June 12, 2008

The Rza - Birth Of A Prince (October 7, 2003)


So Robert Diggs fancies himself as a producer-slash-rap artist that has something intelligent to say. (I'm sure absolutely nobody believed that back in the day, when he dropped his debut song "Ooh I Love You Rakeem" under his Prince Rakeem alias.) His production game has resulted in some of the most well-made hip hop beats in the history of the genre, and I'm not just saying that as a Wu-Tang stan. His lyrics, though, have never really been considered in the top tier: I assume that it didn't help that The Rza took the easy way out when it was his turn to release a solo album by adopting a purposely ignorant persona to rhyme about inane shit instead of actually writing something worthwhile. Go ahead and listen to the first Bobby Digital album again if you don't believe me: most of the lyrics on there, while technically proficient, say absolutely nothing of importance.

While his debut was well received and sold tons of copies, I like to believe that The Rza thought he was betraying his inner conscience by not rhyming about what he truly believed, and elements of this internal struggle appear consistently on Bobby Digital's second opus, Digital Bullet. The entire album is based on the concept of the titular hip hop superhero getting sick of all the bullshit and wanting to join reality, and Digital Bullet, in turn, showcased a maturity that most Wu fans only saw in sporadic glimpses on the second Gravediggaz disc.

Apparently The Rza appreciated the critical acclaim, and decided to drop his first album using his primary rap alias in 2003. He named it Birth Of A Prince, a play on his first rap moniker, Prince Rakeem, and released it on an unsuspecting public. Well, that's not entirely accurate: Wu fans had been waiting for a Rza album entitled The Cure for at least twelve fucking years at this point in time, as Rakeem himself had promised the most introspective lyrics of his career, and, as expected, they jumped at the chance to pick up anything that remotely resembled that fabled project that still hasn't been released (I'm pretty sure it hasn't even entered the recording process yet). Everybody else in the world had no idea what to expect from a Rza solo, though.

In a move that I kind of saw coming in 2003 but didn't truly want to believe, a lot of the tracks presented on Birth Of A Prince are technically Bobby Digital songs (read: more ignorant than you would like). This isn't an entirely bad thing, though, since the second Bobby Digital album was entertaining as hell. The rest of the album features some of the most personal songs of Rza's career, or at least some of his most musically creative.

The Rza piggybacked onto Miramax's promotional juggernaut for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume One, a film that he also scored (an advertisement for Kill Bill actually appears in the jewel case of Birth Of A Prince), which saw wide release four days after Birth Of A Prince hit the shelves. That move probably resulted in a number of pretentious film geeks picking up this album, under the impression that The Rza was an underground artist that was talented enough to become friends with Tarantino, and therefore must make really good music.

Probably not a bad move on Robert's part.

1. BOB N' I
In a move that was very disappointing (but practical, considering that Rza was creating fucking film scores for God's sake), Prince Rakeem does not produce every song on Birth of A Prince. For the introductory track, Choco does the honors, and a good chunk of Freda Payne's version of the standard "Feeling Good" (you're probably more familiar with Nina Simone's version) plays in the beginning before Rza decides that he should earn his keep. Oddly, "Feeling Good" has absolutely nothing to do with the beat to this track.

2. THE GRUNGE
An incredibly short song that sounds at once modern, old school, and soulful, which is no easy feat.

3. WE POP (FEAT OL' DIRTY BASTARD, FREEMURDA, & SHACRONZ)
Produced by Megahertz, the one hit wonder who gave Puff Daddy the beat for his "Bad Boy For Life", a song which, sadly, I still kind of like today. This just sounds like a bizarre Wu-Tang stab at getting radio airplay, and while it could be a lot worse, ultimately this just doesn't work. The Rza even commissioned an all West Coast remix to this track, with artists as diverse as E-40, Crooked I (Rza got to him well before the Interweb jumped all over his Hip Hop Weekly series), Jayo Felony, W.C., and Method Man (huh?) sharing mic duties: that song just sounds awkward as fuck, but it was worth a shot, I suppose. There's a different track played immediately following "We Pop" that I believe is called "Hoodrats", and it is pretty terrible, although I liked the beat.

4. GRITS (FEAT MASTA KILLA & ALLAH REAL)
Now this is more what I was expecting from this project. The Rza has toned himself down severely, and as a result, it's easy to understand why Wu fans have been waiting for something of this magnitude for at least a century. Masta Killa also acquits himself well.

