more than a few of the tracks on here sound like demos tarted up like clown whores, that choice is a curious one, as his vocals certainly could have assisted in helping them sound more, I don't know, complete?
1. IGOD MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE (FEAT. POPA WU)
This track shows up as “Love, Hell, Or Right” on my iTunes for some reason: maybe that was the original title, but True Master didn't want to get it confused with the title of Mathematics's debut album. Our host's beat could double as the theme music to a 1970s-era hospital drama: it's funky and melodramatic all at once. Popa Wu delivers a monologue to kick of this project, which makes sense, as the man doesn't rap. It's unfortunate, and yet typical, that his intro meanders with no real point, but hey, that beat though.
2. KILLA BEE LESSONS 1-10 (FEAT. CAPPADONNA & INSPECTAH DECK)
Kudos to the fact that a Pretty Toney-inflected Cappadonna and Inspectah Deck both adhere to the concept introduced in the track's title. But I just didn't give a shit: neither man delivers the different lessons in any way approaching entertaining, the bats aren't properly mastered (I dare True Master to prove to me otherwise), and that instrumental is loud and frustrating in all the wrong ways. Sigh.
3. STRONG ARM (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Deck shouts out Sunz Of Man's Hell Razah at the top of this track, which is bizarre, as Hell Razah has nothing to do with “Strong Arm” as far as I can tell. Ghostface Killah, however, does, and closes out the song with an okay-to-decent verse that doesn't hold a candle to his output earlier in the year. True Master does the Rebel INS a disservice, releasing this track without finishing it at all: Deck's vocals contain the natural echoes that come about when you're shouting into a microphone in a recording booth. (Oddly, Ghostface doesn't seem to have this problem, so he obviously recorded his verse on a different plane of existence.) Which is too bad: this was pretty alright, although that sound quality is fucking embarrassing.
4. THIS IS WHAT WE DO (FEAT. CAPPADONNA & PRODIGAL SUNN)
True Master's instrumental is interesting, but a bit too unorthodox for Cappadonna to adequately use. Sunz Of Man's Prodigal Sunn fares much better in his highest-profile cameo of recent memory. But the hook was completely unnecessary and only seems to exist so True Master can prove to someone, anyone, that he can craft an actual song when requested, as opposed to a collection of myriad bars. Because someone wanted that to happen, right?
5. BATMAN AND ROBIN (FEAT. RAEKWON & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
It really doesn't get simpler than this: Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, together again, over a dope True Master beat. Both the Chef and Pretty Toney sound invigorated, the former's narcoleptic flow broken up by Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...-style focus and the goofy-as-fuck line, “Bitch, eat a pickle!”, while the latter benefits from not sounding as focused: after Twelve Reasons To Die, it was nice to hear Ghost just try to tear into a motherfucker. While I have no proof that both participants recorded this in the same room, because True Master hasn't been replying to my smoke signals, it's still pretty goddamn good, But which one of these guys is supposed to be the sidekick?
6. EAR TO THE SPEAKER (FEAT. MASTA KILLA)
Rather strange. Elgin does pop up to contribute a verse at the very beginning, a celebration of the music he grew up listening to, but then the rest of the track is a True Master instrumental, and the goddamn thing runs form nearly six minutes. And that's with a weirdly-timed fade out halfway through, tricking you into thinking that the song is over before the beat pulls a Kool-Aid Man and jumps right back into the fray. Obviously, (real name) had intended on securing more guest verses before unleashing this on the public, but I'm sure his legal issues haven;t left him with much time to do so, which is why Wu stans get this incomplete demo. At least the beat is good: this would have been a fucking travesty if it had completely sucked.
7. 12 JEWELS OF LIFE (FEAT. BOBBY DIGITAL)
Unlike Mathematics, True Master actually managed to get The Abbot on Master Craftsman: however, let's not get too excited,since the fact that The RZA is actually credited as Bobby Digital probably means that his performance is straight throwaway, with bars that are entirely disconnected from one another, and by the way, The RZA already has a track called "Twelve Jewelz" in his back catalog (his solo effort from the Gravediggaz album The Pick, The Sickle, & The Shovel), so what the fuck, man? At least the beat kind of sounds Wu-ish, but even that isn't enough, damn it.
