I should first note that this post isn't intended to signal my return to the blog. This is simply one of two new albums that I figured I "had" to write about (particularly astute readers should be able to easily figure out the other one) while I search for some better inspiration. But this isn't the end of the blog (yet), so I'm hoping to have some new content up soon.
A little more than two years ago, E1 Music unleashed an out-of-left-field Wu-Tang project entitled Wu-Tang Chamber Music. It consisted of the majority of the Clan (minus Method Man, GZA/Genius, and Masta Killa) trading bars, both with each other and with other hip hop stalwarts such as Sean Price, AZ, Sadat X, Masta Ace, and the like, over live instrumentation provided by The Revelations. It only consisted of eight actual songs (the rest of the album was padded with some truly fucking ridiculous faux-philosophical ruminations from Prince Rakeem himself), but those eight songs were made up, for the most part, of the closest thing to dusty beats that the Wu had spit over since Wu-Tang Forever. Overall, I enjoyed Wu-Tang Chamber Music, even though I hardly listen to it today: I think the fact that Fizzy Womack, also known as M.O.P.'s Lil' Fame, was one of the project's main producers (along with Noah Rubin and Andrew Kelley) was more fascinating than the music itself.
Although it wasn't the biggest seller in the world (no Wu-Tang album is, really), a few months ago E1 Music trotted out the first promotional materials for the sequel that nobody was really waiting for, Legendary Weapons. The ingredients were exactly the same: the Wu (still without the involvement of the GZA or Masta Killa, although Method Man was coaxed out of hiding with a lovely pic-a-nic basket) rocking over live musical backing from The Revelations, with producers Noah Rubin, Fizzy Womack, and Andrew Kelley in tow for good measure. The guest list includes some holdovers from Wu-Tang Chamber Music (AZ returns, along with Sean Price and M.O.P.) alongside some underground cats (Roc Marciano, Action Bronson, Termanology) and some of the Clan's B-team (Trife Diesel, Killa Sin, Bronze Nazareth, and Cappadonna round things out). Although there are still unnecessary skits, Legendary Weapons actually paid attention to the mistakes of its predecessor: The RZA only appears on the songs and not on any bullshit interludes talking about whatever-the-fuck to nobody in particular.
1. START THE SHOW (RAEKWON & THE RZA FEAT. JIMI KENDRIX)
This isn't a good sign as to what is to come. Raekwon and The RZA sound alright, I suppose, even though it's abundantly clear that they shared no interaction with each other while recording their separate verses, but the reason this shit stumbles is because of the musical backing, which fails to sound like the triumphant introduction that “Start The Show” wants to be when it grows up. In short, this sucks. I'm perfectly okay with the Wu rapping over live instrumentation, but the music should sound like something the Clan would have crafted in a dusty basement by themselves, and not like this. Once again, this shit sucks.
2. LACED CHEEBA (GHOSTFACE KILLAH FEAT. SEAN PRICE & TRIFE DIESEL)
This shit, on the other hand, is the tits, and not just because of the kung-fu flick sample at the beginning, although it helps add to the overall feel. The beat on here is dark and simple, like The RZA's early work before he went digital, and all three rappers come through in a big way. Pretty Toney knocks his verse out of the park: that guy truly is the most consistently entertaining artist the Clan has ever produced. And his boy Trife Diesel impresses, as always. But the winner of “Laced Cheeba” also supplies the song with its title in during his final bar: Sean Price, who also appeared on Wu-Tang Chamber Music, continues his 2011 winning streak (after Random Axe and his guest slot on Pete Rock and Smif-N-Wessun's Monumental), spitting as though he has rhymed alongside the Wu for his entire fucking career, he's that nice. This shit is hot. Cue Max's begging for a Wu-Tang / Boot Camp Clik collaborative project...now.
3. DIESEL FLUID (METHOD MAN FEAT. TRIFE DIESEL & CAPPADONNA)
I didn't care much for the beat on “Diesel Fluid” at first, but it grew on me by the time Trife took to the microphone. The track's title, and the fact that he provided a crappy hook, leads me to believe that this was originally a Trife da God solo effort repurposed for Legendary Weapons, so it's fitting that he walks away with the best performance, showing up both an exhausted-sounding Method Man and the reformed gypsy cab driver Cappadonna, who has been attempting to re-establish his relevancy for the better part of a year now. Cappa isn't quite back to his “Winter Warz” days, but he sounds a hell of a lot better than he did on The Yin & The Yang, so it's a start. I just wish the musical backing was more engaging: although I still ultimately liked it, that doesn't mean it didn't sound like the dramatic score from a soon-to-be-cancelled daytime soap opera.
4. THE BLACK DIAMONDS (GHOSTFACE KILLAH FEAT. ROC MARCIANO & KILLA SIN)
It must be an unwritten rule that any track New York's apparent spokesperson Roc Marciano appears on has to share the lo-fi sensibility that his (overrated – yeah, I fucking said it) debut Marcberg revels in. Maybe it's a “whenever you have Twista guest star on your song, you have to speed-rap just like him”-sort of arrangement. Anyway, on what is actually his second collaboration with Ghostface Killah (while he was still a member of the Flipmode Squad, a higher-pitched, fully alert Roc Marcy shared screen time with Ghost, Raekwon, and his boss Busta Rhymes on the latter's Large Professor-produced “The Heist”), Marky Marciano sounds as apathetic as he always does these days (you may read his delivery as “cold” and “calculated”, but I see it as “bored” and “why do I even bother”). However, the track is saved by a stellar Ghost verse (on which he threatens to pull a Natalie Portman and “bust in your mouth like a gusher”) and a surprisingly dope-as-fuck Killa Sin contribution that almost makes up for his court-determined lengthy absence from the game.
