This is the point where I'm pretty sure a lot of you have checked out and have probably already left the blog in search of free music and/or medically sound ways to enlarge your penis. But for those of you who stuck around, until the Clan proper drops A Better Tomorrow (if that's still what it's called), or until some wealthy benefactor chooses to leak Once Upon A Time In Shaolin in its entirety (which will happen: come on, nobody records music and releases it with the intention being that nobody ever gets to listen to it, so I'm convinced someone on the inside will let the water drip if said wealthy benefactor is a stingy motherfucker), what we're stuck with are the leftovers, the projects that I just hadn't had the time to get to until now. Such as Bronze Nazareth's (official) second album, School For The Blindman.
The Grand Rapids, Michigan-born producer and emcee Justin "Bronze Nazareth" Cross has already been afforded many opportunities within the music industry in his short time participating. As the story goes, he was discovered by Wu-Tang affiliate and job recruitment officer Cilvaringz (who is also the guy behind Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, in case that warns any of you two off of the scent), which led to him lending production to many of the Wu-Tang Clan B-and C-teamers: some of these beats found their way to Wu-Tang ringleader The RZA's ears, and RZA promoted him within the ranks to official Wu Element, if that production collective still exists. In the meantime, Bronzey has never stopped working, lending beats to other artists (even some outside of the Clan) while putting together his CV, beginning with the various mixtapes and online projects he's offered fans and leading in to both the projects he's recorded with his own group, The Wisemen, and his solo career.
(He also has to be raking in royalties thanks to Samsung using the beat for a track he produced for that Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture project, "Think Differently", during commercials that aired prominently during this year's NBA Playoffs. Sure, Samsung may have only chosen the song because its title is a direct jab at competitor Apple's former marketing campaign, but do you think Justin gives that much of a shit when he's laughing all the way to the bank?)
School For The Blindman is his second solo album, and, as he did with his debut, The Great Migration, he calls upon ringers to help sell the project to the masses. Aside from the contributions from his fellow Wisemen, Bronzey secured guest spots from actual Wu-Tang Clan members The RZA, Inspectah Deck, and Masta Killa, along with fellow affiliates Killah Priest and La The Darkman, and also Canibus, who is still capable of bringing the trolls to my blog and will probably do so even though today's post isn't really about him. Aside from a handful of tracks, Justin also handles all of the production, and surprisingly, a great majority of the songs on here are solo efforts, so at least he's taking this rap shit seriously.
So this has been out for almost three years and I've never actually listened to it. Some Wu stan I am, right?
The music underneath is a bit uneven, but the speech given during this rap album intro is pretty good, and that whole “do what you have to do so that you can do what you want to do” bit of advice is applicable to pretty much everyone.
2. JESUS FEET
Bronzey may hail from Michigan, but his sensibilities are clearly Wu-Tang in origin, as are his lyrics and instrumental on this one-verse wonder. Unfortunately, those attributes are not enough to give “Jesus Feet” a pass: the beat is pretty dull, and his bars, while serviceable, paint a picture of a man merely going through the motions and paying lip service to their respective deity, which I'm sure was not our host's intent. Sure, his verse may sound boring due to the music lacking emotion, but no matter how one spins this, “Jesus Feet” isn't a very memorable track.
3. THE ROAD (FEAT. MASTA KILLA & INSPECTAH DECK)
This one, by contrast, works a bit better, but only because of the guest list and not the overall execution. Bronzey's bars, which take up the first verse, were bound to pale in comparison to seasoned veterans Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck (the latter of whom had an excellent 2013, which has nothing to do with this review, but fuck it), but he sounds like a rookie at this rap shit, as though he had never once considered rhyming over the (okay but awkward) beat until ten seconds before recording started. What makes this even worse of a criticism is that Elgin and Deck both phone in their performances, clearly not giving much of a shit about the end result. This was disappointing. At least “The Road” ends with a sound bite from a kung-fu flick: I've missed those as of late.
4. FIRE IMPLANTERS (FEAT. L.A.D. a/k/a LA THE DARKMAN)
Bronze smartly pairs up with a Wu affiliate that doesn't entirely overshadow his own contribution, teaming with part-time correspondent La the Darkman (who refers to himself as L.A.D., as though that rap name is less silly than La the fucking Darkman) for “Fire Implanters”, a job title that may not actually exist but still masks a decent track. Our host's instrumental sounds soulful in that Allah Mathematics, but a Xerox-of-a-Xerox-kind of way, but both rappers sound pretty good over it, La especially. Not terrible.
5. INSTRUMENTAL INTERLUDE
Accurately titled, this.
