October 23, 2012
Killa Beez - The Sting (March 12, 2002)
After the moderate success of The Swarm Volume 1 among Wu stans who would have purchased a box of dogshit if the Wu-Tang symbol was affixed to the lid (and back in the late 1990s, I would have counted myself as one of that number), The RZA made the obvious business decision to craft a follow-up. It took him four years, due to the his busy schedule, a label switch, and too many honey-dipped blunts, but in 2002, he successfully convinced me to purchase The Sting from my local Best Buy.
The Sting is supposed to be seen as The Swarm Volume 2, although that intention isn't listed anywhere within the liner notes; it's just supposed to be a foregone conclusion. Released by the Koch graveyard after the label deal with Priority went south, The Sting saw a much more narrow-minded Prince Rakeem than the guy who compiled that first, um, compilation: instead of branching out and including acts that changed their Wu-Tang affiliation depending on what time of the month it was, The Sting deliberately only includes artists who wore their Wu-branded hearts on their sleeves. Killarmy, Timbo King, one guy from Sunz Of Man, and Shyheim all made the cut, as did various members of the actual Wu-Tang Clan (obviously), but The RZA personally endorsed the Black Knights, North Star, Solomon Childs, and Lord Superb, all of whom make multiple appearances on The Sting, rendering this project less a label sampler and more of a showcase for those four acts specifically.
Unlike The Swarm Volume 1, The RZA saw fit to produce the majority of the project, but this was during his digital orchestration phase, one that he perfected while acting as the cartoonish rhyme-slinging superhero Bobby Digital (who makes numerous appearances himself), so the darker sound located squarely on that earlier project is nowhere to be found. That said, The RZA still had some tricks up his sleeve, and only a couple of those tricks involved failing to list every contributor as a credited guest on each song (yes, that seems to be happening again; The RZA really needs to hire a proofreader or something).
1. INTRO (THE RZA)
Instead of throwing in some halfway-relevant sound bites lifted from old films, this time around The RZA properly introduces his co-conspirators for The Sting, doing so over a great fucking instrumental of his own design. Prince Rakeem kind of rambles, but audiences will get the idea.
2. KILLA BEEZ (BOBBY DIGITAL, U-GOD, INSPECTAH DECK, & SUGA BANG BANG)
The first song on The Sting is a Wu-Tang anthem of sorts, featuring The RZA (in full-on Bobby DIgital mode, according to the liner notes), U-God, and Inspectah Deck spitting verses over a weak-as-shit RZA beat, one that the man himself seems to grow tired of, since he keeps fucking with it toward the end. The singing, from Suga Bang Bang and an uncredited female vocalist (that could also just be a sample, I'm not sure), isn't awful, but isn't very good, either, but the bars themselves were alright (yes, even U-God's), especially the ones coming from the Rebel INS, who clearly ate his Wheaties that morning because his verse is fucking on fire. The rest of the song, though? Lukewarm to mild. That's not good.
3. OUT THINK ME NOW (SOLOMON CHILDS)
Solomon Childs, one of Ghostface Killah's apprentices who went on to become a forgotten member of the Theodore Unit, is the first Wu affiliate to steal the spotlight for himself on The Sting. Over a frustrating and slightly unsettling RZA loop, the artist formerly known as Killa Bamz spits bars as though it takes every fiber of his being to force the words from out of his throat, leading to a growling delivery that sounds too gruff for the overly-long hook he performs himself. Probably not the best way to introduce the dude, but in short bursts, he isn't bad.
4. BAR MITZVAH (BLACK KNIGHTS)
I listened to this song twice before writing this paragraph, not because it's good (it really isn't), but because I needed to make sure I heard it correctly: the California-based Black Knights are equating a Jewish ceremony where a boy officially becomes a man with what is essentially an orgy, one where some lucky lady and her friends, cousins, and sisters are passed around the crew like a microphone or a bottle of Jack or like the loose vagina of a promiscuous whore who likes to fuck C-list rappers tangentially tied to the Wu-Tang Clan. Wow, this was horrible: it may actually turn you off from sex for about an hour, or at the very least could cause you to pour out some of the malted beverage of your choice in honor of of the whore's dignity. Dear fucking lord.
