August 23, 2008

My Gut Reaction: Gza/Genius - Pro Tools (August 19, 2008)

Sorry this post took so goddamn long, but it's due to circumstances beyond my control: this disc was supposed to hit shelves on Tuesday, August 19, and yet, due to some unknown shipping error or something, Best Buy didn't have it the day it dropped: I wasn't able to finally pick it up until last night. (I did find it at a Target on Tuesday, not unlike how I found the last Rza album, but it was for full retail, and there is no way in hell I'm paying eighteen dollars for a fucking CD unless it came with four discs, an autographed poster, three ringtones, earth-friendly packaging, and multiple blowjobs from Victoria's Secret models.)

Anyway, one of my favorite memories of the old Ultimate Wu site (while it lasted) was when one of the moderators tried to rip me a new one when I dismissed Gza/Genius's Beneath The Surface: he actually stated that Beneath The Surface was a better album than Liquid Swords. No, seriously, he did. You can stop laughing now. While everyone is entitled to their opinion (even if it's completely fucking erroneous), it's a fact that the Gza has been attempting to recreate his seminal classic disc with each subsequent visit to the recording studio. He even went so far as to title one of his solo albums Legend Of The Liquid Sword. So it's no secret that even the Genius realizes that his Wu-Tang solo debut (note that I'm not counting Words From The Genius) is one of the best albums ever made, regardless of musical genre.

Pro Tools, Gza's sixth solo album (okay, now I'm counting Words From The Genius) and his first since 2005, goes so far as to have artwork on the back of the CD case that will hopefully recall the album cover from Liquid Swords. According to the (incredibly cheap-looking) liner notes (seriously, it looks like all of Gza's budget was spent on the cover, as the credits within look like a copy of a copy of a copy, and speaking of the credits, they're so fucking cheap that it appears that none of the artists were cleared by their labels, and none of the sample sources are named - you'll understand what I mean in a bit), Pro Tools is almost exclusively an in-house Wu-Tang production, with all of the Wu-Elements contributing in some form, and with a couple of exceptions, the guests are all Wu-Tang related.

My understanding is that Pro Tools has gotten some surprisingly rave reviews on the Interweb. Let's see if the critics are right.

1. INTROMENTAL
Very dull, but at least it's short.

2. PENCIL (FEAT MASTA KILLA & THE RZA)
Masta Killa sounds completely out of place, but his appearance is the equivalent of someone interrupting your train of thought to ask you where the restroom is and then leaving you to your own devices, anyway. This is really the Gza and the Rza show, and how: The Rza, with his long-ass "Winter Warz"-esque verse, impresses in a way that just didn't happen on Digi Snacks.


3. ALPHABETS
Sounds like a Beneath The Surface leftover, but not necessarily in a bad way. I was halfway expecting Gza to rhyme about his adventures in Alphabet Land, a la "Labels" or "Fame", but thankfully the Genius decided to just spit.

4. GROUNDBREAKING (FEAT JUSTICE KAREEM)
Gza and his son pass the mic back and forth, sometimes in the middle of fucking sentences, which is a bit frustrating. Bronze Nazareth's beat is pretty nice, though.

5. 7 POUNDS
Surprisingly for a Wu-Tang album (but not surprisingly for hip hop in general), Black Milk produced this track. The hook is too wordy, but otherwise, this isn't bad at all.

6. 0% FINANCE
Maybe I skipped the day when all of the bloggers noted that "0% Finance" uses the exact same beat as "Stay In Line" from Legend Of The Liquid Sword, but I don't remember reading that anywhere. Oh well, I suppose as long as "Stay In Line"'s original producer, Arabian Knight, gets a publishing credit, it's all good. (Still not sure why a different producer needed to be credited for "0% Finance", though, since I can't imagine Choco did even half of the work that Arabian Knight did.) I ended up liking this song more that "Stay In Line", since it features the Gza in storyteller mode, but the true reason for my positive reaction may be due to the fact that, unlike the original track, Santogold doesn't appear on this.

7. SHORT RACE (FEAT ROCK MARCY)
There isn't much to this song, but it's decent. Rock Marcy is definitely a much better rapper than his first crew, Busta Rhymes's Flipmode Squad, ever deserved. Is his other crew, the U.N., even still recording?

