July 2, 2007

Gza/Genius - Beneath The Surface (June 29, 1999)

The Wu-Tang Clan were starting to teeter over the ledge of hip hop relevancy. (Hip hop relevancy, of course, has always been measured, irresponsibly so, by sales.) Method Man's second album was sheer disappointment presented on a plastic disc, and Rza as Bobby Digital In Stereo was just as bad, as seen in the eyes of Wu fans who wanted more of the hardcore street shit that the Wu broke their teeth on. The Rza's five-year plan was in the past, and the group was suffering from a lack of focus. The nine separate artists were acting like, well, artists, doing whatever the fuck they felt like doing music-wise, praise and critical acclaim be damned.


The Genius approached his third album, Beneath The Surface, from the same viewpoint. Was there a way to satisfy the fans of Liquid Swords, one of the greatest albums of our time, while also reaching out to potential new fans, not at all familiar with the Wu, who would have no preconceived notions of what to expect from Gary Grice? Would the true Wu fans accept that he, like every other member of the group, had moved from under The Rza's thumb to become his own artist, nay, his own man?


Judging from the response to Beneath The Surface, I'm guessing that the majority of the Wu fans out there also have no respect for the old-school classics.


In all fairness, The Genius was in an unenviable position. It's not like The Rza was coming off of a bold & italic classic fucking album. He always was the most lyrical of the Clan, and the lyrics don't falter when it comes to Beneath The Surface. But, as I mentioned in an earlier write up, The Rza had more to do with the Wu sound than any other member of the Clan would ever admit to.


I have no idea why The Genius decided to officially change his rap name to Gza/Genius. My guess is that it's cheaper to embroider "GZA" on the back of a jersey than it is for "The Genius".


(Side note: inside the liner notes, Gza promises his fourth album will be released in December of 1999. In true Wu fashion, he really meant December of 2002. Boy, those Wu guys have a complete disregard toward release dates, don't they? The 8 Diagrams, I'm looking in your direction! 7/7/07 my ass!)


As such...

1. INTRO
Oh fuck, this isn't good. No kung fu or Shogun Assassin samples to be found here. After the tedious introductory speech ends, though, there's a tight-ass beat that sounds like it's aching for rappers to hop on and ride. (This is a weak example of foreshadowing, by the way.)


2. AMPLIFIED SAMPLE
It's alright, but last time I checked, Mathematics ain't The Rza. Gza's incessant chant of the track's title toward the end becomes grating.


3. BENEATH THE SURFACE (FEAT KILLAH PRIEST & RES)
Wow, another Inspectah Deck produced song. Wonder what I'll think of this one. It's easier to listen to if you imagine this as an acapella.


4. SKIT 1
No comment.


5. SKIT 2
What the fuck? Two skits back to back? Who sequenced this thing?


6. CRASH YOUR CREW (FEAT THE RZA & OL' DIRTY BASTARD)
The first track presented that sounds close to that Wu-Tang spirit. Don't get excited by The Rza's appearance, though; he only pops up during the intro. This song still rocks, though, and if I'm not mistaken, Gza beat out both Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco by having skateboarders in his video first.


7. BREAKER BREAKER
The first single, which is meh by Gza standards. You'd be better served by the remix, featuring Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck, which jacks the beat from Big Daddy Kane's "Warm It Up Kane" to fantastic effect. Remember the video, where Gza is driving an 18 wheeler? Yeah, me neither.


8. HIGH PRICE, SMALL REWARD (FEAT MASTA KILLA)
Sounds okay, but ends at the 1:43 mark, giving you almost no time to even get into the song.


9. HIP HOP FURY (FEAT THE RZA, HELL RAZAH, DREDDY KRUEGER, & TIMBO KING)
Good song, but not great. The Rza only does the hook. I appreciate any chance I get to hear Dreddy Krueger rap on a track, though, especially now that his time is all A&R'd up.


10. SKIT 3
...


11. 1112 (FEAT MASTA KILLA, KILLAH PRIEST, & NJERI)
The lone Rza production here, and by Rza standards, it blows. Njeri is okay, but sounds like she's trying to be the female Gza, which isn't a good thing.


12. SKIT 4
Seriously, what the fuck??!!


13. VICTIM (FEAT NJERI & JOAN DAVIS)
If the chorus wasn't there, this song would be pretty damn good. Remember what I said earlier about Njeri? Yeah, pretty sure that's the reason why she vanished from the music scene after Beneath The Surface's release.


14. PUBLICITY
One of my favorite Gza formats, similar to "Labels" from Liquid Swords, except this time he weaves the names of music magazines into his story. On his fourth album, he rhymes the names of all forty-seven of ODB's children; it's a must-hear.


15. FEEL LIKE AN ENEMY (FEAT HELL RAZAH, KILLAH PRIEST, TRIGGA, & PRODIGAL SUNN)
If Bobby Digital was Rza's love letter to Killarmy and Black Knights of the North Star, then Beneath The Surface is Gza's shout-out to Royal Fam and Sunz of Man. The Sunz love becomes evident on this track (which sounds great), especially when you realize that Gza isn't anywhere on this song.