5. DOE RAE WU (BOBBY DIGITAL, OL' DIRTY BASTARD, & KINETIC)
A goofy, forgettable song with a really good beat (produced by John the Baptist). On "Doe Rae Wu", a track that fails to capitalize on a missed opportunity set up by its own title by not including Chef Raekwon in on the fun, The RZA and his cousin, the late Big Baby Jesus, each spit a verse about nothing, but, as you probably expected, Bobby Digital comes across as much more concise than Ol' Dirty Osirus, whose off-pitch singing during the hook grates on your ears (although hearing The RZA sing along with him at one point was actually kind of charming), and whose verse dovetails into a one-sided bizarre conversation instead of featuring actual rhyming. Given the title, I wish the rest of the Clan had made an appearance. Oh well. Speaking of appearances, Kinetic (also known as Beretta 9 from Killarmy) is credited with a speaking role, but I sure as shit didn't hear him.
6. BLUNTZ, MARTINEZ, GIRLZ, & GUNZ (WARCLOUD)
After his scene-stealing appearance on both The Swarm Volume 1 and Bobby Digital In Stereo's "Holocaust (Silkworm)", it makes perfect sense that The RZA would give former Black Knights affiliate Holocaust a solo showcase. The problem is that this song isn't very good. Warcloud / Holocaust's unique flow, clear and concise, threatening and nerdy, isn't the issue: the man sounds as good as he typically can. Unfortunately, The RZA's instrumental fails him: it's hardly interesting enough to keep up with the artist's esoteric rhymes, and it damn sure isn't good enough to warrant actually listening to it. Also, shouldn't the blatant misspelling of the word 'martinis' be 'martiniz', not a common Hispanic surname? Sigh.
7. DANCING WITH WOLVES (KILLARMY)
Five out of six members from the Wu-Tang Clan's militant sister city Killarmy make an appearance on "Dancing With Wolves", their attempt at interpreting the plot of the Kevin Costner flick by way of threatening to beat the shit out of you with their microphone dominance. Oh, and their weaponry. Shogun Assassin failed to make the flight, so Islord, Beretta 9, Dom Pachino, Killa Sin, and 9th Prince are accompanied by Sunz of Man's (uncredited) Prodigal Sunn for a wordy chorus, one that doesn't even matter that much: the lyrics are decent overall, but nothing on this track screams out to ever be listened to twice. A shame.
8. SPEND MONEY (LORD SUPERB FEAT. INTRIGUE)
Another day, another rap song filled with misogyny and deviant sexual acts that don't sound normal no matter how many times artists describe them. Show of hands: how many of you have ever fucked somebody while all of your friends were in the same room? Okay, what if they were watching you two having sex? Okay, what if they were all standing right next to you, waiting their turn on the ride ("pulling a train", as it were)? That's the scene Lord Superb, a Ghostface Killah lackey, briefly describes on "Spend Money", a song about boosting the economy by way of purchasing goods and services in an attempt to magically have a woman's panties drop to the floor. Superb isn't awful: he sounds like the missing link between Ghost and ODB. But what he describes isn't natural, and you'll just end up feeling dirty afterwards.
9. TAKE UP SPACE (LORD SUPERB & SOLOMON CHILDS)
It should be noted that, in two separate places within the liner notes, Superb's name is misspelled as "Lord Subperb". Not sure why that was so important for me to write down. Anyway, The RZA had the bright idea to hook 'Perb up with Solomon Childs, thereby killing two birds and all that, instead of allowing each rapper to get two solo tracks apiece to show off upon. The soulful vocal sample annoys the shit out of me and prevents a full-on recommendation, but when it comes to the actual beat, it chugs everything forward in a good way, and both Superb and Killa Bamz sound decent enough (Childs especially, as he comes across as a dude with something to prove). Not bad, but not great.
10. ROLLIN' (BLACK KNIGHTS FEAT. BOBBY DIGITAL)
The first actual good song on The Sting is one that in no way sounds like it's aping the Wu-Tang sound. Taken from their debut album Every Night Is A Black Knight (which has never officially been released, save for through Wu specialty website ChamberMusik, which hardly counts when it comes to distributing projects to store shelves), "Rollin'" features Doc Doom (who also produced the dope instrumental) and Monk sharing screen time with The RZA, who joins in the fray and plays along by rhyming about the truck he drives. For the most part, Bobby even sticks with the theme, which was nice. This isn't even the Wu filtered through the West Coast: "Rollin'" legitimately sounds like it was written and performed by Cali-based artists that just so happen to know the ringleader of the Wu-Tang Clan. Nice! And it holds up well today.
11. GET AT ME (BLACK KNIGHTS, SHYHEIM, & 2 ON DA ROAD)
The first of a handful of overstuffed posse cuts on The Sting, "Get At Me" is a trifle featuring Wu-affiliated rappers (selected at random, possibly) hitting on chicks at the club. Shyheim's first few bars made me feel uncomfortable, given the guy's beginnings as a child rapper, but the rest of the guest list follows the same lead, which helps this be a lot less creepy, but also making this song sound virtually indistinguishable from most other hip hop at the time. There's really nothing to see on here, folks. Move it along.
