November 1, 2010

My Gut Reaction: Anthai Da Protagonist - Anthai Drug (September 14, 2010)

Full disclosure: although I identify myself as a hardcore Wu stan, I tend not to pay much attention to anybody outside of the original nine members.  There was once a time when I looked forward to every single release, from Killarmy's war stories to Killah Priest's quasi-religious hyperbabble, from Hell Razah's life reflections to Shyheim's child star-as-purse snatcher act.  But my interest in collecting everything Wu seemed to die off at, coincidentally, the same time that my disposable income started to drop off, which caused me to prioritize my music purchases.  So for the most part, the original nine members are automatic expenses, but everyone else, especially all of the millions of artists that have signed to Wu offshoot label Chamber Musik, has to fight for my attention.

As such, I wasn't very familiar with the West Coast faction of the Wu-Tang Killa Bees.  I'm aware of the Black Knights (mainly Holocaust, thanks to his scene-stealing appearance on RZA as Bobby Digital In Stereo and the fact that Doc Doom recently passed away) and Northstar, but none of their friends ever appeared on my radar.  So I had only seen the group name 71Raw (pronounced Seven One Raw) in passing on other blogs: the trio of Martial Art, Broken Tongue, and rapper-slash-producer Anthai Da Protagonist managed to release an album, 71Raw Project, without much of a flutter, but the crew, sometimes referred to as the Asian Killa Bees, worked their asses off, spitting alongside the aforementioned Black Knights and Northstar, among other West Coast stalwarts, while Anthai concentrated on crafting his instrumentals.

Anthai Drug is a solo effort from Anthai (obviously), and yes, it does eventually address the fact that the album title sounds similar to the Partnership For a Drug Free America's "Anti-Drug" campaign.  More importantly, Anthai throws his hat in the ring of viable producer-slash-rappers within the Wu-Tang family, while bidding for a spot as a proper full-on affiliate, something he has been working toward since 2000.  He does so with tons of help from his 71Raw crew, but calls in some other friends to rhyme over some surprising samples that could actually cause the RZAs of the world to turn their collective heads.


Given the fact that the term “ninjas” is used as a replacement for “n----s” throughout Anthai Drug, that title isn't nearly as cool as it should be. Anthai sounds comfortable over Drew's dramatic instrumental, which contains a more creative use of David Axelrod's “The Edge” than either Dr. Dre or Tash, Anthai's fellow West Coast hip hop peers (technically), could manage, which makes this a much better introduction than an actual rap album intro would be. This was actually pretty nice.

In a move so stunningly obvious that I can't believe nobody else in the Clan has ever thought of it, Anthai uses “The Lonely Shepherd”, a motherfucking Zamfir song from the Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack, as a foundation for his verses, and it translates into the hip hop world a hell of a lot better than Nancy Sinatra's “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” did for Young Buck. Anthai spits in a slower cadence than I would prefer, but he does what the beat demands of him, so he still sounds pretty fucking good. First Lady provides a passable chorus, whole Christ Bearer (from Northstar) only phones in a cameo (literally), so Anthai is truly the star on here. The only downside I can find is that now I want to give up on this write-up to go watch both Kill Bill movies back to back. Oh well. Maybe later.

3. SKIT 1

The first of several posse cuts on Anthai Drug features our host alongside Martial Art, Jacewon, and Platto, who were all apparently starving in the studio that day. Without the burden of supporting a chorus, verses are thrown about with surprising accuracy over a unique sample taken from a French song that I've never heard before, one that is used pretty effectively. This shit was simply entertaining.

I wasn't feeling this song. The dull instrumental lends a false sense of seriousness to the proceedings, with Anthai and guest star Martial Art adopting the tone without remembering to keep the music engaging. The chorus is also a bit nonsensical: if “you only live twice (once for your dreams and once for your life)”, wouldn't that imply that the two would never intersect, so your dreams will remain just that and your life will be boring forever? Perhaps I'm reading into that line in a manner that Anthai didn't intend: that's what I get for taking things literally. Oh well. The interlude at the end, when our host lets an entirely different song play him out just because he wanted to, was fairly interesting, though.

The first truly weak song on Anthai Drug features our host and Martial Art trading verses over a lo-fi instrumental lifted directly from the 1980s, but in this case, that isn't a compliment, as it sounds unfinished. As you can tell from the title, this song has a singular focus that disables it from reaching heights of any sort, so it comes across as a bit generic. The hook is a bit wishy-washy, too: I understand that money is going to come first, but what actually comes second? Is it “bitches” or “motherfuckers”? Make a decision!

7. SKIT 2
Actually introduces the “interview” aspect that was technically missing from the first skit. Otherwise, it's similarly skippable, as most skits tend to be.

Over a truly funky beat, Anthai Da Protagonist and Lady Egypt pass the mic back and forth to deliver a double-sided sex rap, although Anthai comes off as practically chaste when compared to his invited guest. Nevertheless, they are both assisted greatly by the fantastic self-produced instrumental, which elevates their rhymes in a wholly undeserving manner.

The first of two sequel tracks on Anthai Drug (the originals appeared on 71Raw Project) kicks off with some kung-fu flick samples, which are a very nice touch, but this duet between Anthai and Martial Art (who pops up a lot on this album, so I hope you're used to him) is rendered moot by the beat, which aims for moody intensity and instead hits narcoleptic. There is no real chorus, and both guys go out of their way to spit some pretty good verses, so some of you two may disagree entirely with me on this song. It wouldn't be the first time.