5. FAST CARS (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & ERICA BRYANT)
When I first ripped the plastic off and popped in the disc back in 2003, this is the song that immediately jumped out at me. I love this fucking track. I've always pictured a video that was tinted in blue, kind of like all of Michael Douglas's scenes in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. Ghostface also rips up this True Master track, which is easily the best beat on the whole album, but on a personal note, I've always wondered why Rza presents this song as an "Icewater exclusive" when it doesn't seem that Raekwon or any of his minions had any input whatsoever on this track. Unless there's an unreleased version with Rae on here, which I would love to hear, even though I think the instrumental is too frenetic to support an insomniac rapper.

6. CHI KUNG (FEAT CILVARINGZ & FEATHERZ)
A nice contrast to "Fast Cars". I couldn't imagine the Rza of old spitting over a beat such as this, so I guess some good came out of Rza's artistic growth.

7. YOU'LL NEVER KNOW (FEAT CILVARINGZ)
I prefer the unreleased original version with the uncleared Beatles sample, which actually provided the song its title in the first place. This revamped version is not horrible, though, and serves as some decent exposure for Wu-affiliate Cilvaringz to the American audience.

8. DRINK, SMOKE, & FCUK
Pretty awful track (yes, that's how it's actually spelled on the album cover). Birth Of A Prince surprised me by actually including the lyrics in its liner notes; however, this is the only song that isn't even mentioned. Almost as if Rza knew this song was garbage and wanted to make it disappear, but forgot to simply delete it from the sequence.

9. THE WHISTLE (FEAT PRODIGAL SUNN)
Another Bobby Digital song, but this one isn't bad. Luckily, the whistling during the song's intro doesn't dominate the entire song, just the chorus, so it doesn't even have the opportunity to get fucking annoying.

10. DROP OFF (FEAT DADDY-O, SHACRONZ, & FREEMURDA)
While the beat clicks with the immediacy the song requires, the end result is corny as fuck. It is only slightly interesting that Rza's verse is essentially about escaping from his pursuers while finger-fucking some random chick in the passenger seat. It's crude, I know, but it's true.

11. WHEREVER I GO (FEAT SHACRONZ, FREEMURDA, & DADDY-O)
Meh.

12. KOTO CHOTAN (FEAT MASTA KILLA & TASH MAHOGANY)
The guitar lick fucking rocks on this track. This instrumental could double as the opening credits score for some B-movie action flick that gets released in theaters to a modest opening weekend but becomes a word-of-mouth sleeper hit that somehow convinces movie studios that (insert TV actor's name here) can open a film. I'm pretty sure this is Tash Mahogany's first recorded appearance on a Wu-Tang album (she would later appear on 8 Diagrams), and she doesn't completely suck, so that's nice.

13. A DAY TO GOD IS 1000 YEARS
This is probably the closest to The Cure that we will ever get. Bronze Nazareth's debut on a Wu-Tang solo album results in a great instrumental, once on which Rza's rhymes mesh perfectly, like peanut butter and fresher, better tasting peanut butter.

14. CHERRY RANGE (FEAT XAVIER NAIDOO)
The beat is annoying as fuck. It would have been alright if not for the electronic burps that distract you from the focal point and pollute your mind. It's a shame, since the lyrics are pretty good. Maybe next time.

15. THE BIRTH
This song is far too calm to rock, but it's still awesome. Bronze Nazareth makes the most of his two slots on Birth Of A Prince and it shows. I could have done without Rakeem attempting to sing, but I still found myself digging this track.

16. SEE THE JOY
Contains much harder drums than you would expect for a song in which The Rza rhymes from the point of view of sperm, which, you have to admit, is at least unique. Why this song isn't called "The Birth" is a mystery to me, but then again, I tend to get overly dramatic about stuff.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Birth Of A Prince is a departure for The Rza, if only because his first two solo albums consisted of his character hiding behind a mask and rhyming about stupid shit (read: what everyone else in hip hop was rhyming about at the time), and it's a gamble that pays off. He may have since moved on to more ambitious musical backdrops (thanks to the experience he now has in film scoring, although I wouldn't call providing incedential music for Soul Plane any sort of accomplishment), but Robert Diggs is a producer and a rapper first, and, better yet, just so happens to be one with something to say. This album is actually really good, but can only be categorized as a Wu-Tang album as a technicality.

BUY OR BURN? The Rza deserves your money. It's also the closest we will ever get to a serious Rza album, so enjoy it while you can, my two readers.

BEST TRACKS: "Fast Cars"; "Grits"; "Koto Chotan"; "Chi Kung"; "The Grunge"; "The Birth"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read all of the other Wu-Tang write-ups by clicking here.

15 comments:

  1. Is Daddy-O the same cat from Stetsasonic?
    Oh, and "A Day To God Is 1000 Years" is REALLY good. I like any RZA track where Robert just drops pseudo scientifical, pseudo mystical verses over a soulful beat.
    See also, "Tragedy" off the very good "Rhyme & Reason" soundtrack.

