February 12, 2008

Wu-Tang Clan - Iron Flag (December 18, 2001)



Iron Flag, the Wu-Tang Clan's fourth studio album, was released one year after the critically-acclaimed-but-not-very-good The W. I suppose this could be considered very good news for Wu stans like myself. On the surface, its creation is directly correlated with the fallout from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and references to the tragedy pepper the disc, but in my opinion, the real reason for the quick turnaround between discs was to combat the negative attention the Clan received for the weak production featured on The W, the multiple outside guest appearances, and that dumbass "Gravel Pit" video that I'm 110% sure Tamala Jones wishes never happened.

The Wu were going toe to toe with three unrelated events during the recording sessions of Iron Flag. Being a rap group based in New York, they were closer to the 9/11 tragedy than most people, and I suppose the fragility of human life, man's inhumanity to man, and the idea of a religious war possibly ending all life as we know it, spurred the Clan into action, recording what could have been their final album, because the future isn't promised to anyone.

On a much less serious note, the Wu were dealing with the aftermath of Cappadonna's business manager actually being an FBI informant. The Rza sacked him with the quickness, which is why he is now best known as a gypsy cab driver and sometimes teardrop donor. Cappa was most certainly privy to the Wu's recording sessions, but was seemingly erased from existence by The Rza's cold, dead hands. When it came to the songs, this was simple enough, since Rza's production technique involves having every member of the group spit on every beat presented, and then selecting the best verses when the time came to master the tracks. However, Rza went so far as to have Cappa removed from the publicity photograph used as Iron Flag's cover art, which resulted in one of the most hilarious examples of poor Photoshopping in recent memory, as only the top half of Cappadonna was erased. Here is the original shot:


Finally, any discussion regarding Iron Flag cannot gloss over the absence of Ol' Dirty Bastard from the final product, which is especially appalling when you consider that he's one of the founding members of the group, along with The Rza and Gza/Genius. Big Baby Osirus was locked up at the time, but I don't believe for a second that Rakeem didn't have any leftover Dirt McGirt vocals lying around, as the godawful "Conditioner" was created somehow. Dirty is sorely missed on Iron Flag, but if you want to look at the situation in the most morbid way possible, the remaining eight Wu-Tang Clan members were role-playing how to continue their career as a group if ODB was no longer a member in the physical sense. The absence is addressed with the inclusion of ODB's cousin (seriously) Flavor Flav (best known for Flavor Of Love, a truly pathetic way to end a legacy that started with Public fucking Enemy), who plays the role of drunken hypeman on "Soul Power (Black Jungle)", a track that was never even released as a single, so who the fuck knows what Rakeem was thinking.

Iron Flag did respectable numbers, which is remarkable considering the marketing was almost non-existent, as Loud Records was about three days away from folding. It was received well, but had to contend with the inevitable complaints, mostly of the "the album sounds rushed, as if it was recorded in three weeks, which is proven by the multiple references to 9/11" and "how DARE you record the group album without ODB" variety, although to be honest, I don't know where Russell would have even fit in on this disc. Soon after its release, although they never officially broke up, the non-incarcerated Wu members went their separate ways, and although they would still provide assists on each other's solo projects (except U-God's...insert evil laugh and mustache-twirling here), everyone essentially became their own artist. The Rza moved forward with his master plan of taking over all forms of music by taking on work scoring films, most notably Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and Soul Plane, while Method Man took his rightful place on the "rapper/actor" plateau, with roles in Garden State, HBO's The Wire, and the upcoming The Wackness, which I understand is pretty good, although it hasn't been released yet.

And on that note...

1. IN THE HOOD (FEAT STREET LIFE & SUGA BANG BANG)
The introductory film sample is interesting, and the beat Rza starts to rhyme to is decent. But then the real beat for "In The Hood" kicks in. The hook is annoying as fuck, but the song itself is decent; truth be told, though, the mere fact that puppet versions of the Clan performed this song on Crank Yankers has resulted in its appeal being lost in the wind.

2. RULES (FEAT STREET LIFE)
Sounds like a poor attempt by Allah Mathematics to scratch like DJ Premier. Ghostface's verse is entirely about 9/11 and the impending war, and is even more cringe-worthy than his work on "Child's Play", if only because he talks about George Bush and doesn't apply the word "fuck" before the name.

3. CHROME WHEELS (FEAT 12 O'CLOCK, PRODIGAL SUNN, & MADAME D)
This sounds like a Bobby Digital outtake, and the inclusion of 12 O'Clock (ODB's brother) and Prodigal Sunn, two guys who would usually be nowhere near a Wu-Tang Clan group album, reinforces my belief. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Raekwon's verse was probably added after the fact to give the impression that this was an official Wu track. Taken as such, it's not bad, but it's not Wu-Tang.

4. SOUL POWER (BLACK JUNGLE) (FEAT FLAVOR FLAV)
Ghostface rips the track, but the song itself is too horrible to be salvaged by Flavor Flav's guest appearance. The conversation between Meth and the giant clock toward the end of the track is fascinating, though; it's as if someone miked the break room.

