Today's post is yet another in a lengthy series that shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Yes, it's another Wu-Tang Clan-related review. If this appalls you greatly, there are literally hundreds of other posts you can bitch about in the sidebar, or you can just wait a few days and see what else Max has up his sleeve. But I don't want to hear any complaints: longtime readers all knew this was going to eventually pop up.
The Wu-affiliated quartet Sunz Of Man, made up of Killah Priest, Hell Razah, Prodigal Sunn, and 60 Second Assassin, were the first team of bench players to establish an identity outside of the core group, using the logo as a jumping-off point to gain their own rabid fanbase with their many well-received twelve-inch singles, some of which were produced by Wu figurehead The RZA himself. All four members shamelessly flaunted their connections to the Clan while trying to build a career, some of them more successful than the rest (or at least far more prolific, in the case of Killah Priest, who has released ninety-seven solo albums, only one of which anyone ever wants to actually listen to).
Unfortunately, the Sunz Of Man were victims of circumstance, and they were never truly able to capitalize on their buzz. The quartet were originally signed to Wu-Tang Records, conveniently enough, but although they managed to drop those aforementioned singles and even shot a video, the vanity label's distribution deal with Priority Records dried up, with their debut album, Nothing New Under The Sun, left sitting in a vault, never to be heard from again. (In this day and age, it is kind of ridiculous that Nothing New Under The Sun still hasn't been bootlegged, which actually leads me to believe that the album was never completed, not unlike Inspectah Deck's intended debut, with that tracklist someone kindly left in one of my earlier comment sections that sounds like a Wu stan's wet dream. But anyway.)
Undeterred, Sunz Of Man, who at this point found themselves trailing acts such as Shyheim and Killarmy, both of whom they predated, secured a deal with Red Ant Records, and released their new debut, The Last Shall Be First, in 1998. Although it contained none of the original songs that made them popular (among Wu stans, mind you) in the first place, it still managed to sell a decent amount, thanks to collaborations with Clan members, Wu b-teamers, and their unlikely pairing with Wyclef Jean and Earth, Wind & Fire. Still, The Last Shall Be First is no longer available for purchase, since the label folded shortly afterward, and the Sunz Of Man found themselves once again without a home.
They were also searching for a dwelling with less bedrooms: Killah Priest infamously began fighting with The RZA prior to the release of The Last Shall Be First and ultimately severed ties with the Clan, not unlike how former Sunz Of Man member Shabazz The Disciple did before the group even made a name for themselves. Priest probably thought his solo career was enough to support himself, since his own debut, Heavy Mental, had been released a year prior to the Sunz effort to critical acclaim. Reduced down to a trio, the Sunz eventually lined up a deal with D3 and, four years later, recorded Saviorz Day.
Even though D3 may have believed they were signing a hot or important act, one whose back catalog was so storied that the group saw a collection of their singles released as the compilation The First Testament in 1999 (later re-released as Elements for some reason) by Red Hook Records (a project that contained some of the tracks intended for Nothing New Under The Sun but, curiously, none of the RZA-helmed songs), they soon realized just how many people out there gave two shits about the Sunz Of Man, since Saviorz Day sold negative three copies. You can blame lack of promotion, poor distribution deals, not enough Wu-Tang Clan involvement, or what have you, but one thing you can't pin it on is the absence of Killah Priest, who actually kind of dodged a bullet by not being associated with this album.
Only Wu stans need to continue through the rest of the post.
A fairly disjointed rap album intro that quickly reminded me why I never listened to this album a second time. The RZA's (uncredited) speech is front and center, but the Sunz Of Man, perhaps (correctly) believing this to be their project, fill the void with sound bites of themselves reciting their own rap names and nicknames...over and over again. True fact: after listening to this shit, I almost shut this off completely and shoved the disc back into my boxes. But no, I choose to persevere, even though nobody's going to comment on this post anyway.
Which may be too bad, because the first actual song on Saviorz Day is pretty good. Over a Linx beat that samples Al Green's “Love and Happiness” (which they had previously sampled on “No Love Without Hate”, a previously-released song that was to have appeared on their aborted debut album Nothing New Under The Sun), Hell Razah, Prodigal Sunn, and 60 Second Assassin all unleash much more aggressive-sounding line readings than fans of The Last Shall Be First will be used to. As the song is sort-of named after the group (well, what else did you think “S.O.M.” stood for?), this tactic makes sense: coming four years after their debut, the Sunz Of Man felt the need to reintroduce themselves, specifically as a group that is still kicking even with the defection of Killah Priest. Everyone holds their own, the hook isn't intrusive, and Linx's work behind the boards is just quirky enough to hold my interest. Not bad.
