January 11, 2010

Reader Review: The Rza Presents - Afro Samurai Resurrection: The Soundtrack (January 29, 2009)

(Confession time: while I have the Afro Samurai Resurrection: The Soundtrack that A.R. Marks is about to launch into, I have never actually listened to it. I know, some Wu stan I am, right? Some things just take precedence over the soundtrack to the sequel to a miniseries on Adult Swim. But fuck it, I've heard the first one, at least, and hopefully a write-up will be forthcoming. Until then, enjoy this Reader Review on Afro Samurai Resurrection from A.R. Marks. Be sure to leave your comments below. Oh, and if you're not into the Wu-Tang Clan, you have my permission to try back in a few days for another review.)

As a reader of Max's blog, you probably have a good grasp on the history of the Wu-Tang Clan, whether you're a fan or not. For the uninitiated, I will give a brief take (and yes, in terms of the Wu-Tang Clan's history, this is brief): in the early-1990's, the Clan essentially tore the focus of the hip-hop nation in half when they reminded people that Dr. Dre wasn't the only producer-extraordinaire with a set of foaming-at-the-mouth battle rappers slinging vocal barbed wire all over his instrumentals. The Rza and the other eight members of the Clan swiftly helped bludgeon the commercial spotlight out of Dre's chronic-gripping hand (not actively, as they weren't rivals or anything) by 1995; while he jumped the Death Row ship around that time, Rza had produced a highly-acclaimed group project, two massively-selling/critically praised solo albums (not even for himself), and had just fully produced what would become the two highest jewels in his career crown, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and Liquid Swords, two of the most notorious albums in hip-hop, period.

After 1997, after reluctantly adhering to his five-year-old promise to give the rappers in the Wu-Tang Clan control of their own careers (several of them before they even had their own careers), Rza's wife left him, and his crew basically disbanded, so he did the one thing an ultra-mega-rap star seems to find to be sensible in that situation: he started smoking weed dipped in the least-desirable drug anyone can somehow be addicted to - PCP (or "Digi"), smoking so much of it he rechristened himself Bobby Digital. With that, you can imagine the quality and quantity of his following work. Three questionable albums, too many years and several faltering Wu-Tang Clansmen careers later, Rza finally resurfaced in 2006 as more than a shadow of his former self, thanks to giving up the psycho-sticks and finding a new steady girlfriend. Stepping up his film scoring game and dipping his feet back into the Wu-Tang Clan production pool eventually resulted in the soundtrack to 2007's Afro Samurai, the score for an American television attempt at Japanese anime starring Samuel L. Jackson's voice as its only other main draw. Two years later, he did the same for the second season of the show, following the same blueprint for Afro Samurai Resurrection.

With Rza working to move back toward the kung fu-influenced sound of years past, what held back his first soundtrack installment for the series was his ill-advised tendency toward nepotism, consorting with a bunch of weed carriers, family members and loosely-related or entirely new Wu-Tang affiliates (presumably to replace the old ones, who at long last have seen that their association with the Wu will not be making them rich or famous in any real capacity). Unfortunately, that trend continues here: why the producer/rapper couldn't rope in his Wu-Tang Clansmen for more collaborations - or even put in more work on the mic himself - is subject to much debate, but Rza should have learned by now that it's okay to experiment all you want, but you have to remember to at least meet the public's expectations.

With a Samuel L. Jackson spoken-word introduction which is useless, this "song" devolves into Rza screaming "Afro!!" in a distorted fashion while a no-name artist chants a hook, with voice so rough it sounds like he was forced to practice the mantra over and over and over before he could even make the track. Rza spits a short verse which sounds good, but it only highlights how much more he could have done with this wasted marching beat.

Rakeem's beat on here is pretty engaging: so far the production itself completely trumps absolutely anything Rza produced from and including the years 1999-2002, except for the Bobby Digital song "Do U." While G Rap's verse is vintage, Deck's is competent but disappointingly elementary (as usual, of late), and even worse, Suga Bang Bang's cheap Ol' Dirty Bastard-knockoff hook sounds six or seven kinds of cheesy and unnecessary. I would personally surgically remove him straight off the track to even make this a good listen.

Rza's heavily-touted collaboration with Sly Stone, who shares essentially the same backstory as Rza except that he sings (it was cocaine, and he was a funk legend) is a remake of one of the latter's best-known tracks, "Family Affair." Strangely enough, Stone himself only moans or mutters incomprehensibly in the background. Still, this song is one of Afro Samurai Resurrection's standouts, as the beat is pure vintage Rza kung funk (ahem, kung fu funk) and just plain enjoyable. Additionally I actually like Rev. William Burke the most out of all of Rza's most recent litter-bearing, lunch-picking-up, paid-in-studio-time disciples; his verses are nuanced, his delivery is confident and his voice is noticeable but not annoying as all fuck. For the finishing touch, Dionna Nichelle of the R&B group Stone Mecca (it's just her, though the feature is credited to the whole group) can actually sing without making my ears bleed, unlike, say, a Thea Van Seijen or a Blue Raspberry (although since she sings very little, it could also be smart to limit this praise to only her contribution).