6. THE BRONZEMAN 2 (FEAT. CANIBUS & RAEKWON)
Raekwon is obviously the go-to person for Wu-affiliates who want to fill dead air with an actual Clan member without having him, I don't know, perform a fucking verse? (See also: Shyheim's “Young Gods”.) Anyway, Canibus receives a lot of shit over here at HHID, every single goddamn motherfucking cocksucking bit of it justified (I know, I just invited a ton of hate mail, but oh well), but truth be told, Germaine sounds great on “The Bronzeman 2” (a sequel to a track off of The Great Migration). He works in small doses, which is what I've been trying to tell you: not only is Bronzey's beat of a higher quality than what he tends to purchase for himself, the fact that he has to share screen time with Bronze Nazareth means that Canibus can't dominate the track with obtuse rhymes. There was no need to waste the Chef on here, but I liked this song regardless.
7. KING OF QUEENS
I'm fairly certain that Bronzey came up with the title first, and then wrote lyrics that only somewhat connect with said title. The beat was alright, but otherwise, this sounded like an incomplete thought.
8. INSTRUMENTAL INTERLUDE
9. FOURTH DOWN (FEAT. SALUTE DA KIDD, KEVLAAR 7, & PHILLIE)
This posse cut featuring three members of Bronzey's own crew The Wisemen is a step in the right direction. The Wu-Tang Clan and their affiliates always work best within the realm (or I guess the term “chamber” would be more appropriate) of the posse cut, and “Fourth Down” is no exception, as our host, Salute Da Kidd, Kevlaar 7 (Bronzey's brother, and a producer in his own right), and Phillie each knock out a verse and step aside, sticking around long enough to make an impression while leaving before the listener stops giving a shit. Bronzey's unsettling instrumental is also creepy in a good way, and it makes this a good listen overall. Kudos. I do wish these guys didn't sound quite so interchangeable, but I chalk that up to inexperience.
10. FRESH FROM THE MORGUE (FEAT. THE RZA)
That title has fuck-all to do with the song, just in case you were expecting an off-brand Gravediggaz knockoff track that just so happens to feature an actual Gravedigga within its midst, in the form of The RZA. The beat is okay, but nowhere near as dark as it should, but the lyrics were admittedly entertaining. Prince Rakeem, especially, seems to be enjoying himself, resurrecting two of his aliases (the Bobbys Digital and Steels) for his performance, and our host's bars seem to improve when he's working alongside the reason why there is a Wu-Tang Clan to begin with. Had it not been for the beat selection, I would have recommended this shit. Sigh.
11. MALCOLM SCHOOL SKIT
Well, at least it ties into the theme introduced during the intro.
12. PICTURES (STEM CELLS)
I couldn't get into this one. That's all I got.
13. RECORDS WE USED TO PLAY
In between verses, our host proclaims that he would “rather write for myself and have no listeners, than write for the listeners and have no self”. Sure, the words sound nice, but there's a bit of a fallacy in his logic: Bronze Nazareth seems to write for neither, since it's nearly impossible to discern what he's about through his bars, other than the fact that he's a student of the Wu-Tang school of quasi-religious psychobabble rhymes that sound vaguely threatening but ultimately didn't mean anything. He doesn't go the obvious route with his subject matter on “Records We Used To Play”, but that's because he has no subject matter: I suspect the title was chosen merely because it sounded cool. Beat-wise, the guy's got a good head on his shoulders. Lyrically, though, it's easy to lose him in a crowd of Wu disciples and clones.
14. THE LETTER
Bronzey pays tribute to a late friend, one told in the form of, what else,a letter. I found this song fascinating, not because of the structure (it's been done), but because of our host's honest reactions to his friend passing: there aren't many hip hop tracks (or in any other genre, really) where the artist will admit to both being angry at the guy for dying and acting incredibly selfishly in the interest of self-preservation. “The Letter” rang true for me. The soulful beat was nice, but our host's lyrics own this track. Nice work.
15. GOMORRAH (FEAT. KILLAH PRIEST)
Meanders to such a degree that I zoned out, came back to my senses, and it took me about twenty seconds to realize that the same goddamn song was still playing. Kevlaar 7's beat has no forward momentum, looping as though it's stuck in time, which most certainly led to my confusion, while the verses from both our host and guest star Killah Priest sound less than enthusiastic, Priest, especially, sounds like he would rather be anywhere else than in the studio at that very moment, whereas Bronzey is left to pick up the pieces as best he can. A misfire that has no excuse for being over five minutes long.
16. INSTRUMENTAL INTERLUDE
Okay, I don't think I really need to explain this again.
17. REGGIE (FEAT. RAIN THE QUIET STORM)
The skit at the very beginning that led into “Reggie” reminded me of early Wu-Tang attempts at quickly setting a song's mood through dialogue (shouted, usually) and sound effects. Unfortunately, the song itself doesn't hold the listener's interest, although throwing a female rapper (guest star Rain The Quiet Storm) into the mix at least switches things up a bit. Still, I hardly remember anything about this track. Sorry.
