Before last year, there were two categories of rap artists who were giving away their music online: underground cats trying to build their fanbase beyond a cult following (read: Crooked I), and complete unknowns who were looking for any type of exposure they could get. The quality of these releases varied wildly, at least among the rookies, most of whom didn't make it past their first test and faded into less than obscurity. As for those underground acts, their giveaways could be considered "homages" at best and "plagarism" at worst, as they usually elected to rhyme over whatever previously utilized beat was popular at the time: by doing this, they essentially guaranteed that they would not be able to make any sort of income from their work, as they couldn't legally sell it without paying for the samples, which would be cost-prohibitive for someone in their position.
In 2010, Kanye West changed this by offering free music every week during his G.O.O.D. Fridays series, which was created ostensibly to promote his album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but ended up causing a commotion on their own. Never before had a mainstream artist, a producer no less, offered brand new original music, featuring tons of name-brand guest stars and actual cleared samples, free of charge. This series was so popular that it generated publicity of its own, and the reaction to some of the tracks caused Kanye to replace songs earmarked for his album with some of the actual G.O.O.D. Friday tracks (I personally still believe that "Monster" would have worked better as a bonus track, but that motherfucker has already sold over one million copies of the album, so he doesn't need my help).
It was only a matter of time before other A-list producers jumped on the bandwagon, giving away free shit in return for, hopefully, a tenth of the publicity and the sales their peer Yeezy saw. Swizz Beatz took over Mondays, polluting his Twitter feed at the beginning of each workweek with whatever the fuck he calls music (I haven't paid attention to a single one of his releases, sorry). Timbaland, who allegedly gave up on hip hop long ago but keeps getting pulled back in for some reason, announced Timbo Thursdays, a series I'm much more interested in but haven't been keeping up with.
But the guy who surprised me the most was The RZA, the Wu-Tang Clan leader-slash-film director-slash-probably the reason the Wu is so disjointed these days-slash-producer and a recipient of some residual Kanye West love (as he was featured, albeit briefly, on 'Ye's "So Appalled"). Late in 2010, the artist formerly known as Prince Rakeem announced Wu Wednesdays, during which he would replace his weekly quotes, drawn from the likes of Ghandi and Japanese proverbs, with actual songs from his vaults. Anytime an unreleased Wu-Tang Clan song is just given away from one of the principal players, I'm there, so I was pretty excited.
The free music wave didn't seem to last long, though, only taking up the last quarter of 2010. The following list consists of every track Robert Diggs unleashed before the New Year, at which point he switched back to his regularly scheduled programming of proverbs and, oddly, a Kickstarter video in which his boy Kinetic 9 is asking fans for the funds to help him complete his debut solo album. That entry, where any monetary donation can result in free music from Kinetic, along with nearly every song listed below, can be found by clicking here.
GONE (DEDICATED TO SALLY MENKE) (THE RZA FEAT. JUSTIN NOZUKA & KOBRA KHAN)
When film editor Sally Menke passed away last year, I immediately thought of Quentin Tarantino, who must have been devastated, as Menke was responsible for the general look and feel of a Tarantino picture, having edited all of his films and helping create the identity we know him as today. But I never expected a rap song to ever pay any sort of tribute to her. Since The RZA is Tarantino's BFF, though, it makes sense that he would have also been affected by the loss. However, Rakeem's first verse on this track is all about the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, and while it is heartbreaking, it still makes the dedication a bit misleading, as she isn't mentioned a single time. The instrumental is 8 Diagrams-era deep, which will be a make it-or-break it scenario for some of you two, and the vocals from Justin Nozuka and the guest rap from Kobra Khan all work to create a thoroughly mournful, yet hopeful, mood. It runs a bit longer than it has to, but I liked it overall.