The beat for this song bothered me for a while, for two reasons: one, I knew I'd heard it before but I couldn't place it; and two, in comparison to what we've heard on the album so far, it seemed alarmingly simple. Then I realized that it was from the introductory beat to "Clan In Da Front” (from Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), and this fact both enamored me to the song and neutralized my concerns about its simplicity, as Rza clearly makes the play to bring his past credibility into the present. It works because Rza again brings in legend Kool G Rap to trade bars with GFK, one of the only original members of the Wu still respected to the extent that he was ten years ago, and because the choruses, especially the final one, provide a much-needed instrumentation build with a nicely-fitting hook by Tash Mahogany, whose singing is in fact rather smooth and pleasant while conveying a message in fact not heard much in hip-hop.

God damn. And the winning streak is over. Can't expect too much these days, can we? The beat to this ill-advised and obvious crossover attempt (on a samurai-themed soundtrack!?) kills the momentum: the entire sample itself completely apes the Nas song "The Rise and Fall," which is much better in every way, as that song is not as slow as a blind baby turtle and actually features a rapper who can carry a whole song (read: Nas, even circa I Am, always trumps Rah Digga).

The aforementioned female singer, who always sounds like English is a barely-grasped second language for her, somehow got her own track on this album. The very second her vocals come in you want to fast-forward, so for the love of all things holy, do it.

This sounds even worse than the first Rah Digga feature on this record: foregoing (naturally) Rah Digga's bland boasts and her consistent "look, a tough female rapper" gimmick, the beat is just a total and utterly discordant, jarring mess. In the words of a wig-wearing, hook-toting Dustin Hoffman, bad form!

Having just proclaimed my distaste for Thea Van Seijen, it's strange that I can actually stand her on this song even though she technically dominates it, because the beat is actually dynamic, with a dark atmosphere: it adds something to her vocals that makes them less painful somehow. Prodigal Sunn is also one of my top choices for Wu-affiliates, so the fact that he spits only one verse is only a slight disappointment, as he isn't Cilvaringz, Shabazz the Disciple or (God forbid) Rza's cousin Freemurda.

I don't know who the fuck this guy is, but he sounds like a generic version of Rev. Burke, and his verse just comes off as paint-by-numbers, largely because the song's every single sentiment is a retread of things we've heard eleventy-million times in hip-hop. Plus the beat is just "wsshhh" and "psssshhh" sounds, a whispered "kill kill kill, afro samurai" and an extra-extra-basic horn sample. SKIP.

The son of Ol' Dirty Bastard drops in to pay homage to his father and, unfortunately, ends up paying homage to the fucked-up, erratic, illogical portion of his pop's legacy instead of the hidden-insight, entertainment-avant-garde piece. The beat is as fresh as a lost 1998 Bad Boy cookie-cutter, and Jones-the-younger's attempts to bring out his father's quirkiness comes off as firmly on par with the most annoying thing I've ever heard in hip-hop.

What is it about Van Seijen that makes Rza slap her all over this album? He must have the best ear in hip-hop, because I sure as hell don't hear anything good. The beat is nice, at first, barring her contribution (which, thankfully, is limited); however it's one of those beats that just endlessly repeats itself over and over, and not in an interesting way, either. It doesn't help that the third- or fourth-generation Wu-Tang affiliate group Black Knights (along with some guy named Dexter Wiggles - nice name, by the way; did you get your ass beat in high school? A lot?) has complete control of the track. All around grating.

The relatively all-star lineup here looks promising on paper, and is meant to foreshadow Rza's supposed collaboration with Shavo, with the group Achozen. If they're supposed to sound like this, then I'm glad I haven't heard anything about it for months. Furthermore, the song's sloppy, tiresome guitar backdrop makes me glad I haven't heard any new System music in years, too. Thankfully the song ends pretty fucking fast, as in "oh shit, this song actually really sucks" fast.

Around this point is when you finally realize that the vocal samples culled from the show are seemingly just slapped on here for their own sake, when Rakeem even bothers to include them; many of the songs that feature them aren't inventive or vivid enough to justify them in any real way. That is about the most interesting thing I can say for this song, except that this might very well be the worst beat on this album, and shows that Rza apparently hasn't completely let go of his Bobby Digital persona (of course, he did release a Bobby Digital record around the same time as this record came out, so there you go).

This song takes a little of the edge off the last few tracks by refusing to be repetitive, but the hard trashcan drums completely overshadow the rest of the beat, as well as Rza and Burke's vocals. The hook, which is not done by a trained vocalist and which is completely unnecessary, is sung by Infinite, who actually is Rza's brother, which makes this track's title nice and literal.

So these two no-names pop up once again. Why? Only Rza knows, I would think. This beat should have gone to Gza/Genius instead: it's a nice construction of complex synthesizer playing, but it's ruined by the constant sound of what could be some kind of heavy exhaling. Oh, and the two amateurs attempting to rock the beat and failing.