12. SPIT THAT G (CAPPADONNA, SOLOMON CHILDS, PRODIGAL SUNN, TIMBO KING, & SUGA BANG BANG)
Holds up surprisingly well today, given the fact that The RZA's beat is little more than a loop that could reach Ghostface Killah "Stroke Of Death"-levels of annoyance if you're not careful. Although he's the biggest name on the song, Cappadonna only really kicks things off with a hook (one that pops back up near the end) and leaves the building, leaving the actual verses to Killa Bamz, an uncredited 12 O'Clock, Prodigal Sunn (whose name is weirdly misspelled as 'Prodical' in the liner notes), and Royal Fam's Timbo King, all of whom sound really good, this being a Wu b-team posse cut and all. Had Suga Bang Bang's vocals on the other chorus to appear on here been removed entirely, this shit would be a banger. As it is, what we have here is merely a pretty enjoyable track. I know, right?
13. WOODCHUCK (NORTH STAR, ROYAL FAM, CILVARINGZ, WARCLOUD, & BLACK KNIGHTS)
This patchwork quilt of a posse cut never fully gels: in fact, it seems as though none of the participants even shared a galaxy while recording their various verses. But if you look at "Woodchuck" (a goofball title, by the way) as five separate freestyles over the same simple-yet-dope RZA beat, it works out so much better. Holocaust, the Black Knights' Crisis, North Star's GZA-sounding Meko The Pharoah, Timbo King's Royal Fam's Timbo King, and European killer bee Cilvaringz all share the spotlight, and everyone sounds proficient enough to be entertaining. Add the word "chamber" to the title and watch Wu stans eat this shit up.
14. G.A.T. (BLACK KNIGHTS, NORTH STAR, SOLOMON CHILDS, 12 O'CLOCK, SHYHEIM, & THE RZA)
The final artists-selected-by-lottery-system-The Hunger Games-style random posse cut of The Sting (not counting the one found on the bonus disc) features an alright RZA beat, but that has to share an audio track with several not-really-convincing rappers who try to make you believe that both gangstas and thugs (hence the abbreviated title) make the world go round, as though they were actively seeking approval from the Westside Connection. North Star's Christ Bearer is the recipient of the longest verse, one that pretty much blows: everyone else on here sounds much better by comparison, but not by much, and Shyheim's verse seems like it prematurely ejaculated. Moving on...
15. HATIN' DON'T PAY (FREEMURDA, PC, & SHACRONZ)
Handily wins the prize for having the absolute worst chorus on the entire goddamn album: as it is the first thing about the song that you'll notice, you'll find it especially difficult to not skip to the next track. Freemurda and SHacronz, who make up two-thirds of the C.C.F. Division, along with some dude named PC, spit verses about why haters shouldn't ever bother with them: surprisingly, theyr reason is not because nobody actually gave, gives, or will give a fuck about them. ANd with cheesy-ass shit like "Hatin' Don't Pay" in their back catalog, nobody should. Bleh.
16. WHEN YOU COME HOME (SHYHEIM)
As his reward for playing nice with others and appearing on posse cuts with nonsensical guest lists, Shyheim receives a RZA beat to call his very own. A RZA beat that sounds uncharacteristic and non-Wu, but a RZA beat all the same. The concept isn't bad: Shy talks about a friend locked up in the bing, encouraging him to look at the silver lining by helpfully explaining to him what he has to look forward to when he gets out. Shyheim sticks with the theme rather admirably, which was nice. Not bad, although not a good fit with that instrumental.
17. KB RIDIN' (WU-TANG CLAN, SHACRONZ, & SUGA BANG BANG)
The RZA saves the best for last. Early adopters of Ghostface Killah's debut Ironman may recall "The Soul Controller", a song which was left off of later pressings due to it suffering fatal wounds in the sample wars. (Which was too bad, since "The Soul Controller" is easily one of the highlights of Ironman, if not Pretty Toney's entire career.) Well, for "KB Ridin'", RZA isolated the part of that earlier effort where the beat switched, stretched it out to a proper song length, and even convinced Ghostface himself to contribute a new verse. Is this an official remix? No, not really, but it's fucking great, from Method Man's opening salvo (the Wu-Tang Clan is credited, but only Meth, Ghost, and The RZA actually show up) to Shacronz's unnecessary addition, which doesn't even suck as expected. The mixtape deejay-esque shouting was a bit of a minor annoyance for an album closer this goddamn good.
