July 11, 2008

Masta Killa - No Said Date (June 1, 2004)



Elgin Turner, who legally changed his name to Masta Killa in the fourth grade, was the final member of the Wu-Tang Clan to release a solo album. Admittedly, this business move made perfect sense: it's not like Masta Killa was the most marketable (like a Method Man or an Ol' Dirty Bastard) or held in the highest regard (such as Ghostface Killah or Gza/Genius). Hell, he was actually the last member to make the cut to be in the group in the first place (you'll recall that there are hardly any Masta Killa appearances on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)).

However, he is a better rapper than U-God, but then again, so are half of my two readers. He wasn't much of the showy type: the only guest appearance outside of the Wu camp that I can recall occurring prior to the release of his solo album,
No Said Date, was with Public Enemy for a track from the He Got Game soundtrack. But The Rza had made the mistake of promising a Masta Killa solo album way back in the day, and since he isn't about to live up to the hype around The Cure, he decided that he may as well make good with some of his threats, right?

No Said Date is the Wu's idea of a throwback hip hop album, albeit a "throwback" in the Wu-est sense of the word. The sensation of deja-vu starts immediately: kung fu samples, old-school beats (provided by The Rza and a few others), and promises of an appearance by every single member of the Wu-Tang Clan (even the late Ol' Dirty Bastard) hold No Said Date to such a high standard that there was no possible way that it could please everybody.

And yet it did. It didn't sell millions of copies or anything (the Wu's time had long since passed in 2004), but the Wu stans that were still around ate this shit up. Even the mainstream media got in on the action: I remember
No Said Date appearing on one of Entertainment Weekly's Top Ten Things Of The Week lists.

But then again, EW just recently listed D4L's "Laffy Taffy" as one of the catchiest songs of the past twenty-five years, so their critiques aren't quite as bulletproof as mine.

1. BORN CHAMBER
Aaaahh, a kung fu movie sample as a Wu-Tang album intro. There isn't anything special about this particular sample, but the idea of it is like manna from the gods, or like an extremely bendy prostitute, whichever suits your mood.

2. GRAB THE MIC
"Spit that shit that makes n----s wanna lick their glock"? The hell? Probably not what I would have selected as the lead-off song.

3. NO SAID DATE
Am I the only person that felt Rza's sampling of the theme to Police Woman was lazy and uninspired, especially since Wu band mate Raekwon already spit over the same beat with Outkast? At least Elgin tries his best to make the beat his own, but ultimately, my undying devotion to "Skew It On The Bar-B" makes that an impossibility.

4. LAST DRINK
Although the beat is fucking majestic, and the song does start off with another kung fu sample, this song didn't do anything for me.

5. LOVE SPELL
Sounds like Masta Killa's version of Method Man's "Sweet Love", although I happen to like this song a lot more. It's not like I'm going to go out of my way to pick up Tical 2000: Judgement Day soon, anyway.

6. THE FUTURE (SKIT) (FEAT SHAMEL, KAREEM, & JAMEL)
This skit, which features some of the Wu offspring spitting rhymes, actually depresses me a bit, because it seems to dilute the Wu style of lyrical swordplay: it makes all of the other Wu-Tang songs sound like paint by numbers tracks, with kung-fu styles referenced and several words and phrases lifted directly from older Wu tracks. This probably wasn't the best idea the Wu has collectively come up with.

7. D.T.D. (FEAT RAEKWON & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Well, if you're going to have the entire Wu-Tang Clan appear on your album, but have them spread out over several tracks, then it makes sense to have Rae and Ghost, the two artists that compliment each other the most, appear together. I'm not a fan of how the Mathematics beat drowns out Elgin's lyrics to the point of incomprehensibility, but Rae hasn't sounded this awake in years. This is the point when the album's fortunes start to turn toward the positive end of the spectrum.

