Unsurprisingly, it is his own take on the kung fu flicks that not only informed the Wu-Tang Clan's early work, but also molded his childhood, and thanks to his many friendships in Hollywood, he managed to secure two of the biggest names in geek cred to help him: producer/writer/uncredited co-director Eli Roth helped with the day-to-day stuff (all while avoiding the creation of a film of his own to follow up Hostel Part II; have you noticed how the guy has somehow gotten away with not directing shit? That's hard to do when you are allegedly a director), and BFF Quentin Tarantino was added as a presenter, which means that Tarantino's name is slapped on top of all of the marketing materials in the hope of catching the eye of film snobs who wouldn't have sought this flick out otherwise. Marketing materials such as the soundtrack to The Man With The Iron Fists.
Considering the fact that he was kind of busy writing, directing, producing, starring, and key gripping the film itself, RZA didn't really have the time to produce all of the songs on this project, but he still oversaw the soundtrack's creation process, hand-picking artists and handing music cues from the film's score (which he did have time to conjure up) to producers for inspiration. Interestingly enough, this process somehow weeded out most of the Wu-Tang b-teamers that wandered aimlessly onto his other soundtracks: The Man With The Iron Fists features a guest list made up of primarily A-list rappers, along with a few surprises. Prince Rakeem did find time to create a new record label to release the project under: he named it Soul Temple, which, if you're keeping track, is the eleventeenth Wu-Tang record label that he founded, which means that it'll probably close up shop in about fifteen minutes.
I created this damn week just to write about this shit, so I'm not wasting any more time.
1. THE BADDEST MAN ALIVE (THE BLACK KEYS & RZA)
Ohio rock duo The Black Keys have confirmed that they have an entire unreleased album produced by The RZA locked in their vaults, one which they may never let loose upon the public: I wonder if "The Baddest Man Alive" is one of the songs taken from those sessions. The beat, handled by both The Black Keys and RZA himself, sounds dark and appropriately bluesy, and Dan Auerbach's sung vocals glide across it like a champion ice skater. Prince Rakeem makes the odd choice to run all of his own bars through the same filters as Auerbach, which was a mistake, as he sounds disengaged and disconnected from the reality he himself set up in the first place. However, with The RZA edited out, this would make for a pretty good Black Keys track. At least he was edited down to just a single verse, and the song as a whole does set the tone well enough.
2. BLACK OUT (GHOSTFACE KILLAH, M.O.P., & PHAROAHE MONCH)
That lineup is fucking ridiculous, and I mean that as a compliment: the entire East Coast 1990s hip hop contingent has just ejaculated in ecstasy. As expected, the verses on here are pretty hard, but the track isn't exactly perfect: for one, the beat (which isn't awful) is provided by Fizzy Womack and not The RZA, which makes this sound more like an outtake from Wu-Tang Chamber Music or Legendary Weapons. (However, the beat is based on one of The RZA's music cues from the film itself, just chopped up, so there's that.) Also, the hook isn't contagious enough for it to be attached to an M.O.P. song. Still, the verses managed to connect.
3. WHITE DRESS (KANYE WEST)
The working relationship between The RZA and Kanye West continues on "White Dress", as both men share a production credit on a song where Yeezy mat or may not be rhyming about Kim Kardashian, something I would probably care more about if I were writing this review for TMZ. Truth be told, there's hardly seems to be any RZA influence on here: "White Dress" may as well have appeared on Cruel Summer, as the beat sounds about as fucking boring as what appeared on that overhyped project. And the distorted vocals throughout lend the song a creepy vibe that 'Ye never takes full advantage of (and you know he's got it in him). I wasn't expecting much from this track anyway, and I still walked away disappointed. Huh.
4. I FORGOT TO BE YOUR LOVER (THE REVELATIONS & TRE WILLIAMS)
That comment I made earlier about "Black Out" sounding like an outtake from Wu-Tang Chamber Music or Legendary Weapons comes to fruition on this cover of the William Bell classic, as both music outfit The Revelations (who turn in admirable work on here) and crooner Tre Williams (who sounds like he's doing a John Legend impersonation of Tre Williams) both played large roles on those previous projects. Williams does manage to bring fragments of actual soul to his vocals, which was unexpected, but why include this cover (which is pretty good, by the way) when you could have just added the original song to the soundtrack, Bobby?
5. GET YOUR WAY (SEX AS A WEAPON) (IDLE WARSHIP)
It's no secret that I'm not Talib Kweli's biggest fan: I feel that his early work suffered from his lack of experience, both behind the microphone and in life itself, leading to an awkward flow that always paled in comparison to Mos Def's contributions on that Black Star album. However, I don't hate the guy, so I'm glad that he somehow managed to extend his shelf life in our chosen genre. Idle Warship, the pairing of Kweli with singer RES, is a pretty good team on paper, and in execution, the two sound decent enough together. My problem with this song, aside from Kweli's insistence on kicking things off by repeating an old Jay-Z lyric four fucking times, is that Kweli's flow seems to have conformed to the current environment, and now the guy sounds like every other motherfucker on the radio. Which may aid him in his career, but in no way will help his career, if you catch my drift. This song was merely okay.
