September 26, 2008

DJ Muggs vs. Gza/The Genius - Grandmasters (October 25, 2005)

In a Wu-Tang first, one of the original nine artists agreed to record an entire album produced by someone who is a well-known artist in his own right, but is not an actual part of the group. I'm referring to DJ Muggs, and his collaborative album with Gza/Genius is called Grandmasters.

Allegedly, these two hooked up because of their mutual love of chess, a theme that is prevalent on Grandmasters, from the song intros to the song titles. A few favors were called in on both sides, and the end result is an album that isn't technically a Gza solo album, but may as well be considered as one.

DJ Muggs started his theme of linking up with a single artist with Grandmasters. He would later attempt to master this particular category of rap album with collaborations with Sick Jacken (from Psycho Realm) and Planet Asia. Having one guy produce your album seems to be an anomaly in hip hop these days, but at one point in time, kids, this was the normal way to do things. Hopefully this will encourage more producers to take more interest in projects such as this, although I realize that, as a whole, the days of having your album done by one guy have been over for at least a decade.

I realize this intro is short, but I'm still not feeling one hundred percent. After this post, I'm taking a few days off to rest, so that the write-ups can appear more consistently. Also, I strongly encourage my two readers to start leaving more comments, as validation of a blogger's work is greatly appreciated.

Here you go.

A very self-indulgent rap album intro. Listeners don't need to be reminded that DJ Muggs and Gza/Genius are the stars of the show: their names appear on the album cover, side by side. Seriously, folks, it's just music: it's not the cure for cancer.

Considering the fact that this song follows such a ridiculous intro, this track actually sucks even more than it would under regular circumstances.

The Rza barely appears at the very beginning, so he doesn't get a credit, and Raekwon's verse sounds forced, but the Gza himself sounds pretty good. However, the music threatens to swallow him whole, as Muggs tinkers with the instrumental, mostly with decent results. DJ Khalil remixed the track shortly after the release of Grandmasters and tacked on a guest spot by Ras Kass, making that song the only track in history that features both Raekwon and Ras Kass. I'm not a fan of the remix, but I'm sure many of you two are.

This is good, even if Gza sounds like he's been getting into Raekwon's Ambien stash. The tale he weaves is thick with vivid imagery, and the simple beat serves its purpose and stays out of the way. Personally, I liked the gimmicky clacking of the typewriter keys, as it gives the impression as Gary Grice playing God with his creations.

This is the first track that sounds like it would be right at home on a more traditional Gza/Genius solo album. Flat out awesome, from the beat to the lyricism, even if Gza lets some curses fly but, confusingly, censors others. What the hell is that about? (This is the track which Gza performs a capella on "Elastic Audio" off of Pro Tools, for those of you that care to know.)

I've grown tired of Muggerund's incessant need to reutilize specific vocal samples on his projects as a form of audio signature (such as the guy shouting "Attention!"). Prince Rakeem sounds good, the Gza is simply the Gza (that's a good thing), Raekwon is half awake, and Sen Dog must have been very depressed in the studio the day Muggs was creating the track, since he barely does anything worth mentioning on here. However, the beat is Soul Assassins II-outtake flat-out dull.

Hey, kids! Are you sick of Gza's penchant for writing song lyrics based around a single theme, such as magazines, record labels, and animals? You are? Then you'll probably be annoyed with this song as well, which is about football. (American football, my overseas readers, although I admit it would be pretty funny to hear The Genius rhyme about soccer.) Well, at least the beat is decent.

The title pays its respects to the Gza's first rap crew, which was a trio made up of himself and his cousins, the Rza and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, who appears briefly during the intro thanks to the magic of archival footage. As sweet as the sentiment is, though, I wasn't that impressed with the final product.

With a title like that, you would certainly expect the beat to sound a lot more aggressive. Also, you wouldn't expect a Wu-Tang B-teamer to make an appearance, but maybe that's just me. Maybe it doesn't matter, though, since the song is boring, and the presence of Masta Killa wasn't helping.