5. UZI (PINKY RING)
Not bad. Pretty sure this was the first single, and it is also the first appearance of Gza/Genius on Iron Flag. Why the hell did U-God get to start the track off, though? How does that sell your album? The beat is pretty good, though.

6. ONE OF THESE DAYS
The song isn't that good anyway, but damned if Lamont Hawkins doesn't flat out ruin the track with his verse, which was seemingly spit to a completely different beat. Are we sure that U-God wasn't the real FBI informant, tasked with the destruction of the Wu-Tang Clan from within?

7. Y'ALL BEEN WARNED
Great fucking track; easily my favorite one on Iron Flag. Raekwon's reference to the Wu being "nine Bin Ladens", which is backmasked on the retail version, is completely inappropriate, but par for the course for the Wu in general.

8. BABIES (FEAT MADAME D)
I never paid any attention to this song back in the day, probably due to its slow-moving beat; most of the slower Wu songs remind me of "Can It Be All So Simple", which to me means an automatic skip. Today, however, I think this song fucking rocks, and can be considered a great example of the storytelling that the Wu members are masters of.

9. RADIOACTIVE (FOUR ASSASSINS)
The only "Wu"-sounding song on Iron Flag, thanks to the kung-fu movie sample and the sound effects. Pretty damn good, but Meth...an N'Sync reference? Really?

10. BACK IN THE GAME (FEAT RON ISLEY)
I think this was a single, and there may be a video, but I'm too lazy to look for it. I can't fucking believe that the Wu bought a beat from the Trackmasters. Although I like Gza's verse, I never cared for this song.

11. IRON FLAG
I've always liked this track, even though the vocal sample on the beat irritates my wife. I was pleasantly surprised when Rza re-used this instrumental for his globe-spanning The World According To Rza vanity project. The bonus song included on track eleven is known as "The Glock", and is an interesting addition (similar to the unfinished thoughts from The W), but, yet again, U-God threatens to ruin the album with his incessant need to rhyme. Useless trivia note: Cappadonna's vocals are apparently heard in the background of "The Glock"; I guess even a perfectionist like The Rza misses things sometimes.

12. DASHING (REASONS)
Best known as the song that resembles, of all things, "Jingle Bells". Inspectah Deck, who's been pretty consistent throughout, rips the shit out of this one, but it's hard to stop the visions of sugarplums from dancing in your head.

International copies of Iron Flag contain the following bonus track:

13. THE W
This song was originally alluded to on The W as one of those skit/thoughts. It's not bad, but American audiences aren't missing anything.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Iron Flag is actually a much better album than The W, which of course means that nobody bought this disc. It shows a true return to form for the eight members, all of whom were probably revitalized by the events of the time. While that is a terrible reason to make an album, I, for one, am thankful they decided to do it, since in December 2001 memories of the Twin Towers were still fresh in everyone's minds, and at least the Wu tried to do something about it.

BUY OR BURN? I would recommend a purchase as quickly as possible. Seriously. It's a good album. And if you don't buy Iron Flag, the terrorists win. So there.

BEST TRACKS: "Rules"; "Y'all Been Warned"; "Babies"; "Radioactive (Four Assassins)"; "Uzi (Pinky Ring)"

-Max

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7 comments:

  1. to be honest, i didn't like this album as much as the others but it still had some nice tracks! and yeah, i remember that Crank Yankers thing... i thought it was funny as hell. lol but still, nice review!

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  2. Didn't like "Babies"? That's crazy.

    The GZA absolutely destroys that song. One of his best verses, ever!

    At least you came around on it.

    I never got the whole "Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue!!!!!!!" thing on Pinky Ring.

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  3. The Most Felonious Vocalist In The Wide World Of ShowbusinessFebruary 13, 2008

    The Rebel INS destroys "Iron Flag". That verse is just below "Triumph" and possibly "Above The Clouds" w/ Gangstarr as Deck's best ever effort. A very good album overall but not at the level of the first two Wu-Tang Clan releases.

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  4. HILARIOUS way to end the blog.
    I consider this album better than The W as well. I'm going to agree with the person above me, who's name I refuse to write because it is so long, even though I would have been done writing his name by now... Inspectah Deck's verse on Iron Flag blew me away. I constantly pushed the rewind button to listen that verse again.
    Once again, I agree with the review. Keep it up.

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  5. u-god reminded me of cappadonna on One of these Days haha so bad. i wanna find an instrumental of that song or at least one that ends after raekwon...

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  6. GOOD THING WE BOUGHT THE GLOCK!

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  7. huh Chrome Wheels was the best song on the album, I remember at the time it was very impressive as it sounded like Rza had made a Dre beat, but it was better than Dre because it was by Rza if you know what I mean. And lol Radioactive beat was terrible. Also U-God to start a single track off is a very good idea, ok dude isn't consistent but his voice is arguably most charismatic out of whole clan. Him dropping a short dope verse, absolutely an excellent idea for first verse on 2000+ WTC song.

    But anyway yeh this album was pretty great Wu, and you're right much, much better than The W.

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