6. RIVERS OF BLOOD (WU-TANG CLAN & KOOL G. RAP)
I like that the world has evolved to the point where The RZA's own kung fu flick gets sampled on Wu-Tang Clan songs. Circle of life and all that. Anyway, "Rivers Of Blood", a badass title that seems a better fit for Jedi Mind Tricks than it does the Wu, is produced by Frank Dukes and BADBADNOTGOOD (a band from Toronto), but it bangs pretty fucking hard regardless. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and special guest star Kool G. Rap (making his fourth appearance on a Wu-related soundtrack: they must keep the dude on retainer) all rhyme like, if this makes any sense at all, experienced rookies: they're hungry, but they also know their shit and could whip up a five-course meal if needed. U-God's chorus is fairly useless, but good for him getting work and cashing checks and all that, and he isn't so bad that it detracts from the rest of the song. Nice!
7. BUILT FOR THIS (METHOD MAN, FREDDIE GIBBS, & STREETLIFE)
Not a collaboration I was expecting: shit, I'm pretty sure even Method Man was shocked when he received the final track in his inbox. But just because I wasn't expecting it doesn't mean that it wasn't inspired. Meth's blunted, lazy-yet-laser-focused flow actually complements Gary, Indiana's own Freddie Gibbs and his gangsta threats very nicely, and Meth's employee of the month Streetlife does his thing, as well. Frank Dukes's instrumental isn't as dark as I had hoped, but its bluesy feel keeps the trains running on time, and it does lend "Built For This" a gravitas that it might not have earned otherwise. Kudos.
8. THE ARCHER (KILLA SIN)
When the hell did Killa Sin get so goddamn good behind the mic? He was always the most talented part of Killarmy (honestly, when you look back at that crew's three albums, you realize that, as good as the six-man crew sounded together, there wasn't much competition for him), but with his star turn on Legendary Weapons and now on "The Archer", Sin cements his role as one of the top-tier Wu-Tang Clan b-teamers, aligning himself with a short list of artists that also includes Trife Diesel and Streetlife, among few others. The Frank Dukes instrumentation gives "The Archer" life, as the one-verse wonder could easily slip out of focus otherwise, even though Sin's performance is commendable. This shit was nice, and at its current length, it's also kind of perfect.
9. JUST BLOWIN' IN THE WIND (RZA & FLATBUSH ZOMBIES)
I can imagine this track just being a tad bit polarizing, merely because I also want to know why The RZA couldn't find the time to produce any of the songs featuring Wu-Tang Clan members (save for one near the end), but he was able to handle a song with Brooklyn trio Flatbush Zombies? The hell? Regardless, I still liked "Just Blowin' In The Wind". Prince Rakeem's beat sounds like what Bobby Digital should have been aiming for several years ago instead of that digital orchestration experiment, and RZA's actual verse (if not his hook) was actually pretty dope, possibly his best work since the GZA/Genius track "Pencil" (because shouting "Fucking ridiculous!" on Kanye West's "So Appalled" doesn't count). I'm not yet sold on the Flatbush Zombies, as I'm not that familiar with the work of Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice (love that name, though), and Erick Arc Elliott, but they sounded pretty good on here, and in an interview with Complex Bobby mentioned that they reminded him of the Gravediggaz, so if nothing else, expect to see them on the Gravediggaz reunion album that will never actually happen.
10. CHAINS (CORINNE BAILEY RAE)
Instead of simply turning to Tekitha or Blue Raspberry or someone else in that vein, The RZA hand-picked Grammy-winning singer Corinne Bailey Rae for an original composition. Is this indicative of a future working relationship, or did Bobby merely go with a brand name in order to cover his bets on the sales figures for this soundtrack? Who knows? All I can say is that she does soulful very well: this song is so good that you'll want to reach out and hug her and make all of her bad dreams go away. A nice oasis in a desert filled with rap songs, although, admittedly, the rap songs are the reason I bought this in the first place.
11. TICK, TOCK (PUSHA T, RAEKWON, JOELL ORTIZ, & DANNY BROWN)
Wu stan that I am, this is the song I was most excited to hear, as it features four of my favorite artists of the moment. Pusha T is a bolder choice from the G.O.O.D. Music family to have on this soundtrack, but in many ways he's much more appropriate than Kanye West, and he's all over this Frank Dukes / S1 production, which runs alongside the sound of a ticking clock as a constant reminder of death or some shit: I'm choosing not to read too much into it. Raekwon acquits himself nicely as the elder statesman, while Joell Ortiz performs damage control for how fucking terrible that Slaughterhouse album was. The true surprise on here is Detroit's own Danny Brown, who sneaks in the back door just when you think the track is over: his verse could have been a bit better, but his mere presence elevates "Tick, Tock" by several degrees, and the fact that The RZA himself fought to have Danny included on the soundtrack speaks volumes (and probably gave the guy a huge ego boost, let's be honest). A highlight of the project for sure.