16. STRINGPLAY (LIKE THIS, LIKE THAT) (FEAT METHOD MAN)
This was the follow-up to the surreal, seminal "Shadowboxin'"? Yeah, no; this song is fucking awful. This track sounds lazy, all the way from its rhymes to its sad bastard production values.


17. MIC TRIPPIN
I don't know if I appreciate Gza ripping off Inspectah Deck's lyrics from "Triumph". Not the best Gza song, but that's a running theme on this album.


18. OUTRO (FEAT LA THE DARKMAN & TIMBO KING)
Remember the beat from the intro? Remember how I said that some rappers should jump on it? Well, heaven fucking forbid that Gza appears on his own outro. Side note: Timbo King again is credited as Royal Fam. Really, people, he wasn't the only guy in the group!


FINAL THOUGHTS: Beneath The Surface is, quite simply and inarguably, the third dent in the Wu-Tang armor. It seems that Gza knew that Liquid Swords couldn't be topped, and decided to go in the opposite direction, procuring beats that, for the most part, would be lucky to ever appear in the backgrounds of locally produced mattress store commercials. Even the Rza's contribution sucks. The saving grace here would be that the album clocks in at under fifty minutes, so it didn't really waste all of my time.


BUY OR BURN? Uh-uh, no way. This is a burn, my two readers. The good songs I mention below are must-have additions to the Wu legacy. The rest is pretentious piffle, especially the ill-advised skits/fake commercials that have no place on Mad TV, let alone a Wu-Tang solo album.


BEST TRACKS: "Feel Like An Enemy"; "Hip Hop Fury"; "Crash Your Crew"; and you should also troll online for the non-album "Breaker, Breaker (Remix)"


(Disagree with the above review? Make your opinions known! Leave a comment below!)


-Max


RELATED POSTS:
The Genius/Gza - Liquid Swords
The Rza - Rza as Bobby Digital In Stereo
Method Man - Tical 2000: Judgement Day
Method Man - Tical
Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers (The Dirty Version)
Sunz Of Man - The Last Shall Be First
Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
The Genius - Words From The Genius


THE TEASER:



13 comments:

  1. on almost every wu-review u r mentioning rza's five-year plan. what i'm wondering, is cappa's pillage in it? 'couse production wise & guys featuring on it, i think it should be.

    any way, about gza's beneat the surface... i wouldn't say it sucks as much as u say. it has way too much skits, no doubt, and maybe too much featurings, but the entire album sounds compact. it's not like the newer wu-solo albums that sound like a compilations. i mean, 20 songs, 15 different producers. as far as laking of rza's production goes, maybe, at that time that, it wasn't such a bad thing, 'cause in stereo really sucked...
    finaly, i think that beneath the surface is one of the better wu-solo albums released after '98...

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  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 03, 2007

    This album broke my heart. I'm off to search for that Breaker Breaker remix.

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  3. I loved that video. When I think Gza, I think big rigs, long rides, and waiting for love in the trees behind rest stops.

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  4. such a disappointing album

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  5. I always avoided this and all other gza albums after the original LIQUID SWORDS until recently when I discovered how consistent a lot of his material is. There's some GREAT stuff on this album, honestly.

    Advice for those not buying the albums anyway... delete all worthless skits and burn the best songs from this and the next album and you'll have an album almost on the level of LIQUIDD (as for PRO TOOLS, most of it is actually really good).

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  6. AnonymousJuly 19, 2012

    This album is actually far better than you give it credit for.. and i'm namely talking about the actual songs on the album (OK, STRINGPLAY fuckin SUCKS, but that's the only whack song on this album.). The skits admittedly are fuckin' worthless and kinda retarded when you think about it. but the overall production and verses are actually pretty good.

    i hold this album as GZA's second best album, after Liquid Swords.. FAR after Liquid Swords.

    so yeah, the only two weaknesses of this album are the lame skits and "Stringplay"

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  7. Derek ClaptonAugust 30, 2012

    On a track by track basis, I think this album is more hit than miss, but sadly the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The production, while points for having a consistent vibe, definitely gets grading near the end. And the skits sure as hell don't help.

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  8. Mathematics did his fucking thing on this album.

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    Replies
    1. Him and Arabian Knight were in excellent form throughout.

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  9. Dude. The title track's beat ranks right up there with the absolute BEST hip-hop beats of ALL TIME.

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  10. this was actually a really good album. What happened is yes ppl heard the lame skits and stuff on this album and were understandably like, 'Wtf?' And wrote it off. However, scratch underneath the surface (no pun) and the songs on this album were great. You didn't like 1112, High Price for Small Reward or the title track? Well all I can say is shame on you as they are great.

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  11. Njeri is Okay? Trying to hard to be the female version of The GZA? What the hell are you talking about? And vanishing from making music after this album? Are you sure about that? Njeri is more than okay, she is a incredible emcee who can stand on her own. You have something against female emcees or something? Just because she is not on a major label doesn't mean that she hasn't been making music. Try the following; Supa Sista, 20/20, The Best Part and now most recently The Return of the Supa Sista(5/2016) In which I produced three songs on the album....-Saar3

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  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfJpCrXHt14

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