Masta Killa seems to operate under the same principle that I do: the Wu-Tang Clan will never die. A principle which I hope will be proven later this week when I write about Raekwon's Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, but that's future talk. Now that I've lost the majority of the readers today, I will now continue unencumbered.
Although he was the last member of the nine-man collective to release a solo album, the two that Elgin Turner has managed to unleash have been relatively well-received. So it isn't surprising that he is readying a third, supposedly entitled Loyalty Is Royalty, for release at some point later this year. In an effort to please his fans who have been patiently waiting, Masta Killa unleashed this digital-only "album", Masta Killa Presents The Next Chamber, which I will only refer to as The Next Chamber from this point forward, in late 2010.
I placed the word "album" between quotation marks because The Next Chamber is a glorified mixtape of "rarities" that Masta Killa is actually trying to sell to a paying audience. Elgin filled this project with songs that either are previews from Loyalty Is Royalty or are featured appearances of his from other albums, but apparently he isn't as worldly as he might have hoped: the majority of the tracks on The Next Chamber appeared on a different mixtape, Masta Killa Exclusives, which came free with the purchase of his debut No Said Date when you ordered it from HipHopSite.com, back when they were a store and not just a blog. Actually, nearly every track on The Next Chamber is readily available if you know where to look: only the final song is something that a true Wu collector may not already have in their arsenal, and you can fucking download that shit for free, too.
So what was the point of this "album", Elgin?
1. RHYME TIME FREESTYLE
Our host for the evening kicks a freestyle over the beat from the Nasir Jones track “Thief's Theme”. Elgin sounds fairly at home over the instrumental (which severely bites from Iron Butterfly's “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, if you'll recall), but none of his bars are memorable enough for me to jot down. This was pleasant enough as a de facto mixtape intro, though.
2. UNSTOPPABLE THREATS (FEAT. GZA/GENIUS & PRODIGAL SUNN)
This song fares much better. Originally found on the DJ Muggs and GZA collaboration Grandmasters, Elgin borrows it for The Next Chamber in an effort to establish a consistent Wu-esque mood for his eventual third album. Masta Killa and the GZA have been two great tastes that taste great together in the past, and this Muggs-produced concoction is no exception. Bonus points for not going the easy route and assigning the third spot to the duo's frequent collaborator Inspectah Deck, choosing instead to boost the profile of Sunz of Man member Prodigal Sunn. This shit was pretty fucking nice.
Another freestyle from our host, this time using a familiar old-school beat to lay a foundation for his bars, which were also featured on No Said Date's masterpiece “Secret Rivals”. Since that particular song is (a) fucking amazing, and (b) already familiar to anybody who would ever show any potential interest in The Next Chamber, the inclusion of “Scram” is a questionable one indeed. Masta Killa also doesn't sound all that great over a beat such as this one.
4. JUST A THOUGHT (FEAT. GZA/GENIUS)
However, the last statement in the previous track review shouldn't be taken as gospel, as our host sounds fantastic over this particular fast-paced beat. This track, lifted from Prefuse 73's Surrounded By Silence (although it's called “Just The Thought” on there, but whatever), features excellent performances by both Masta Killa and The Genius over a minimal, hypnotic instrumental. They should really stretch this shit out by several minutes and invite some more of their Wu brethren to play, as I'm sure that is the only way this track could sound even better.
5. MONEY COMES FIRST (FEAT. THE RZA)
Suffers from a lack of focus. The RZA slips into barely-disguised Bobby Digital mode to deliver an uninteresting verse (of which I can only remember the recycling of some of his bars from the Wu's "Protect Ya Neck”) and a corny hook, which he uses to remind the listener that money is the most important commodity in the world, ranking even higher than both children and pussy. And that is the first (and probably only) time that the words “children” and “pussy” will ever be used in the same sentence on this blog. (This song was previously released as “Cash Rules Seeds & Power U”, which basically means the same thing that I wrote above.) Anyway, Masta Killa's verse is typically apathetic to the fast life, as our host rambles on for a minute or so before the instrumental simply stops playing. Sigh.
6. CHAINS (FEAT. KILLAH PRIEST & R.A. THE RUGGED MAN)
This reggae-tinged collaboration between old friends Masta Killa and Killah Priest would be otherwise uneventful had it not been for the middle verse from R.A. The Rugged Man, a surprise guest star if there ever was one. His mere presence somehow makes the other two verses sound better in hindsight, even though it isn't that great when taken all by itself. I blame the instrumental, which is a bit out of character for Elgin, who generally isn't allowed to sound even remotely chipper.
7. FAM MEMBERS ONLY (FEAT. GZA/GENIUS & THE RZA)
Taken from the GZA”s “Fam (Members Only)” but, curiously, omits The RZA's opening verse, skipping ahead to our host's contribution. The track still sounds okay, but it is extraordinarily easy for your average Wu stan to pull out their copy of Legend Of The Liquid Sword and listen to the reat song (which is still censored, as this version is, but whatever, at least it's longer). “Fam Members Only” doesn't really fit the definition of a “rare” track, anyway. Try again, Elgin.