2 LEFT SHOES (THE RZA FEAT. REV. WILLIAM BURK & TRUTH HURTS)
Over an incomplete-sounding piano-dominated instrumental, Bobby Digital recruits the honorable Reverend William Burk (who I'm pretty sure once had a last name spelled “Burke”, but whatever), one of the better Wu-Tang weed carriers of recent memory, in an attempt to resurrect the career of Truth Hurts, a vocalist who was formerly in the employ of both Dr. Dre and DJ Quik (who had a hit single, “Addictive”, in 2002). Burke only manages a few bars at the beginning before RZA rudely kicks him out of his office, J. Jonah Jameson-style, so none of his lines are especially memorable, but Robert sounds fairly comfortable, and, surprisingly, so does Truth Hurts (real name Shari Watson). I don't think the music industry will be clamoring for a comeback from her anytime soon, but I thought she did pretty well. I would hope that The RZA still has working phone numbers for Wu-Tang vocalists Blue Raspberry and Tekitha, though, as he has been ignoring them for quite a while now.
VISIONS (OUTLINES FEAT. THE RZA)
I'm pretty certain that this song leaked to the Interweb long before The RZA ever had a Twitter account, but I could be wrong. For those of you two who have never heard of the Outlines, they are a musical group based out of France who are best known for getting The RZA to appear on their song called “Visions”. (Lead singer Irfane Khan-Acito also appeared on the GZA's “Life Is A Movie” from Pro Tools, singing the part of the chorus that wasn't lifted wholesale from Gary Numan's “Films”.) The instrumental, purportedly provided by the guest star, effectively rips off the percussion sample from the Wu's own “Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin To Fuck Wit”, not unlike what Kanye West did on his Raekwon-assisted remix to Justin Bieber's “Runaway Love”. Yep, I somehow found a valid connection between the Outlines and motherfucking Justin Bieber. This song wasn't that bad, but laying positive lyrics over such an aggressive beat won't always result in the type of contrast you're hoping for, guys.
2 MORE CUPS OF BLOOD (GRAVEDIGGAZ)
Considering the fact that The RZA left the Gravediggaz, a Prince Paul side project and not, I repeat, not a Wu-Tang Clan-affiliated group, after their second album, The Pick, The Sickle, & The Shovel, having this pseudo-sequel to “2 Cups Of Blood” (originally from 6 Feet Deep, or N---amortis, depending on what side of the planet you're reading this review from) pop up around Halloween was a bit of a shock. However, it completely and totally sucks, so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was a demo recorded during those earlier sessions. Over an instrumental as nondescript as a child molester's white van, The RZArector and The Gatekeeper (Frukwan) trade verses about nothing specific, neither man seeming to notice the absence of Prince Paul or the late Poetic. Nothing to see here, folks. (I do understand that The RZA is planning on possibly bringing the group back to life with new members, all of whom will probably actually be Wu-affiliated: hopefully this shit isn't representative of their new direction.)
INSOMNIA (DEMO) (THE RZA FEAT. ERICA BRYANT)
This track shouldn't really be labeled as “unreleased”: “Insomnia” (not this demo version, although there isn't much of a difference between this track and the final cut) appears as a bonus track on European pressings of Bobby Digital's Digi Snacks. (It also appears on the first Afro Samurai soundtrack, with the two verses reversed in their order, for some strange reason.) It sounds alright, and Robert gets in some unique imagery that alternates between vivid and hilarious (such as when he describes Method Man playing his Playstation while high as a personification of insomnia), but Wu stans have heard this already. Perhaps RZA should consult Raekwon for some advice on how to get some sleep. Speaking of which, why the fuck haven't any other members of the Clan appeared on these Wu Wednesdays songs?
BROTHER'S KEEPER (THE RZA FEAT. REV. WILLIAM BURK)
RZA lifted this week's entry directly from the soundtrack to Afro Samurai Resurrection. Now I've been a Wu stan for quite some time now: I know that there is a ton of unreleased shit that Prince Rakeem can cull from for this series. So this shit was pure fucking laziness, period. It is a pretty interesting track, and more than likely Bobby was trying to draw attention to a banger taken from a Wu-Tang project that absolutely nobody (aside from A.R. Marks, who already reviewed it) purchased, but this song squanders the overall concept of Wu Wednesdays. And there was so much potential here, too. Damn.