Muggerund's instrumental makes for a valid case which insinuates that Eminem isn't really influenced by Dr. Dre's beats: whenever he needs to create an instrumental, Eminem turns to DJ Muggs for inspiration and/or something to swipe. I can't even recall the Gza being on this song, but he must have been.

The hook grabs you with what could be a sequel to "Unexplained" off of Liquid Swords (or whatever the fuck it's called, since that's the song that isn't titled correctly on that disc), and the beat carries you the rest of the way. This is more of the type of song that I was expecting from a team-up of this magnitude.

I love this fucking song. It's got a great sound to it, with the guitars and the organs having their way with the drums. By far, this is the best collaborative work DJ Muggs and the Gza will ever do. Curiously, both Raekwon and The Rza receive writing credits for this song. Although the liner notes are of the variety that shouldn't be trusted (for example, Raekwon apparently didn't write his own verse from "Destruction Of A Guard"), it's still interesting to note. Did the folks that put the package together fuck up completely, or is there a version of the track with more Wu-Tang members on it? Did the Gza actually need help to write his verses? We may never know.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Grandmasters is a bit underwhelming. Lyrically, Gza/Genius has done better: although a handful of these tracks do deserve a place in the Wu-Tang canon, Gary sounds as if he came up with the lyrics on the spot for the most part, and was too lazy to switch things up. (The notable exceptions would be "Exploitation of Mistakes" and "Queen's Gambit", although the latter still isn't a good song.) Behind the boards, Muggs sounds barely inspired by his cohort for most of the disc: the tracks may as well have been Cypress Hill leftovers that he needed to clear off of his computer before he could start working on some new shit. (Or, they may have possibly been the beats from the DJ Muggs/Inspectah Deck collaboration album that has been fully recorded (allegedly) and never released.) This was hardly the blockbuster collaboration we had all been hoping for, but at the same time, there are a handful of tracks that are pretty fucking awesome, and you are still left wondering what the results would be if Muggs were to produce entire solo albums for the other members of the Wu-Tang Clan.

BUY OR BURN? This deserves your money, but just barely. When the emcee and the producer click, it's damn near magical, but when Muggs goes off on his own tangents, leaving Gza to wonder why he's stuck with the bill, the tide turns questionable. Perhaps what the Gza should do next is explore a full album collaboration with production from, I don't know, The Rza? I know, that's asking too much, but still.

BEST TRACKS: "Smothered Mate"; "Illusory Protection"; "General Principles"; "Exploitation of Mistakes"


Wu-Tang Clan posts can be found here, while all of the DJ Muggs write-ups are here.


  1. hope ur feelin beter max..anyway
    some of these songs are better on the remix album...especially advance pawns

  2. That was just the review I wanted to see! Thank you, Max, but dunno why I didn't ask for it, even tho I wanted to. (Now I'll take my moment, could you review Muggs vs Sick Jacken - The Mask and the Assassin?) I think Those That's Bout It and Advanced Pawns are pretty good, but I'm also gettin irritated by all these 'Attention!' and 'It's time to strike!' constantly used by Muggs. Oh, and everything you say about Raekwon's flow, is funny. I appreciate your work much.

  3. hi max,

    agree with the overall assessment of grandmasters, it was a decent album. a couple of things irked me though, on occasion the beats tended to drown out the gza's vocals, also it was on this record where gza started using a real laid back/almost whispering type flow, which many were unhappy with on 8 diagrams.

    just on that deck/muggs collab-I did a bit of sleuthing after reaing the review(i've seen you use the term "wu-stan", we'll i'm a "deck stan"-it's a pity we'll probably never get to see a rza produced deck album on the same level as ls/cl, he has or at least had the talent to do so) and came across an interactive q&a on this forum:

    this is what muggs had to say about the deck album:

    "AT one point there was ..but deck never came thru . he was supposed to show up an never got on the air plan were booked an hotels were payed for an beats were done ...BUT ALL GOOD BECAUSE THAT TURNED INTO THE MUGGS GZA RECORD .."

    typical wu eh?

  4. nice! never tried Smother Mate, but always loved Exploitation of Mistakes.

    I'm so pissed off Inspectah/Muggs didn't work out, lack of chemistry? Inspectah Deck deserves better beats and a good beating for his poor output nowdays.