3. GHETTIO (FEAT. 2 ON THE ROAD)
Linx's instrumental, with its electronic tendencies, is interesting, but it isn't Wu. Which isn't a bad thing: one can't expect even the actual Wu-Tang Clan to stick to their grimy basement beats forever. “Ghettio” is credited as featuring the duo 2 On The Road, which is made up of Prodigal Sunn and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard's brother 12 O'Clock, so why couldn't they have just said “featuring 12 O'Clock”? Is that so goddamn hard? Anyway, however decent this track is, its potency is diluted substantially by the corny-as-shit chorus, which sounds alright up until the titular word is spoken just like a certain canned pasta product. Sadly, I am not making this up. Also, Linx's producer credit is listed in several different varieties throughout the liner notes of Saviorz Day, the mark of a project that apparently didn't have enough of a budget to afford a motherfucking proofreader.
4. BANKSTA'Z (FEAT. 12 O'CLOCK & THE RZA)
Sunz Of Man are eerily prescient regarding today's attitude toward banks, specifically those that required a bailout in order to not crumble, and toward mortgages in particular. Weird. So it's too bad that “Banksta'z”, which obviously compares bankers to gangsters and thugs controlling our money, but with a “z” at the end, isn't a better song. John the Baptist's beat tries its best, and it sounds rather good, but it tracks at a much lower speed than expected, leaving the artists (and the audience) tripping over their own two feet. 60 Second Assassin's verse is also confusing: his delivery leaves the listener thinking that he's performing the hook, but then he keeps going, and by the time you realize that was a verse, he's on the hook again. The RZA turns in a fairly decent, Bobby Digital-esque cameo, though, which helps a bit.
5. HOUSE OF BLUES (FEAT. MADAM D)
You know when you hear a rap song and it's blatantly obvious that the artist or artists involved are only using a specific phrase, such as “House Of Blues”, because it rhymes with another line, such as, oh, let's say “Nothing to lose”, and not because it even remotely makes any fucking sense? That.
6. RZA (SKIT)
And this skit was considered relevant why?
7. SAVIORZ DAY (FEAT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH & MADAM D)
I'm still not sure how the Sunz Of Man convinced Pretty Toney to contribute to Saviorz Day, a Wu-affiliate project that was, honestly, beneath him at the time, but here he is, delivering a quickie opening verse and running the fuck away, lest he be taken in by Madam D's obnoxious singing that threatens to dominate the proceedings. It would be too easy for me to write that Ghost has the best verse, but he does, although Hell Razah and Prodigal Sunn don't sound bad, if a tad unconvincing. This title track aims for a serious mood, talking about societal ills, but that isn't backed up by Tony Starks, who apparently received a love rap memo right before stepping into the booth. Mixed-messages much? Also, Fatal Son's beat is slow and inoffensive, but please note that doesn't mean “good” or even “okay”. Bleh.
8. REALITY (SKIT) / BLACK OR WHITE (FEAT. ANCIENT COINS)
When I uploaded Saviorz Day to iTunes, it labeled this track as a skit (produced by...The RZA? What the fuck?) followed by a song, which was weird in and of itself, but I suppose it makes sense, as the concept of reality doesn't really apply to “Black Or White”, at least within the context presented. Sunz Of Man's Hell Razah and Prodigal Sunn are accompanied by sometime Wu-affiliated group Ancient Coins over this Data-produced, bluesy-sounding beat, and the end result isn't bad, but it falls on the wrong side of memorable. Forgive me if I start phoning in the rest of this write-up, just as these guys were when they recorded the song to begin with, but it is what it is.
(At this point, the track numbering in the liner notes becomes inconsistent with how it appears in iTunes, with the next song listed as “track 10”. This is because the Sunz Of Man treat the previous skit-with-a-song as two separate compositions. I'm sticking with the iTunes numbering, as it will make more sense for any of you two who somehow feel compelled to listen to this album at any point in the future.)
9. THE TRINITY (FEAT. OMAR CONRY)
(Insert dismissive one-word review here.)
10. DEAR PSALMS (FEAT. SMOOTH FROM SKIN DEEP)
Linx's instrumental is nowhere near as solemn, serious, or appropriate as it needs to be for a song called “Dear Psalms”. At least Hell Razah's verses sounded okay, I guess, and hey, a member the lost 1990s R&B trio Skin Deep has been found, folks. So thanks for all of your anonymous tips. We found him. We did it. Great job, everyone.