5. PLAYED BY THE GAME (INTERLUDE)
6. LEGENDARY WEAPONS (GHOSTFACE KILLAH FEAT. AZ & M.O.P.)
This Noah Rubin-produced title track features four artists but runs for only three minutes and twenty seconds, and the last thirty seconds is reserved for an extension of the instrumental. I appreciate the economy of the rhymes on here (given only a handful of bars, Ghost, AZ, Lil' Fame, and Billy Danze all seem to cut the filler in favor of the hot shit), but I wouldn't have minded if this was a bit longer, even if the beat was (and is) fairly dull. Ghost and Anthony make the questionable choice of referencing current artists during their verses (Pretty Toney makes a Wiz Khalifa reference, while AZ seems to briefly channel YC's “Racks”), which has the adverse effect of making them sound like old-timers who want you goddamn kids off of their lawn, but they still lend good performances, especially AZ, who impressed me in a way that he just hasn't been capable of in fucking years. Both halves of M.O.P. come off as subdued and skippable, though, but there always has to be a fall guy.
7. NEVER FEEL THIS PAIN (INSPECTAH DECK & U-GOD FEAT. TRE WILLIAMS)
This is the only song on Legendary Weapons that features Inspectah Deck, so to make up for that, he contributes two verses. Too bad this song was really terrible. There are only so many ways a rapper can talk about his struggles growing up without repeating himself: Deck reached that limit about a quarter of the way through his debut, Uncontrolled Substance. Tre Williams, another holdover from Wu-Tang Chamber Music, also adds nothing to faux-soulful proceedings. The only participant that can walk away from this empty debacle with his head held high is U-God, and that's only because he didn't completely suck. Yeah, I'm just as shocked as you are.
8. DRUNK TONGUE (KILLA SIN)
The Wu-Tang Clan's comeback kid of 2011 is Killarmy's Killa Sin, who turns this solo one-verse wonder into a tour de force-slash-demo reel for an eventual solo album. The man's absence has turned him into a fucking beast in the booth: The RZA should capitalize on this fact and start utilizing him in more efficient ways (featuring him on the soundtrack to his movie The Man With The Iron Fists could be a good start, Bobby). The production is simple, eerie, and reminiscent of the Wu in its prime, and Killa Sin is in his element, rapping as though his life depended on it, because, let's face it, it probably does at this point. I did not expect him to sound this good.
9. THE BUSINESS (INTERLUDE)
10. 225 ROUNDS (U-GOD & THE RZA FEAT. CAPPADONNA & BRONZE NAZARETH)
Noah Rubin's beat sounds curiously like Efil4zaggin-era N.W.A. on codeine, which is supposed to be a compliment. Sadly, that was the only element of the track I can remember clearly; well, that, and the fact that the beat appears to restart before each rapper begins their verse. I've noticed that Cappadonna has received many accolades for his contribution to “225 Rounds”, but I thought he sounded only alright. Better than the other three by far (especially U-God and The RZA, whose submission couldn't be more disconnected from the rest of the group had he actively tried to make it so), but that isn't saying a goddamn thing, really.
11. METEOR HAMMER (GHOSTFACE KILLAH FEAT. ACTION BRONSON & TERMANOLOGY)
This Fizzy/Noah/Kelley-produced track features three artists but lasts for barely two minutes and thirty-five seconds. It's almost as though the Wu themselves want Legendary Weapons to fucking end already. The music is barely noticeable, but Ghostface Killah and his sound-alike Action Bronson (a guy I haven't paid much attention to before, admittedly) both manage to make it do their bidding. Termanology, a dude I normally like, sounds positively amateurish by comparison, as though he recorded his verse for one of his thousands of mixtapes and accidentally sent it via e-mail to the label for inclusion on here. Le sigh.
12. LIVE THROUGH DEATH (INTERLUDE)
13. ONLY THE RUGGED SURVIVE (THE RZA)
The first single from Legendary Weapons sounds like a shitty Bobby Digital-era leftover, and not just because of the multiple references to The RZA's costumed superhero alter-ego (and his cousin Billy, oddly). This was a piss-poor way for the label to try to sell this project, so it makes sense that it has since been buried on the album as a whole. The RZArector runs through his verses so goddamn quickly that it's almost as though he decided to spit a few bars while waiting for his popcorn to pop in the microwave, and at the very end, if you listen closely, you can even hear the faint sound of Prince Rakeem cashing his paycheck. This was fucking awful.
And we're done.
THE LAST WORD: As a (mislabeled) Wu-Tang Clan album, Legendary Weapons is pretty bland. As a follow up to Wu-Tang Chamber Music, it fares better, but not by much. Although a lot of the performances behind the microphone range between “decent” and “inspired”, the Clan and their invited guests are forced to deal with some shitty musical backing from The Revelations that can only be described as “less than”. A handful of these songs sounds terrific, but when there are only ten of them on the entire album (which at least makes this project longer than Wu-Tang Chamber Music), that doesn't result in a high batting average. Some of the guest stars on Legendary Weapons are surprising, and the fact that the Clan somehow convinced Method Man to actually contribute this time around is interesting in itself, but aside from “Laced Cheeba”, “Drunk Tongue”, and half of the title track (and maybe “The Black Diamonds” if I'm feeling especially masochistic), I can't see myself giving a fuck about this album for longer than the remainder of this write-up. So, like Wu-Tang Chamber Music before it, Legendary Weapons will end up in a box while I wait for a proper group release. And since I actually liked Wu-Tang Chamber Music, you can imagine how disappointed I was with this quickie. Oh well.