18. FAREWELL (FEAT. WILLIE THE KID)
Bronzey teams up with La the Darkman's younger brother, the not-really-a-Wu-affiliate Willie The Kid, for “Farewell”, an outro that isn't actually the last song on School For The Blindman, but sounds really goddamn good. Our host and his invited guest only stick around for a single verse each, but those verses are punctuated by a soulful beat smushed together with a lo-fi, hard-as-fuck drum sample, sounding like something Kayne West may have created pre-Kim Kardashian. In short, this banged. Do the kids still say that these days? Banged?
19. COLD SUMMER (FEAT. SALUTE DA KIDD & JUNE MEGALODON)
Bronzey brings home a couple of Wisemen for another posse cut, but this one falters when compared to “Fourth Down”. Everyone sounded okay enough (wordy hook excluded), and Kevlaar's instrumental is decent, but the beat never connects with the rhymes, which makes for an odd listen. If our host were to take this song back to the lab and rework the underlying music, it could be much more successful. Mix it again, as it were. Perhaps it could be called a “mix-again”. I'm sure there's a better word we can come up with, though.
20. WORSHIP (FEAT. SALUTE DA KIDD, KEVLAAR 7, & PHILLIE)
The final Wisemen track of the evening is more successful, although that may be due solely to this track's placement immediately after “Cold Summer”, where it was bound to sound better by comparison. Our host's beat is simpler but striking, thanks to the sampled, chopped-up dramatic chords, which brings out the best on the four participants. Not the finest song of recent memory, but it's entertaining enough to justify listening to the actual Wisemen album, Wisemen Approaching, that dropped in 2007. There's a good energy on here.
The deluxe edition of School For The Blindman concludes with three additional bonus tracks, all of which feature The RZA for some reason. While it's nice that Bronze Nazareth didn't feel the need to overload the proper album with RZA cameos in order to sell it, come the fuck on. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, am I right?
21. CARPET BURNS (FEAT. THE RZA)
It's easy to figure out why “Carpet Burns” wasn't included in the regular program: hell, you can infer the song's subject matter by looking at that title alone. However, as throwaway as Bronze Nazareth may consider this, it's a good throwaway: Prince Rakeem and our host wax poetically about spending time with their dream women, and it sounds entertaining as hell. Bronzey's beat is vintage soulful Wu, and both The RZA and our host fit the music like a glove. This was actually really good, although one doesn't typically pick up a Bronze Nazareth project to hear him talking about being on the receiving end of a blowjob, but this is hip hop, after all.
22. THE FELLOWSHIP (FEAT. THE RZA)
I'm not sure how our host convinced The Abbot to contribute so goddamned heavily to School For The Blindman, but whatever he did, he needs to do it more often, as The RZA seems to being out the best in our host. “The Fellowship” marries a dope beat with two verses (one from each participant) that are elevated because of the dope beat. Simple, yet effective. I'll allow it.
23. SCOT FREE (FEAT. THE RZA)
The final bonus track on School For The Blindman features drums I last remember hearing on fellow Michigan resident Royce da 5'9”'s “Happy Bar Exam 2”, which immediately compelled me to pay attention. “Scot Free” is a sort-of storytelling rap, with The RZA and Bronzey sharing mic time setting the scene. The tale is anticlimactic, due to the lax delivery of everyone involved, but this was an enjoyable diversion nonetheless. A strange way to end an album, though.
THE LAST WORD: Even if you leave the bonus tracks off, which you shouldn't, because you just don't get all that many RZA verses these days, School For The Blindman is far too lengthy to have its intended impact. Listeners will grow exhausted by the time the second instrumental interlude hits their eardrums, and only the most dedicated Wu scholars will bother to force themselves through the album as a whole. Bronze Nazareth appears to have suffered from the same problem most rappers have with their debuts: not entirely convinced that he will ever get another shot at releasing an album, he decided to put everything he had into School For The Blindman, and the results are overwhelming. The production on here is hit-and-miss, but consistently so: Bronzey is a capable producer, so his ear for beats typically doesn't fail him, even for the ones he doesn't contribute. But the rhymes themselves could use a bit of tweaking: our host can write decent verses, but an editor should have been employed, or at least a dude who stands around in the studio randomly shouting phrases like "You shouldn't include that", or "Maybe re-record that last take?", or the simple "No", because there is no reason any album should house twenty-three tracks, unless you're a part of a crew that employs twenty people. School For The Blindman has its moments (and they are actually pretty glorious, to be fair), but this is really for the stanniest of Wu stans, a description that doesn't apply to a lot of the readers, if the comments are to be believed.