11. PEOPLE CHANGE (FEAT. MC EIHT & MADAM D)
Saviorz Day featured a guest spot from Earth, Wind & Fire, but since D3 has nowhere near the deep pockets BMG has, the Sunz Of Man were stuck with Compton's own MC Eiht to fill the “How in the hell did they get (artist)?” guest slot. Ryan Lochte's unofficial catchphrase ghostwriter doesn't mesh with this Platinum Brothers beat, nor does anyone else, but none of that matters, as the only voice you'll remember from “People Change” is that of the shrill, annoying, and grating Madam D, who is so bad that it's fair to say Sunz Of Man really fucked up when they hired her. My God, was this bad.
12. HONEY TREE (FEAT. 2 ON THE ROAD & MADAM D)
I don't know about you, but I go out of my way to purchase Sunz Of Man projects that make it a point to include love raps, even though I know of exactly zero women who would even know that these guys exist. And once again, Prodigal Sunn cannot be a guest on an album performed by his own goddamn group. The hell is wrong with these guys?
13. TIME (FEAT. BLACK SATIN)
60 Second Assassin's flow is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: you either think it's okay, or you hate it and wish to kill it with fire. Notice that I never said “you either love it or you don't”; I don't think that anyone loves dude's flow, but it does enhance certain songs (such as Raekwon's “Glaciers Of Ice”). So when presented with a solo effort from the man such as “Time”, one's natural instinct is to run the fuck away, far far away, in the opposite direction. Trust your gut.
14. DOIN YA THANG (FEAT. MAKEBA MOONCYCLE)
Joe Loopz's instrumental grates on your eardrums: sure, it can be classified as an extremist form of “music”, but at what cost? “Doin Ya Thang”, which sucks, by the way, is notable for featuring the most high-profile guest spot female Wu-affiliated emcee Makeba Mooncycle will ever receive, although she quickly proves that even this cameo might have been something she wasn't quite prepared for, as she ends her unimpressive verse by explaining that the acronym S.O.M. stands for Sunz Of Man, as though anyone who would actually go out of their way to buy this shit wouldn't have already known that. Actually, her contribution was quite condescending, whereas everyone else just kind of blew. You know what? Fuck this song.
15. SAY, SAY, SAY (FEAT. ANCIENT COINS)
Sadly, not a cover of the Paul McCartney / Michael Jackson duet, although the hook (weirdly buried under a different hook at one point) does ape that track directly and in a vulgar fashion. Unfortunately, that last sentence describes the only interesting aspect of “Say, Say, Say”: the lyrics are bland, and Data's “instrumental” barely qualifies as a random assortment of noises, let alone as a beat.
16. INDUSTRY (FEAT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
My two main problems with this track: (1) it's just a skit, and (2) Ghostface Killah hardly factors into it. In fact, I can't even prove that he was on the same fucking planet as Sunz Of Man when this shit was laid down. Seriously, what the fuck, man?
17. ALL WE GOT (US) (FEAT. LA THE DARKMAN & MADAM D)
Razah's opening verse is the most fascinating of the entire project, specifically when he's talking about the origins of Sunz Of Man as the first Wu-affiliated group out of the gate. Fellow b-teamer and sometime-affiliate La the Darkman closes things out with a decent performance that is way too short. All of this takes place over an alright Joe Loopz production. So what's the problem? Remember earlier, when I mentioned Madam D's “shrill, annoying, and grating” vocals?
18. THE CAUSE (FEAT. METHOD MAN)
This final skit ends Saviorz Day in a fairly indifferent manner. Method Man makes more of an impact than Pretty Toney did on “Industry”, in that you can actually hear him on here, but his presence is entirely wasted on this album. Me? I'm just glad this horseshit is finally over.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I'd say Saviorz Day was only for Wu stans, but even that isn't true: this album is so all over the place that it's difficult to determine just who the intended audience was. If the Sunz Of Man were simply trying to retain the audience that bought The Last Shall Be First, they fucked up, since none of the songs presented are essential in any way, with their uniformly generic instrumentals and admittedly-not-awful lyrics sharing the stage with inferior music. If they were trying to reach out for a new audience, well, this shit is so inaccessible, that just won't happen guys, sorry. If Hell Razah, Prodigal Sunn, and 60 Second Assassin were trying their best to cover up Killah Priest's absence by filling in the blanks with guest artists, then Saviorz Day also fails them in this regard, although you already figured that out, with them having access to various members of the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the biggest rap groups in history, and then asking them to only contribute to interludes (for the most part). What a waste of their time, and ours. Saviorz Day doesn't make the case that the Sunz Of Man should have packed it up and moved on, but that's only because the chemistry between the three remaining members still exists and is noticeable on this album. It's just that Saviorz Day sucks so much, and I hate listening to wasted potential. And no, Killah Priest would not have saved this album, although his presence probably could have gotten it released much closer in time to their debut, since he kept dropping solo records around this period. Sigh.
BUY OR BURN? No.
BEST TRACKS: “S.O.M.”, but only if I'm feeling especially generous