This posse cut is overshadowed by the sample used to construct the beat, which is at once familiar and foreign, mainly because I can't remember the source. (I'd appreciate it if you two would listen to the song and hit me with some more information in the comments section.) The beat is fucking awesome, but the performances are hit and miss: Anthai and the late Doc Doom (of Black Knights) sound alright, but everyone else has no business being anywhere near a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate's album. The chorus is also pretty bad, since it follows the tone of the instrumental a bit too closely. Moving on...

On the second sequel of the evening, Anthai used his own beat to aim threat after threat at an anonymous adversary, landing punches more often than not, although he does focus a bit too much on snatching up your girl than absolutely necessary. (He redeems himself by saying “I dislike motherfuckers as much as I hate motherfuckers”, the redundancy of which is fucking hilarious. I might start dropping that line into everyday conversation.) Christ Bearer returns to provide yet another half-assed cameo-slash-song intro that could have been performed by absolutely anybody else, but otherwise, this slow burn was pretty good.

Anthai and Martial Art ride over one of the most creative uses of Kool & The Gang's “Cherish” that I've ever heard, but ultimately the track suffers under First Lady's unnecessary performance: I could have done without the singing, which isn't all that great. It takes about a minute and a half before any actual rapping starts: once it does, it sounds alright, but the damage is done, and you two will have already moved on.

Since posse cuts are one of those things that the Wu-Tang Clan and their affiliates excel at, it's no surprise that Anthai uses Anthai Drug to tackle a slew of them, with “Sucka Bull” finding him alongside his 71Raw cohorts Martial Art and Broken Tongue, and also, again, Christ Bearer (who supplies an actual verse this time around). All four emcees provide short verses, but they all contribute to what is ultimately a hot song. The only issue I have with it is one of semantics: the sound bite that give this song its title doesn't actually say “Sucka Bull”: it says “Se Acabo”, as in the Marco Antonio Muniz song that The Beatnuts sampled for both the Spanish and English versions of their single of the same name. This track also ends abruptly, with some out-of-left-field shout-outs. But otherwise, yeah, I liked this a lot.


15. SKIT 3
Rule of threes, I suppose.

It's pretty bad when one has to look to a Wu-Tang affiliate's album in order to hear the kung-fu flick samples that the proper Clan is better known for. At least folks like Anthai use them to their advantage, letting the sound bite play out briefly before spitting his bars over the looped music from the same sound bite, with no drums to speak of: this makes Anthai come across as the Wu's version of MF Doom. The music lends dramatic intensity to our host's lyrics, which makes “Arrest Them” a damn good way to end Anthai Drug. Huh.

THE LAST WORD: I just realized that some of my commentary skews toward the negative, but in all honesty, what I found on Anthai Da Protagonist's Anthai Drug is much better than I expected. Anthai has an obvious appreciation of both Wu-Tang policies and procedures and of music in general: one of his biggest strengths lies in his oftentimes fucking great instrumentals, which take elements of songs that you're already familiar with and reconfigures them into something entirely different. (Seriously: fucking Zamfir? Who knew that sampling pan flutes could turn out brilliantly?) Lyrically, Anthai isn't necessarily at the Clan's level just yet, but he's entertaining to listen to, not unlike various members of Killarmy. Anthai Drug is the most successful Wu throwback album I've heard in a long time (a large part of that may be due to the heavy use of kung-fu samples, which I've missed). If you're a Wu stan, you will enjoy this shit. Everyone else should perhaps give it a shot anyway, as you may be pleasantly surprised.

(OCTOBER 11, 2011 EDIT: I don't normally revisit older write-ups, but at the request of the artist, here is his recent video for "Ninjas Vs. Swaggers" / "One Too Many".  And I stand by my "you may be pleasantly surprised" statement.)




  1. Very good review but what happened to track $14 "Yes They DO"? No comment?

  2. Hm. Mildly interested. I wish more of those goddamn Wu affiliates would use guys like Bronze Nazareth and Cilvaringz. Something worthwhile might actually come out of it. Maybe.

  3. Um..."Meh" IS the comment.

    A.R. - the production on here is actually pretty good. Maybe more of the Wu affiliates should look this guy's way.

  4. Grateful the homie Anthia let me get on a track. I've always like his beat. Good write up.

  5. As a fellow Wu stan, I might just check this out. I don't really get down with any of the left coast killa bees besides the Black Knights. I'm surprised you haven't done the Wisemen album yet.

  6. Max, didn't Killarmy use a sample of "The Lonely Shepherd" on 'Dirty Weaponry's' "Serving Justice" ? Or maybe I'm tripping.

  7. I haven't listened to an actual Killarmy album in so long that you're probably right. Doesn't take away from the power the sample gives this album, though. And why the hell hasn't The RZA used the damn sample? He probably chose the damn song for the Kill Bill soundtrack to start with.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. Oh, and Max: I KNOW you're going to do this. It's not even really worth suggesting you do it because I know, for certain, that you're going to do it.

    But after a few weeks why not do a 100 Calorie Gut Reactions: Keeping Up With RZA Edition and review his Wu Wednesdays? He's been fucking murdering shit.

    If you ask me Kanye should have just done the whole album with him and maybe learned a few things about longevity.

  9. Do you research properly homie, Doc Doom was not on the story of my life

  10. @A.R. Marks - Yes, I've considered doing that. I don't want to set a precedent, since I have no interest in doing the same for Swizz Beatz and Timbaland (okay, maybe Timbo, if he throws some unreleased Jay-Z in there), but since it's fairly well documented that I'm a Wu stan, I might do it later on or early next year, depending on my schedule.

    @Malcolm - there are a lot of Wu affiliates I haven't gotten to yet. I might do the Wisemen album in the future. In the meantime, I think you'll like this one.