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  2. Max,
    I've been waiting for this review since I started reading your reviews just to hear you talk about the worst weed carrier verse of all time: The jersey/jersey/jersey/jersey rhyme in the middle of We Pop.

    You disappointed me, man.

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  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJune 13, 2008

    I haven't read the review yet, but I'm very happy that you've chosen to review Birth of a Prince. I feel like it may be the most underrated solo Wu album. Still waiting on The Cure though. Should be any day now right? I heard it's coming out the same day as the Nas and AZ collabo album.

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  4. +1 to Josh . . . although there was an awesome live performance of that the RZA did at the Apollo up on YouTube for awhile.

    A Day To God is 1,000 Years is one of the most awesome Wu-Tang tracks ever.

    Fo' real, fo' real- as the kids say.

    There's a version of The Cure floating around the internet.

    I don't think there'a any doot da doot da doot's on here from Bobby Digital.

    That was diaappointing, but this album is probably the best non-Ghostface Wu thing put out in the last ten years.

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  5. AnonymousJune 13, 2008

    stop´hating on good tracks with your corny "MEH"'s

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  6. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJune 13, 2008

    You recommended buying the sumbitch! I'm kind of surprised by that as dudes I have talked to consider this album a waste of their time. I consider it a strong release but a lot of people are hung up on what could have been with The Cure. It's kind of like the justification I use for your bizarre opinion of Stillmatic. With that title you're compelled to compare it to one of the very best albums in the history of people. Folks compare Birth of a Prince to their idea of what The Cure would have been. The fact that Wu-Tang could do no wrong during the period that Rza was promising The Cure leads people to assume that it truly would have been the cure for everything ailing hip hop. Because it was never released any flaws it may have contained were never manifested and leads to people comparing everything that The Rza has actually released to their own conception of perfection. That's a tough standard. Most of the guest appearances are completely unnecessary and a lot of the hooks come from the Digital side of Robert Diggs' brain but there's plenty of good stuff on here.

    I have to mention that Canibus rhymed from the perspective of sperm on I Honor U off the consensus classic Can-I-Bus. He also rhymed from the perspective of a fetus on that track but not nearly as effectively as Nas had done previously.

    Most importantly, shame on you for missing the chance to italicize "this" in your last sentence about See The Joy. If you're not going to seize every opportunity to italicize, you can at least curse a little more. You have a mission statement to live up to.

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  7. "Birth of a Prince" is half so good than you think, Max. Most of the songs do not make any impression, unfortunately... "Fast cars" is the best song on the album with a incredible fine beat and that's all.

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  8. any chance we can get a carter III review?? a little gut reaction thing going?

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  9. No more Jay-Z, please.

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  10. Adriano, PolandApril 21, 2009

    Hello Max! It was a quite enjoyable reading, but it is not a surprise. I am a 90's rap lover from Poland, and I really appreciate your work and take your opinions into account (thanks for informing me about Jeru the Damaja, who became one of my favourite rappers).

    I am listening to "Birth of a Prince" now, but sadly I do not find it worth my money (maybe I just have to listen to it more).

    Have you heard RZA's track "Fatal" from "Blade: Trinity" O.S.T.? I wonder what do you think about it.

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  11. You know wat's funny max... the review at the start kinda threw me off and we weren't seeing eye-eye because i thought the album started off hot!! Until u got to grits it was eye for an eye, mind over matter because it almost felt like i was wrting the review.. for example.. u said when reviewing "fast cars" "i always pictured a video that was tinted in blue kinda like a michael douglas 'traffic film" that's exactly what i pictur everytime i hear that song and a funky feeling to it kinda like "Sabatoge." Anyway after that we're on the same page.. i too felt midway it kinda got weak but the closing tracks save the album especially "the birth" good album! Didn't "We pop" get radio play??

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  12. all rzas songs are great hes a renassance man of the industry, aka the architect of wu tang. he puts out a lot of good music inside his head doing his own thing. clearly different people are gonna like different songs. i mean shit, id say good albumbs are- digi snacks, birth of a prince, the formula, the world according to rza, the rza presents afro samari resurresction, and the swarm and pollen, ahh then the gravediggas abumb song twelve jewels. o and 8 diagrams 36 chambers and and the prince rakeem single with gza.

    o we love you rakeem.
    wu tang forever

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  13. I feel this album is the perfect blend of The Rza's developing experimentation and more traditional hip-hop / Wu sounds. Didn't like Drink, Smoke and Fcuk, but most other tracks were thoroughly enjoyable. Excellent album, nice review.

    Blake

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  14. "KOTO CHOTAN" .. surprised no one mentioned that masta killah's verse is COMPLETELY reused for a no said date track..

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  15. AnonymousJuly 19, 2013

    I believe Masta Killa is on that whistle song

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