8. INTERLUDE
Only exists to lead straight into...

9. PAPER PLATE
Gza throws some darts at the Curtis Jackson camp, ostensibly because Curtis was stupid enough to take shots at him after some concertgoers at a Gza live show decided to chant "Fuck 50" and Gza essentially agreed with them without saying as much. Gza's certainly not the first Wu-Tang member to diss that jackass (Raekwon also did so on that "Clyde Smith" interlude on Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele), but he is the first to do so on an officially released song. (Hell, it was the first fucking single.) Rza's rather elementary production serves its purpose well, staying out of the way of Gza's bars, for the most part, which are delivered in such a clean (literally, there's no cursing) and fluid manner that you wouldn't mind hearing the Genius disrespect your grandmother as long as it was to a Rza beat. It's pretty funny that, while Gza took the time to record this song, he apparently has no intention of even acknowledging Soulja Boy's existence.

10. COLUMBIAN TIES (FEAT TRUE MASTER)
Sounds like Gza rhyming with his twin on the hook, because I've always felt that True Master, who actually didn't produce this song, sounds like an older Genius when he rhymes. That said, this shit is really good.

11. FIREHOUSE (FEAT KA)
Gza only appears on the hook? The fuck? I'm hoping that Ka is only included on Pro Tools as a favor to Rock Marcy (who produced), and not because he's under the wing of the Gza, because he's not so good a rapper that he deserves his own song. His delivery sounds like a more polished Nine, and part of that guy's appeal was that his vocals weren't that polished to begin with. It was pretty funny when Ka illustrates that he had to grow up fast by mentioning that he "never used a potty", though.

12. PATH OF DESTRUCTION
That title begs for some hardcore Wu-Tang production, perhaps something with a confrontational vibe, with kung-fu flick samples and swinging swords incorporated into the background. However, what we actually get is pretty boring.

13. CINEMA (FEAT JUSTICE KAREEM)
It's hard to decipher what Gza's son is saying on the hook, but the Genius himself adopts a creepy whisper-like flow that ends up sounding pretty effective over Arabian Knight's beat.

14. INTERMISSION (DRIVE IN MOVIE)
Nice throwback to early Wu-Tang! Much appreciated, guys.

15. LIFE IS A MOVIE (FEAT THE RZA & IRFANE KHAN-ACITO OF OUTLINES)
Rza and Gza spit over the barely altered track to Gary Numan's "Films". The Rza and the Gza over some New Wave shit: bet you didn't see that coming. And longtime readers of the blog may expect me to be in heaven with that combination: they would be right. Rza's direct theft of the Numan track comes off as a bit lazy for production work, but the mere fact that he went with New Wave to begin with (and that he didn't go with the more obvious Gary Numan song, "Cars"), makes this one of the most interesting beats he's done in fucking years. (Too bad Gary Numan doesn't receive a writing credit in the liner notes.) It's almost like if DJ Premier were to chop up some Joy Division into his beats (or even mix it into his coffee). In regard to Irfane Khan-Acito's hook, though, it's lifted straight from "Films": if you were going to take the song wholesale, why didn't you also just take Numan's vocals?

The following is listed as a bonus track:

16. ELASTIC AUDIO (FEAT DREDDY KRUEGER & FYRE DEPARTMENT)
Gza performs live in Austin, Texas, with his hypeman (and Think Differently A&R) Dreddy Krueger. The Genius spits his verses from his "1112" and "General Principles" (acapella), and, to his credit, sounds almost exactly the same as he does on his albums. Although the censoring is very frustrating, this still makes for a good way to end your album.

THE LAST WORD: While the only person that will probably bump Pro Tools in the whip is Gza's own mother, this album is actually enjoyable. It's nowhere near the level of Liquid Swords, but at this point, I'll take what I can get, and Gza's lyricism hasn't faded with age. (You should be forewarned that the album is, for the most part, clean, and the few bad words that do pop up are censored: there is no dirty version of Pro Tools available.) Not every song clicks (and Ka's guest spot is still a mystery to me), but this is certainly the most entertaining Wu-Tang project that I've heard since 8 Diagrams. To my two readers, thanks for your patience.

-Max

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23 comments:

  1. GZA has always had a relatively unknown emcee take a spot on his albums. It's a tradition that dates back to B.I.B.L.E. on Liquid Swords.