MY FOREVER LOVE (LEVERT)
To honor his late cousin Russell Jones, The RZA posted this LeVert song as a stream-only affair, which makes perfect sense, as it wasn't his song to give away. More than likely, RZA was planning on holding “Gone” for this slot, but the passing of his friend changed the order of these tracks around a bit. The late brothers of LeVert (R.I.P.) provide an interesting diversion, and anybody who considers themselves a fan of music in general should take the time to give it a spin, even though Prince Rakeem's fingerprints won't be found anywhere on here.
YOU DON'T OWN ME (THE RZA)
The RZA returns over a sample from Lesley Gore's “You Don't Own Me”, basically reiterating the same concept in his own slow-roll, honey-dipped blunted manner. I wasn't really a fan (although I like the original song), so my mind wandered back to the days when RZA's flow was more intense, aggressive, and hurried, as if he had only two minutes to live and just had to get his verse out before his brain exploded, such as on the first Gravediggaz project or on Ol' Dirty Bastard's “Snakes” (which is a mini-masterpiece, but I digress). I find it intriguing that Robert's voice and flow changed up completely in the middle of his career and nobody batted an eye. Does this make The RZA the Michael Jackson of hip hop, minus the (alleged) child molestation and the Peter Pan complex?
HUMILITY (GAB GOTCHA)
RZA used this entry to transform Wu-Wednesdays into an infomercial for the newest signee to the Wu Music Group, former (I'm just guessing here) Beatnuts affiliate Gab Gotcha, whose debut album Timeless is available now, conveniently enough. The signing surprised me at first because Gabby had absolutely nothing to do with the Wu prior to it happening, but then I remembered Duck Down Records signing up a bunch of non-Boot Camp Clik artists (such as Kidz In The Hall, KRS One, and B-Real of Cypress Hill), so maybe The RZA is just trying to expand his spot in the marketplace. For what it's worth, Gab Gotcha sounds pretty good over this kung fu sample-heavy instrumental (that doesn't actually appear on Timeless, apparently), so I'm not angry, but I do feel a bit used.
MO POVO LUTA (LEGGEZIN FIN FEAT. KINETIC 9)
RZA continues to neglect the fans who want to hear the lost older material from the Wu Mansion, opting instead to loan the spotlight to Angola killer bee Leggezin Fin, who spits his bars in Portuguese over some fine Kinetic 9 (formerly known as Kinetic, formerly known as Beretta 9 from Killarmy) production work, and he sounds really fucking dope while doing it, although I'm at a loss as to what he's actually saying: he could be endorsing Sarah Palin and lashing out against abortion doctors for all I know. “Mo Povo Luta” is one of the first singles from his newest project, of which I don't have the name in front of me, and I look forward to hearing more from him, especially since I recently discovered that the man has an out-of-print debut album that I'm going to attempt to track down. This shit was pretty nice, so I guess The RZA made a good call this week.
BOO SPOT MIX DOWN (BLACK KNIGHTS)
The final song in the Wu Wednesdays series thus far features some more West Coast Killa Beez in the form of the crew the Black Knights, who are best known at this point in Wu lore as (a) the main reason Holocaust, a polarizing Wu affiliate whose own history is both interesting and contradictory, has a continued career in the first place, and (b) having a debut album that was never officially released. This track is not taken from that project: it's production sounds generic enough to slide onto radio playlists today, so I'm willing to bet that it's yet another new track. (Maybe it's my own fault for assuming that The RZA was going to empty the vaults during this Twitter-based series simply because he unleashed a couple of demo tracks: I set my own expectations a bit too high, so I was bound to be disappointed.) Rappers Crisis and Rugged Monk sound exactly like what a Z-grade Wu affiliate would sound like today, which is obviously not a compliment. This was an awful way to end the series, folks: hopefully Prince Rakeem has some more tricks up his sleeve in 2011, should he decide to keep this ball rolling.