8. THE AWAKENING (FEAT. KILLAH PRIEST)
This sounds less like a Killah Priest song than it does a reference track for a song Killah Priest ghostwrote for Nas. Which is a strange experience: I never really thought the two men shared a cadence and flow before right this second. True Master's instrumental is also about as bland as most everything Nas purchases for himself to rhyme over, which only creates even more similarities. Walter sounds okay, his quasi-religious psychobabble fully intact, but I just couldn't bring myself to give a shit.
9. STITCHED IN YA THREAD (FEAT. SHYHEIM)
Had Shyheim not started his career as a foulmouthed child rapper, would anyone even give a fuck about him? Not bloody likely. And his performance on “Stitched In Ya Thread” doesn't change my mind: dude sounds like even he was bored with the generic street raps spilling out of his mouth like so much word vomit. Obviously this had to have been recorded prior to his self-imposed retirement (if that's still going on), but I can't help but wonder if this track is what drove him to end his career like that. True Master's beat is subdued, but it isn't terrible: he probably should have saved it for a better artist. Yeah, I said it.
10. WHITE CLOUD OLYMPUS (FEAT. RAEKWON)
True Master gifts the Chef a beat that wouldn't have sounded out of place in that Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style Playstation game from 1999 (or Wu-Tang: Taste The Pain, for my overseas readers). Raekwon's verses are filled with the non-sequitur crime raps and cocaine tales that he's best known for even during the hook, where Rae breaks down the word 'chef' as an acronym with at least two different meanings (boy, rappers sure love the shit out of their acronyms, right?). This wasn't bad, and it skates away before before wearing out its welcome.
11. SPARKLE (FEAT. MASTA KILLA)
Masta Killa exclusively appears only on True Master's incomplete songs, apparently: like “Ear To The Speaker”, “Sparkle” features lengthy stretches of time where the instrumental rides out, just begging for someone else to contribute a verse. Hell, some of the bars on here are the same as from “Ear To The Speaker”, which calls the entire goddamn project into question, really. True Master's beat on “Sparkle” isn't good enough to hold my attention without the aid of a verse, though, so sitting through all of this was a goddamn chore. Do you feel that Elgin isn't that good of a rapper to have rhymed over the entire track, (real name)? Don't be shy: own it, dude.
THE LAST WORD: Master Craftsman is a joke that is only occasionally funny, and by “funny” I mean “entertaining”. It's clear to me that this was a cash grab rushed to the distributor in an effort for Derrick to quickly raise some money, possibly for paying off his lawyer(s). I can't condone the purchase of a overqualified demo tape that refuses to acknowledge itself as such, and True Master can't say shit to defend it, because those Masta Killa tracks were fucking ridiculous and should never have left the vault. I like a lot more of True Master's older beats than I do Allah Mathematics's (and, in fact, the beats that actually worked on here sounded much better than the best tracks on The Answer), so Master Craftsman should have been a walk in the goddamn park on a warm sunny day with a cold beer in one hand and your favorite girl on the other. Although if you're the type who frequently walks around intoxicated, you probably liked this shit much more than I did. Fuck this shit.
SO HOW DO THEY COMPARE? They don't, really. At least Mathematics took the time to complete his project before asking people to give up their hard-earned cash for it. True Master didn't even fucking try. Again, fuck that album. I urge you two to burn multiple copies of Master Craftsman and then throw them through Derrick's goddamn windows just to show how much you don't appreciate half-assed-ness in our chosen genre. Afterward, go listen to Wu-Tang Clan albums that are actually good. The crew deserves that shit on their twentieth anniversary.
Or you can celebrate the group by reading all nine hundred and seventy-six entries on them posted on the blog. Your choice.