I like the first two installments of “Take The Sword”, both from the first Afro Samurai soundtrack, but this one does nothing to live up to either one, not unlike the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie (I'd throw in The Godfather series as a comparison, but these songs aren't good enough to warrant that grand of a comparison). There just isn't much to say about it (literally: the beat is so sparse, there's not much to comment on) other than the fact that this posse cut features about as many rappers as there are in the Wu-Tang Clan but I've only heard of five of them before today, and I only want to hear two of them spit ever again.

Kicking off with a deliciously nostalgia-inspiring, off-kilter sample from a kung-fu film score, Rza kicks off the proceedings with a beautifully-distorted verse, in the guise of the main character himself, Afro Samurai. 9th Prince's non-distorted and technically non-good verse does derail things somewhat, but the beat and Rza's verse are so good it's easy to overlook that last bit.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although the high-points of this record illustrate that The Rza may be moving back toward his pre-sherm days, the vast majority of Afro Samurai Resurrection consists of throwaway tracks, as can be expected when at the most only clips of some of these songs will be played, briefly, throughout the show for which they were recorded. I suppose Prince Rakeem felt that this was a lower-profile platform that would only be picked up by his diehard fans, and as such would allow some experimentation, in the way of musical choices and in collaborators. I suppose it's good that some of these tracks didn't make it on to 8 Diagrams. However, the double-edged blade of that statement is that some of them probably should have (featuring core Wu-Tang members instead, of course). Musically, the lack of boring all-instrumental compositions here show that The Rza is moving in the right direction, and Afro Samurai Resurrection's Japanese influence do well to bring him back to his kung fu roots.

BUY OR BURN: If you purchased a copy of this album, you may have already burned that motherfucker (literally, mind you, with real flames and real gasoline), so what I would personally recommend is what I did: Take the very best songs from this record and its predecessor, shuffle them up really good, and slap that playlist onto your iPod and pretend that you're listening to The Rza's The Cure. But don't bother even touching a physical copy of this shit.

BEST SONGS: “You Already Know”; “Blood Thicker Than Mud (Family Affair)”; “Whar”; “Bloody Days Bloody Nights”

-A.R. Marks

(That left me curious enough to actually listen to the fucking album now. What did you think of it, or do you even care? Leave your comments below.)


  1. UnstoppableJanuary 11, 2010

    Props for the idea of: Afro Samurai OST 1 + Afro Samurai OST 2 = The Cure

    Nice review. Anyway I never liked this album, I tried to listen to it for 1-2 days then I deleted it. I only saved the 2 joints with G Rap, but even those are not anything special.
    I'd rather listen to the Ghost Dog OST, that was a great soundtrack.


  2. Oh dear god. Max, would you please do me a personal favour and just totally ignore that piece or crap and never ever waste a second on it? You might wanna remember the initial thought of your blog and starting reviewing albums again that even deserve to be bought! Somehow its getting a little unclear why hiphopisntdead here lately with so many posts about horrible albums.

    Why not review Cunninlynguists, Fashawn, some Detroit stuff and show the people some stuff that really revives hip hop..?

  3. Thanks. This is a very well written review.

    Oh, and please don’t listen to FLX, continue posting reviews of albums with connections to the WU. We all knew this shit would stink, but it’s nice to know if there are any tracks worth checking out.

  4. Appreciated, Anonymous.

    To FLX, I can't speak for any reviews in particular but overall I think even the reviews of crappy albums usually show that hip-hop isn't dead, because there is some good music to be had even on most horrible releases.

    Even when there isn't, it's necessary to contrast the good with the bad so the good doesn't get taken for granted.

  5. I gave a listen to A.R. Marks' favorite tracks, and I'm not especially amazed, but I think that the OST for the first Afro Samurai is actually pretty fucking good. Just A Lil' Dude (Who Dat Ovah There?)'s beat is really fucking awesome, and Take Sword Pt. II is one of the best production RZA has ever done.

  6. I also prefer the first installment of this Afro Soundtrack series and I certainly agree about that Thea ... the best thing RZA could ask of her in a studio is to shut the hell up and while she's at it wipe the floor or take off some dust or sth ... MAAAAAAAAAAAN that woman has an irritating voice !!!!!!

    No idea why RZA keeps using her when he was used to working with Tekitha, Blue raspberry and Tash Mahogany in the past ... maybe she gives crazy head ?

  7. I did a fairly positive review of this when it came out (http://www.rapreviews.com/archive/2009_02F_afrosamuraires.html). Then i never listened to it again. I think i was blinded my my love of the Wu. I even liked 8 Diagrams. I compared him to Dylan or John Lennon in my review, and I think it's true...only in the sense that no matter what he shits out, we critics will eat it up, blinded by our love of his early, brilliant work.

    I didn't realize he was into PCP. I didn't know anyone did PCP anymore.



  8. The author of this particular site wouldn't know good music or even a good beat if it slapped him in the face, which it ofcourse did in resurrection. Develop a properly trained ear or keep your stupid-ass opinions to yourself! My advise is NOT to be taken lightly.

  9. Great job with reading comprehension. "The author of this particular site" didn't even WRITE this review.

    Thanks for reading!