  5. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessSeptember 27, 2008

    This one has a lot of good ingredients but it still comes off kind of flat. Other than the tired act Gza trots out for Queen's Gambit, I don't find anything objectionable on here. It's just that apart from 2 or 3 tracks there's not anything memorable on here either and I've listened to this puppy at least 50 times. I'd still rank it as Gza's second best album with Pro Tools having a chance to take that title pending it's long term replay value.

    I am, predictably, a fan of the Destruction of a Guard remix. Ras Kass and Nas are both in my all time top 5 and are two of the only outside rappers who sound completely at home on a Wu-Tang song. Unfortunately, until 2005 it seemed like The Rza was the only clansman who would allow himself to be associated with Ras Kass. The 2005 release of 3 songs pairing him with Gza/Genius is a blessing. Come to think of it, Think Differently Music Presents Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture would make for an interesting review as it would allow you to give a quick comment about several prominent bloggers' darlings. It actually has a few really good songs on it, too.

  6. Good review man, pretty much totally agree.

    Get well soon!

  7. Max gargles cock halfway down his esophagus and through his diaphragm!

  8. everything like such as andSeptember 28, 2008

    When I first heard the CD, this is pretty much exactly what I thought and then I didn't listen to it for almost a year. A few months ago I picked it up and listened to it again and was amazed at how good it was. I have no idea what changed, but the beats stopped sounding really shitty and are actually pretty cool, even if they are repetitive as fuck. I think the main problem is that GZA sounds so calm that I don't even notice what he's saying, but then when I notice I realize that its fucking sweet.

    Also, Queen's Gambit is awesome, though maybe I just seriously like the idea of a sex rap thats also about football

  9. What i d really like to hear would be a GZA album with nothing but true master beats... where the fuck is he nowadays?

  10. review better albums!!! that will rake in more comments. Now as far as this album, GZA is weak. fuck it I said it. GZA one of the most overbudgeted MCs. Muggs = boring style. Both need forks in 'em.

  11. A nice collaboration. Something different than usual and GZA proves that he can play on every court.

    One of top 10 albums in 2005...

  12. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessSeptember 30, 2008

    I'm starting to worry that we may have lost Max. That sinus infection must be a bitch.

  13. Hey... when do you review the new Heltah Skeltah album?


  14. i still feel puzzled about this one, it sounded a bit disapointing at first, sounded better fter a while but still not what i had hoped for from these 2 legends in the game,

    get better soon, Max, take your time to rest bro

  15. Mr. AquariusOctober 06, 2008

    For some reason, this album upsets me whenever I put it on. anonymous 1 had it right for the most part. Plus I felt like the beats were off-brand wu (not in the good way). Oddly, I don't mind the songs when I throw them on mix tapes for some reason.

  16. With the exception of one or two tracks I actually thought Muggs did a decent job, I must agree though; GZA on the other hand really did sound as if he was just coming up with shit on the spot, with the exception of Exploitation of Mistakes.

  17. Nice review. I got it, and for the most part, I liked it.

  18. dj muggs and planet asia review??

  19. When that Inspectah Deck/DJ Muggs album never drops, I'm convinced it'll be Deck's finest solo album (Czarface doesn't count as Esoteric was rapping as much). That's not really saying much though. Poor INS

  20. I don't get this guy.

    GrandMasters is a damn fine concept album. The chess schemes in the songs are absolutely brilliant, and Muggs was consistent as fuck during this entire joint.

    But, as is the case with EVERY OTHER FUCKING HUMAN PIECE OF WORK, this album is not perfect.

    I would've done without the first song. Otherwise, hands downs the best GZA album since his debut.

    Fuck you, Max. Queen's Gambit was hilarious!!!! The funniest thing about it was how serious & gloomy GZA's performance was. So much so that if one were to ignore the lyrics, they would've thought GZA was talking about a giallo flick.

    1. You mean his sophomore, unless you're talking about Words From The Genius, which I doubt.

  21. I feel like GZA and Madlib would be a good combination. Madlib would throw together some great beats that would really fit his style.