8. WHATEVER (FEAT STREET LIFE & PRODIGAL SUNN)
Masta Killa even sounds great with Wu affiliates alongside him. I don't buy Prodigal Sunn's boast about selling over a million copies of his first "campaign" (sorry, but Sunz Of Man didn't sell that many copies: he must be talking about an album he just so happened to appear on or something), but Streetlife actually sounds really fucking good. All in all, a triumph.

9. SECRET RIVALS (FEAT METHOD MAN & KILLAH PRIEST)
Finally, the song that had been promised to Wu-Tang fans ever since Masta Killa teased us with the promise of a solo album seemingly nineteen years ago. (It turns out that it only shares a title with a song that Masta Killa threw a snippet up of online, but still.) This song is fucking awesome, and Masta Killa manages to outshine both Priest and Meth, even though everyone brings their A-game to the booth. All in all, a triumph.

10. SKIT
Pretty unimaginative name if you ask me.

11. DIGI WARFARE (FEAT THE RZA & U-GOD)
This is my favorite track off of No Said Date for two reasons. The throwback electro-type sound (provided by Choco) mixed with the old-school sensibilities sound freaking fantastic, almost like the score for a horror movie that doesn't yet exist. Also, U-God's appearance on the album as a whole is limited to his ad-libbing "Hit 'em hard!", and then disappearing into the mist. Seriously, he never fucking appears again. Brilliant! Love it!

12. OLD MAN (FEAT OL' DIRTY BASTARD & THE RZA)
This song just sounds goofy, but I mean that in the best way possible. The Rza's shout-out to Peter Boyle is hilarious, but the true star of this song is the late Big Baby Osirus, whose ranting doesn't make any logical sense considering everybody else's contributions, but still, you miss him. The video for this song, which was the only single released, contains the last video appearance from Dirt McGirt before his passing.

13. QUEEN
This sounds like a sequel to the earlier "Love Spell", but somehow sounds even better. Masta Killa seems to be one of the few Wu-Tang members that can sell a song for the ladies that isn't cheesy as hell.

14. SCHOOL (FEAT THE RZA)
This song is pretty damn good, but The Rza's verse is fucking amazing. Aided by a switch-up to his own beat (right after Masta Killa finishes up a rhyme about watching budding rappers in the cafeteria), the former Prince Rakeem questions world history teachings, proving once and for all that, in order to be a smart ass, you have to actually be smart. His performance actually causes Elgin to step his game out for the closing bars. And you would think that all of the 2Pac stans online would seek out more Wu-Tang albums, considering the sound bite that Masta Killa includes at the conclusion of this song, in which Pac declares his love for the Killa Beez.

15. SILVERBACKS (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK & GZA/GENIUS)
I always thought Gza, Deck, and Masta Killa worked just as well together as Rae and Ghost, or maybe even Redman and Method Man, and this track does not prove otherwise. As a Wu freak, I also appreciated Masta Killa's sly homage to Killah Priest's verse on O.D.B.'s "Snakes", a grotesquely beautiful song from his solo debut.

16. MASTA KILLA
Not completely horrible, but I never cared much for this track.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It would happen that the most mysterious and least celebrated member of the Wu-Tang Clan would end up being the guy that pulls the entire crew up from the cliff of irrelevancy. That said, No Said Date is not the album that it could have been, had it actually hit the store shelves when it was first announced in 1894, but it's still really fucking good, and it was just what the Wu fans had been clamoring for, especially after four disappointing Wu solo albums in a row. While it isn't a thoroughly consistent listen, there are enough bangers on here to appease even the most critical Wu-Tang fanatic (like myself). Well played, Elgin.

BUY OR BURN? Masta Killa deserves your money. It's no Liquid Swords or anything, but it's the closest to a modern day Wu-Tang classic that we will ever hear.