Hilariously uses a loop taken from the theme song to Pinky & The Brain as its instrumental. I have no clue if this was supposed to be a trifle Elgin recorded just for the fuck of it way back in the day, or if this is actually a teaser for a song that will actually appear on his next project, but I wanted to reach out and hug this shit, it sounded that fucking good. My opinion is probably tainted because I was a huge Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain fan back in the day, I will admit. But I still liked this shit.
9. ARMORED TRUCK (FEAT. TIMBO KING)
I suppose “Armored Truck” was never technically released on an actual album, but it's far from rare: a quick Google search uncovers multiple places where you could have found this track before. But it still sounds pretty fucking good: the unlikely duo of Masta Killa and Royal Fam's Timbo King turns out an effective crime story over a simple-but-banging instrumental. Songs such as this one make Wu stans wish that Timbo's career had veered into a different, more successful path, but hey, at least we have this track to enjoy.
10. ALWAYS NY (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK, U-GOD, BUDDAH BLESS, & ICARUS)
This song also isn't very rare: it simply appears on an album that nobody bought, the debut Mathematics project Love, Hell, Or Right, which was a compilation album mixing up Wu members with some of Allah Math's friends over his beats exclusively. On here, Buddah Bless and Icarus receive the unique opportunity to rhyme alongside (in theory, anyway) Masta Killa, the Rebel INS, and U-God, and they both do a decent enough job over a monotonous instrumental that tries your patience by the time our host spits his verse (and he performs second). This wasn't a bad track, and Elgin actually sounded quite good, but I've heard better.
11. BLACK MAMBA (FEAT. THE RZA & OL' DIRTY BASTARD)
Originally featured as a hidden track from the soundtrack to Kill Bill Vol. 2. Although the back of the CD case promised an appearance by “...The RZA!”, even though he didn't work much on the score for the second chapter of Quentin Tarantino's saga, so I suppose even this can't be considered as a real “hidden” track. Anyway, this shit sucks balls, and is only notable for featuring an over-the-top performance from the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, one that isn't very good but still evokes nostalgic feelings for all the right reasons.
12. NOODLES PT. 2
Our host appears on his first solo song on The Next Chamber since “Brain”, spitting a crime tale over an instrumental that truly sounds like it was originally intended for a thug love rap. Killa sounds just fine, but this track is a perfect example of what happens when you select the wrong beat to express your emotions: I became so confused that I halfway expected the female lead mentioned in this story to actually be Masta Killa. If he takes this one back to the lab, he could have a potential banger on his hands.
13. THE PJS (FEAT. RAEKWON & PETE ROCK)
This is also not a rare track by any means: I'm starting to question if Masta Killa is aware of what that word even means. I would assume there is a lot of overlap between the audiences for both the Wu-Tang Clan and Pete Rock, so most stans will already have this song (taken from Pete Rock's NY's Finest) in their collection. However, this slow burn of a song still connects in a way that the majority of The Next Chamber fails to do. Chef Raekwon sounds right at home with his narcoleptic flow, and as an added bonus, he could probably fall asleep in the booth while the microphone records his soft snores and you wouldn't care, as the instrumental is that engaging.
14. METAL LUNGIES (OG VERSION) (FEAT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Masta Killa is no idiot: he reserved the one track everybody actually wanted to hear for last, in an attempt to force the audience to play through the entire project at least once, as though anybody actually does that anymore (aside from me, of course). This is the original director's cut of Ghostface Killah's “Metal Lungies”; the version that appeared on The Pretty Toney Album featured Sheek Louch and Styles P. (of The Lox) instead of Masta Killa. While I enjoyed the album version of the song, Elgin sounds so good on here that I feel bad that he was left on the cutting room floor: the additional exposure could have only helped him at that point. This curiosity may only appear on here in order to actually generate interest in this mixtape, but as a music nerd, I like peeking into alternate universes, so I appreciated this trip to the vault.
THE LAST WORD: You should only care about The Next Chamber if you're a diehard Wu stan. Masta Killa has always been the wild card of the Clan, thanks to a vocal delivery that you either love or hate, with no compromise allowed: there's a reason why he was the last member of the group to release a solo album. However, with The Next Chamber, he has hand-picked several songs in an attempt to help change your mind. This mixtape isn't very well thought out (with its “rare” songs that are easily found on other albums), and the fact that you're expected to pay for a project consisting of mostly old material meant to help promote Masta Killa's eventual third album is fucking absurd, but there are a handful of good choices on The Next Chamber that you will enjoy. However, it helps if you already give a fuck about the Wu-Tang Clan, as this will not be the project that brings in any new fans.