The limited edition version of The Sting contained a bonus disc filled with Bobby Digital songs, although to be honest, I've never seen a version that didn't actually come with it.
1. ODYSSEY (FEAT. THE ISAAC HAYES BAND)
A longer version of one of the bonus tracks from the Best Buy edition of The RZA's Digital Bullet. I found this song to be dull the first time around, and extending the track's length doesn't suddenly inject new life into the proceedings. Still, good to know that The RZA felt the need to empty out his vaults.
2. THIRSTY (SKIT)
This was all kinds of bullshit. The RZA beat is a cacophony of randomness, with a programmed drum machine sharing shelf space with a hint of melody and the sound of a disconnected phone call, complete with an automated message telling you to try your call again (no, I'm not joking). For some reason, Bobby Digital and an uncredited Kinetic still decided to rhyme on this shit anyway, with The RZA's verse regressing to an advertisement for Mountain Dew, which I'm convinced this shit originally was, hence its classification as a "skit". This track just gave me seventeen simultaneous headaches.
3. DIGI-ELECTRONICS (FEAT. TIMBO KING, SHYHEIM, DOC DOOM, & MADAM SCHEEZ)
The beat on this absurdly random posse cut is good and all, but it does seem like the artists included are having a conversation with a stubborn robot at the end of every other bar. That said, "Digi-Electronics", which I believe was dropped at the last minute from Digital Bullet, is a keeper; The RZA sounds awake, and the rest of his ridiculous guest list, made up of Wu affiliates who would never otherwise get the shot (and female rapper Madam Scheez, who's decent and all but actually ends her verse with a killer punchline), all sound pretty good. Even the forced hook from the, um, Force MDs (who remain uncredited), doesn't sound all that out of place. Not bad for not having any real sense of cohesion.
Robert had been threatening Wu fans with a full-length from Cousin Billy, The RZA's countrified alter-ego, for a few years at this point, but nothing ever materialized except for this lone song, and this lone song is really more Bobby Digital talking about Billy than anything else. The beat is okay enough, and Prince Rakeem's attention to detail is refreshing, but he makes Billy sound like Wu-Tang's version of a Yelawolf-type rapper (except one that drops acid and loves hanging around them white boys, as opposed to being white himself), which wasn't very appealing. Thankfully, The RZA seems to have dropped this character from his repertoire. "Billy" isn't good enough to warrant the dude's existence, anyway.
5. RZA BEAT
Curiously, The RZA felt the need to include a brief instrumental on this bonus disc, proving to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was merely cleaning out the studio and found these random, disconnected tracks, and decided to release them officially. No rhyme or reason, just a "eh, whatever" attitude. Oh, and this beat wasn't very good.
6. LA RHUMBA (REMIX) (FEAT. FAT JOE & METHOD MAN)
RZA"s ridiculous attempt to jump on the Latin bandwagon, from Digital Bullet, resulted in some unexpected attention and radio airplay (at least around my way: it was great hearing the deejays in my area read the name 'Bobby Digital' with obvious confusion). So, predictably, RZA remixed the track, leaving True Master's beat intact but spitting an all-new verse alongside guests Method Man (who appeared on the original, and whose verse from that song remains intact on here) and, um, Large Joseph (see: those words "Latin bandwagon" from the first sentence). This probably would have worked better as a mixtape freestyle for Joey Crack: hell, whatever the fuck he was trying to do on here is rendered far less potent because his verse is fucking censored. To put it mildly, there's no reason for this remix to exist. But hey, at least The RZA saw fit to put it somewhere. I guess.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The Sting is overstuffed, and the second "bonus" disc is overkill of the highest degree, but when the songs work, they fucking rock. The RZA's experiment with pairing up random emcees handles a lot better than it rightly should, and when given the proper musical backing, each rapper on The Sting lends the project an energized, excitable performance. Wu stans already have this one in their collections, of course, but even the non-Wu fans in the audience will find something to like on this sampler, which takes the Wu-Tang formula and turns it ever so quietly on its ear, allowing the B-team to shine like they never have before or since.
BUY OR BURN? I actually recommend that you pick this one up, even with its faults, because the high points are motherfucking excellent. The Sting is possibly the finest Wu compilation ever created, which I realize kind of fucks up my eventual post for the third entry in this series. So be it.
BEST TRACKS: "KB Ridin'"; "Rollin'"; "Spit That G"; "Digi-Electronics"; "Woodchuck"