BEST TRACKS: "Digi Warfare"; "Secret Rivals"; "School"; "D.T.D."; "Whatever"; "Silverbacks", "Queen"; "Love Spell"
-Max

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15 comments:

  1. "I want two beef patties, special sauce, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, on a sesame seed bun......on a sesame seed bun you big dummy!". Wu-Tang wackiness at it's best. I bought this album based on AMG's 4 1/2 star review and was not disappointed. How Masta managed to create a solo album that's better than the RZA's first three solo efforts is beyond me. I know it's harsh but I'll be damned if it's not true.

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  2. I've heard good things about this, I was always impressed by Killa's verses on Wu albums.
    I might need to check this out once I'm finished absorbing the first wave of Wu solo albums.
    I'm enjoying the daily reviews, keep up the good work.

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  3. AnonymousJuly 11, 2008

    As a fellow Wu head I've been wondering why you've been so masochistic with your recent choices of wu albums. This one is definitely a highlight for them. You should check out some of Hell Razah's new albums, either Renaissance Child or Razah's Ladder. Also after 15 years Brooklyn Zu decided to release an album which I found surprisingly good. It would be interesting to see what you think about them.

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  4. AnonymousJuly 12, 2008

    Thanks for the review! I'll definitely try to check it out...On a side note, care to share thoughts on Hell Razah's
    "The Renaissance Child"

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  5. AnonymousJuly 12, 2008

    overrated album, but still good tho, Max, you overlooked the best tracks (Last Drink & Masta Killa)

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  6. I thought I was the only person in the universe who had any love for Masta Killa. That verse on Da Mysterie of Chessboxin' is lethal; he's just so damn SERIOUS.

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  7. isn't that RA the rugged man grilling in the video for old man?? how bout a review for dreddy presents wu-tang meets the indie culture..

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  8. hey max. I was at a wu-tang concert yesterday at an open air festival in switzerland.. pretty good show, and against my expectations ALL 8 members appeared! (even though I'm not sure if that guy wearing a black hat and hiding behind the dj console was masta killa..;-),and the gza was more busy with his handy cam than with rapping.., also stretlife was with them)they played almost every song off of 36 chambers and not a single one off of 8 diagrams! (not that its a bad album but i guess live you want to hear the old joints, right..) oh yeah, and they really seemed to be having fun on stage.. a good sign for future albums i hope. peace.

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  9. I'm so glad someone else doesn't know what the hell to make out of the "make n----s wanna lick their glock" line. I thought I just wasn't hip hop enough to get it. For folks saying that this album is overrated, there are definitely a few stinkers on it but on the whole, I'm almost sure that I'd rather listen to this album from start to finish than Tical or Ironman. Definitely prefer it to Uncontrolled Substance. Shame, as Meth, Ghost & Deck are undoubtedly better and more entertaining rappers (although Masta Killa's verse on Dual Of The Iron Mic has always made me think that the guy has the ability to pen some really amazing, dramatic shit on occasion). Oh, and hi Max, I'd like to introduce myself as your third reader. Keep up the good work.

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  10. AnonymousJune 12, 2009

    fuck all of y'all..Masta Killa is dope!

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  11. yeah, i agree. this album is hot. just got it recently and it's got so many great songs on it. It's heaps better than his other solo record, and one of the best Wu albums in recent years!

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  12. Re: MK's verse on "D.T.D.". His verse actually appears twice, it appears at the started drowned out, but then it appears in its full glory after Rae's verse. Very bizarre, but I think it's cool.

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  13. Like you said Max, U-God's presence on here is hilariously pointless and clever on Masta Killa's part so he could then say 'features the entire Wu Tang Clan' without sacrificing a verse to U-God. Great album, thanks for recommending it Max as I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. Masta Killa is hugely underrated.

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  14. "Silverbacks" is a masterclass in Wu songwriting.

    Father U C King anyone who says otherwise.

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  15. True Master was the standout producer on this very underrated album. By comparison, RZA's joint were alright and Mathematics pretty much sucked ass. Had 4th Disciple made joints for this, it would've been a real Wu-Elements reunion. Oh well, still love this shit.

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