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  2. hey max
    over here in switzerland they didn't have gza's new album in the regular cd shops, which wouldn't have surprised me if they hadn't had "digi snacks" on the new release shelf! i agree, rza's verse on pencil is great. I mostly agree with your review, however I don't really like the paper plate beat. Pencil, groundbreaking, 7 pounds, columbian ties and cinema are my favorites. All in all a very enjoyable album from beginning to end (I've given it about 6 spins)

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  3. Ivan - I know, but even though I'm not the biggest fan of the guy, you can't really compare Killah Priest to Ka.

    daimyo - I agree, Rza's beat isn't all that great on "Paper Plate", but all it's really there to do this time around is create the rhyme structure for Gza to format his words to, and in that respect, it's alright.

    Thanks for reading!

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  4. Gza back in the building with a very decent album, a straight-through listener, tracks need not be skipped although naturally some tracks is created more "equal' than others, dude definitely sounding like an elder statesman...
    can't compare Ka to killah priest at all, true indeed but dude did his thing,a more than decent debut, that laid back, conversational/matter-of-fact type flow perfectly compliments the instrumental,the lyrics not over-reaching at all, and dude sounds so empahtic i believing him, yaad heds would say "simple atrocity".. this is classic wu-affiliate shit..and if Gza "bringing" Ka, i say why the fuck not, dyt
    ...and why heds still fronting on "beneath the surface"? granted it was somewhat uneven but the great moments make up for the faff

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  5. "While everyone is entitled to their opinion (even if it's completely fucking erroneous), it's a fact that the Gza has been attempting to recreate his seminal classic disc with each subsequent visit to the recording studio. He even went so far as to title one of his solo albums Legend Of The Liquid Sword. So it's no secret that even the Genius realizes that his Wu-Tang solo debut (note that I'm not counting Words From The Genius) is one of the best albums ever made, regardless of musical genre."

    Couldn't agree more. In fact, he has a show out here in L.A. that's billed as GZA, performing Liquid Swords

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  6. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessAugust 23, 2008

    I've been enjoying this for over a week now. None of the beats are bad enough for me to skip a track and Gza, as always, is rhyming his ass off. Right now, "Life Is A Movie" has grown on me to the point that the hook sticks in my head pretty consistently despite the fact that I don't want to like it. It's continuing to grow on me and will likely follow the path of "Stroke of Death" from Supreme Clientele, eventually becoming one of my favorites.

    While I enjoy Gza in storytelling mode I feel like he overdid it on Grandmasters, to the point that some of the songs felt like episodes of The Forensic Files. Pro Tools features more of the half-long/twice-strong rhymes, simple on the surface yet containing enough depth to allow for further interpretation. This album also benefits from the Gza finally refraining from including one of his name dropping songs. After "Labels", "Publicity", "Fame", and "Animal Planet", returning to that well once again would have been a terrible mistake. I also feared that "Alphabets" was going to be the latest installment in a series that has severely overstayed its welcome.

    The only major complaint that I have with Pro Tools is the inclusion of too many guest appearances. Besides Masta Killa and The Rza, Rock Marciano is the only guest that really earns his mic time. Fortunately, True Master only rhymes on a hook and Justice Kareem's appearances are understandable but also enough to downgrade "Groundbreaking" from excellent to tolerable. To me, Ka sounds like Twin Gambino of The Infamous Mobb and is completely undeserving of a solo showcase, particularly on an album that runs 44:04 with 4 minutes of that being a performance of previously released material.

    Speaking of the live track, the Gza always sounds great live. I saw him in a small club just before Grandmasters came out and he was tremendous. He performed his "General Principles" verse acapella at that show as well. I've seen him twice with Wu-Tang and he was easily the most understandable rapper both times. Great voice and enunciation. He was also very humble, signing autographs for everyone interested and looking me in the eyes and saying "Thank you" when I told him he was one of the greatest rappers of all time. I think it's a little strange that they decided to include the last few seconds of "Elastic Audio" where Gza's disappointment with the crowd reaction becomes evident. Also, what exactly is Fyre Department's function on that track?

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    1. "Alphabet" IS themed, though. Listen to the chorus. HE goes through the entire alphabet, pretty much in order, usually beginning with the word, sometimes he just says the letter (like "X" and "Y"). Its not as bad/ridiculous as the other themed songs, but yeah, it IS a themed song. How do people not get that?