12. GREEN IS THE MOUNTAIN (FRANCES YIP)
A quick Frank Dukes-produced Cantonese pop song that I'm honestly surprised wasn't created specifically for The RZA's soundtrack to Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 1. Sure, it seems out of place for a Wu-Tang album, but this isn't actually a Wu-Tang album. It's also enjoyable as hell.
13. SIX DIRECTIONS OF BOXING (WU-TANG CLAN)
“Six Directions Of Boxing” features the remaining five members of the Wu-Tang Clan (save for the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, obviously) that have yet to spit a verse on The Man With The Iron Fists (and Ghostface Killah, just because), thereby giving The RZA the cosign from his crew that he so desperately desired. U-God kicks things off with what I felt was actually a pretty good verse (yeah, I'm shocked, too), while GZA/Genius goes off on his own tangent, as he is prone to do. Cappadonna, who I still refuse to acknowledge as a true member of the Clan but who doesn't receive a separate credit in the liner notes so I may just have to get over it already, also reins in his annyoying tics, while Inspectah Deck and Ghost deliver where they have to. Frank Dukes's beat was low-key and very instrumental to this song's success: it sets the mood and then gets the fuck out of the way, so that you can enjoy these guys just spitting together again. Can we get that sixth (and possibly final) group album sooner rather than later, please?
14. YOUR GOOD THING (IS ABOUT TO END) (MABLE JOHN)
Instead of finding inspiration in older songs (such as on that earlier cover of “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”), The RZA opts to simply include the original Mable John recording of “Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” on the project. The listener is granted an opportunity to breathe after the relentless “Six Degrees Of Boxing”, and, thanks to Prince Rakeem, you'll find yourself either revisiting some soul that you've long since misplaced, or you'll be discovering something new from an era in music that you'll hope hip hop will eventually find its way back to.
15. I GO HARD (WIZ KHALIFA, GHOSTFACE KILLAH, & BOY JONES)
Wait, so the only song on The Man With The Iron Fists that features a Wu-Tang Clan member that isn't The RZA but is produced by The RZA also includes fucking Wiz Khalifa? What the hell is going on? Wiz's singing occupies nearly the first minute-and-a-half of “I Go Hard”, and while it's technically proficient, let's be honest: nobody wanted to hear that shit on here. Ghostface Killaj seems especially perturbed, as he sounds like an angry Cappadonna on here, but at least he's passable: Ol' Dirty Bastard's son Boy Jones provides the most coherent verse I've ever heard from him, and it still sucks. Why, I'd go so far as to say that, had it been a Wiz solo effort, it could have worked, although I wouldn't have necessarily wanted to listen to it. This final song on the soundtrack is a waste of time, plain and simple.
The final song on The Man With The Iron Fists is labeled as a bonus track.
16. BUST SHOTS (INSPECTAH DECK, SHEEK LOUCH, & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
However, “I Go Hard” wasn't the actual final song on the soundtrack: I assume “Bust Shots” is marked as a bonus because it has fuck-all to do with the movie. Ghostface Killah, who's been all over this album, and Sheek Louch preview their upcoming collaborative effort Wu-Block on this simple-but-fucking-knocking Frank Dukes production, with Inspectah Deck in the driver's seat for good measure, delivering one of the best verses I've heard from him since...well, since ever. Sheek fares pretty well (he has that whole “he just tries harder” mentality that I keep referencing, and it doesn't let him down here), and Pretty Toney picks his hot streak back up after fumbling “I Go Hard” (which I don't entirely blame on him). This shit rocked.
THE LAST WORD: The Man With The Iron Fists is quality control at its finest: only a couple of the songs on here are outright failures in my ears, and even those songs you'll probably want to argue with me about. (One of those flops is the Kanye West track; I somehow don't imagine many dissenting opinions on that one.) The RZA's guiding hand results in a consistently dark environment for his guests to play in, and, surprisingly, a good majority of them stand out, such as Killa Sin, Inspectah Deck, Pusha-T, Danny Brown, and Corinne Bailey Rae. Sure, I wish The RZA had found it in his heart to produce more of these songs, since it's essentially the third volume in the Wu-Tang Chamber Music series at times, but I can't complain all that much: this shit is exactly what I needed to hear from the Wu-Tang Clan in order to get excited about these guys again. Glad to hear this all worked out. Someone needs to kick Boy Jones to the curb, though: he's kind of fucking up his father's legacy. Yeah, I said it.