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  7. I have no idea who or what a Fyre Department are, but they're listed in the album credits, so for posterity's sake I decided to help them out. Maybe this way, when they Google themselves, they'll get an additional hit.

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  8. Mr. AquariusAugust 23, 2008

    Honestly, I was a little put off by the record. As far as a return to form, the beats are a hell of a lot better than "Grandmasters" though still not the greatest. I don't know. Personally, GZA still sounds kinda sleepy like from "Grandmasters" I think it drags down the music. The lyrics are great as always, but he sounds flaccid, at least to what I am used to. Maybe he needs to be turned up or something.

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  10. Good review man, I'm always checking your reviews but I've never commented, so this time I thought I would!

    Keep it up, especially the bitchy sarcasm!!

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  11. I listened the album yesterday. Well, all I can say is that GZA sounds kind of lazy on the mic. His lyrics are ok, as usual, but I felt that he's not willing to spit more than one short phrase in a row.

    The instrumentals are too week for GZA's abilities... I'm disappointed although I don't want to admit it.

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  12. hey I just listened to the new P Brothers album called The Gas (because roc marciano is on it..) and the song Digital B-Boy feat. Milano uses the exact same Gary Newman song Films!

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  13. dj bozo was right, gza always tries to recreate liquid swords every time he makes an album. This is definetely an album worth buying though. It's still a mystery to me though as to why best buy didnt have this album and target did, w/e. my favorite track on the album by far is "7 pounds".

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  14. Yo! Ya trippin. Ka killed Firehouse "Slow and steady get the price/step aside let the tortoise by/ and the line about "heatin up like Vinnie Johnson" Man ya'll got to listen to that one again, he killed it.

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  15. Bought this yesterday.

    All I can say is: I don't regret my decision.
    Well in Genius!
    I particularly enjoyed 0% Finance the most for some reason. GZA in story mode, always a treat.

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  16. If you wanna hear more of Ka check out his crew Nightbreed who released the twelve "Two Roads Out The Ghetto/Long Time Coming". It's really good, and Ka's voice is a lot less rougher, you can recognize him by the flow though.

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  17. “0% Finance” just came up on my player and I agree with everyone here, the GZA could not sound more lifeless. He must to be on the same sleep medication that Raekwon abused between the Cuban Linx albums because he sounds just as boring. No matter how good the lyrics are his dull delivery drains the energy from the track. Also, I think that it is important to find out who actually produced this track so that I know who to blame for the garbage beat and shoddy vocal production.

    The bad thing is that that poor-quality isn’t GZAs fault, his lyrics were on point, he just needed someone to deliver a better beat and to motivate his vocal force.

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  18. Speaking of energy…

    You mention that in the song “Groundbreaking” GZA and Justice pass the mic back and forth mid-line. GZA pulled this trick before on “Damage”, splitting lines with Ason Unique on Return to the 36 Chambers. The result there was spectacular. Both of them smash the beat with so much energy that it could light a small town.

    “Groundbreaking” has neither the raw force nor the chemistry of “Damage”, and that is truly frustrating.

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  19. a lot of people like Beneath The Surface more than Liquid Swords, are at least feel it's stronger in certain areas -- especially lyrics (even GZA doesn't consider Liquid Swords his best album, lyrically speaking). I am starting to prefer Beneath The Surface, honestly.

    this album is good. BTW, ALPHABETS ]IS[ an adventure in Alphabet Land... line one in the hook begins with A, line two begins with B, etc...

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  20. Derek ClaptonAugust 30, 2012

    How come no one recognizes that 0% Finance is a GZA theme song!? It's all fucking car puns. "Her Great Grandfather was a CHEROKEE Indian," "Sharpenin' his arrows at PLYMOUTH rock," "He had a fat lady that they called the HUMMER," "The distance was like MERCURY to SATURN" I could go on, and its not just brands, but all sorts of car imagery.

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  21. Max, looking back now would you recommend a purchase of this album? I want to buy it to support Gza but I don't want to waste my money when I could just buy another copy of Liquid Swords instead

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    1. "Pencil" and "Life Is A Movie" (usually paired with "Intermission" just for the ambiance) are still a part of my Wu-Tang playlist. I didn't find it to be a waste of money, but you can't compare this to Liquid Swords: that just isn't fair to the Genius.

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