The Meth Lab is, most notably, not the album Method Man had been promising fans for the better part of a decade: that mostly RZA-produced Crystal Meth is still a pipe dream. Instead, the man born Clifford Smith opted to use his name to sell hip hop heads on what is basically a compilation album featuring rappers from Staten Island: this is Method Man's The Chronic, except Wu stans will have heard of a few of the artists present and Meth doesn't produce anything.
Clocking nine guest appearances is Meth's trusty weed carrier Streetlife, who, yes, still raps, but The Meth Lab is actually dominated by Hanz On, an artist (and the executive producer of this project, and the guy who runs the label that Tommy Boy is helping distribute...hmmm) who a few Wu stans may remember as Hannibal The Great back when he was a member of Raekwon's Ice Water collective. Long since on his own, Hanz On still uses his internal connections with the Clan to further his own underground career: The Meth Lab will potentially expose him to his widest audience to date. If anyone actually buys this album, that is.
The Meth Lab's production credits are filled with no-names (as are the guest lists on each song, while a handful of Wu members and some non-Wu names are still recognizable), and, of course, The RZA has no part of this shit, because why would he even bother pretending to help one of his own? But Wu-Elements 4th Disciple and Allah Mathematics lend our host a hand, albeit briefly, so The Meth Lab still technically counts as a Wu-Tang solo effort.
By the way, yes, I've noticed that this is the fourth new Wu-Tang effort I've reviewed since attempting to focus on the West Coast this year. If that's all it took, I would have thrown that gauntlet down years ago.
2. THE METH LAB (FEAT. HANZ ON & STREETLIFE)
This opening salvo-slash-title track probably should have been the intro, or at least combined with it. Cee the Architek's beat is alright, but a bit slower than I liked: one would think that if you're calling a song "The Meth Lab" and talking about cooking meth, then the music would be faster-paced and rushing and not clinical, like an actual lab. Meth, however, sounds just fine, even with some corny bars. Streetlife weirdly sounds like someone who could be his father, as he comes across as much more mature than the last time I remember hearing the dude. But I still liked the guy. Hanz On, who is really the showcased artist for the entire project, is okay, decent even, but not good enough to warrant his heavy influence on the album. The wraparound skit was also useless. Oh well.
3. STRAIGHT GUTTA (FEAT. REDMAN, HANZ ON, & STREETLIFE)
I actually kind of liked this one. I know, I know: it features Reggie Noble, so I was going to dig it regardless, right? Don't be so sure: it's not like I ever listen to Blackout! 2 these days. I was actually worried Redman was only providing hook duties, but he comes through in the clutch. "Pop Champagne"'s Ron Browz, of all people, brings us the beat, which is at least closer in tempo to what I like to hear Method Man spitting over, but the standout for me was Streetlife, whose opening verse reminded me of Rampage when he isn't rampaging (for example, how he was on "Wild For Da Night"). It's fascinating how different he sounds. Hanz On rides the bitch seat, sounding wholly excitable like a new puppy who just wants to please everyone, and he sounds okay doing so. BFFs Meth and Red end up sharing the final verse, but it was still entertaining. I guess we're never going to actually hear Muddy Waters 2, though, right, buddy?
4. BANG ZOOM (FEAT. HANZ ON, STREETLIFE, & EAZY GET RITE)
The poorly-acted skit at the end of "Straight Gutta" (which was surprising, since Trainwreck's Method Man, who participates in the interlude, is spending more time on film sets than in recording studios these days) leads into "Bang Zoom", a goofy song with a decent Level 13 beat. I label this as "goofy" because of the awkward flow Meth, Street, and Hanz all adopt for their verses (guest star Eazy Get Rite (yeah, me neither) also does so, but he actually pulls it off even though he only lends the song its hook), which negatively impacts the track as a whole. Hanz On sounds like he's trying too hard, while Streetlife isn't trying nearly hard enough. Meth just isn't that good on here, either, but I believe I heard a slight potshot aimed at his former label home, Def Jam Records, so.
5. 50 SHOTS (FEAT. MACK WILDS, STREETLIFE, & CORY GUNZ)
Hanz On was sent on an errand, so The Cobbler's Method Man brings in his own guests for "50 Shots": Streetlife, who I believe you've all met before, crooner Mack Wilds, and Young Money also-ran Cory Gunz, whose father Peter Gunz still gets his one hit song played on the radio more often than Cory ever has (that would be "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)", his collaboration with Lord Tariq that sampled Steely Dan so heavily that Steely Dan would up being awarded all of the writing credit and the royalties earned). Mack Wilds handles the hook, weirdly aping Peter Gunz (either he didn't know who this track actually belonged to, or maybe it was originally considered for that Cory Gunz album that will never fucking happen), while Cory gives continuous shout-outs to the Wu, probably to thank Meth for helping him earn another paycheck, since Lil' Wayne is too busy with his own problems (read: almost being murdered at the command of his label boss) to hook up anyone on his own label that isn't a reliable self-started such as Drake or Nicki Minaj. Street and Meth also appear, but this sounded so generic and not Wu-like that it turned me off. I will say that Cory Gunz sounded alright, though.
6. THE PLEDGE (FEAT. HANZ ON & STREETLIFE)
The Mathematics beat (hey, he got a job! Good for him) is stark and kind of dope, even with how simple it ultimately is. "The Pledge" is essentially a Streetlife solo song that happens to feature Hanz On actually reciting a pledge at the end: chop that unnecessary bit off and you'd have a pretty good one-verse wonder. Streetlife sounds closer to his previous self on here than he has otherwise, which isn't an attack on the man's choices: he's still one of the best Wu-affiliates out there today. Keanu's Method Man does not appear at all, incidentally.
7. 2 MINUTES OF YOUR TIME
That's because he rides solo on "2 Minutes Of Your Time", a Mathematics clunker that feels like it lasts at least three times as long. Staten Island Summer's Method Man isn't hungry, I know, but he's still plenty capable of writing some entertaining, aggressive, shit-talking rhymes, and none of that is conveyed on here. He should have kept the instrumental for "The Pledge" for his own personal use. Moving on...
8. WORLDWIDE (FEAT. HANZ ON, UNCLE MURDA, & CHEDDA BANG)
When two of the four participants on a song are assigned hook duty, you have too many people on your goddamn track. Anyway, the Pascal Zumaque / Don't Panic Ent.-produced "Worldwide" is essentially a collaboration between The Sitter's Method Man and Brooklyn's Uncle Murda, which means that other hip hop bloggers will pretend like they've always championed Murda's music...now. Meth comes across more aggressively than usual, talking about the guns he used to pack while growing up, and also lists a couple of his rhyming influences (Kools G. Rap and Keith are name-dropped), while Murda seems to merely enjoy rapping on a song alongside one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan. The hook is inconsequential and inaccurate: for a song called "Worldwide", these guys sure do limit their worldview to New York. Anyway.
9. SOUNDCHECK (FEAT. HANZ ON & CARLTON FISK)
Not a fan of when Method Man tries to update his music to sound like what he thinks the radio plays today, by the way. Ever since he made his debut on Tical, I've always associated Carlton Fisk with dank, dusty basement beats, but "Soundcheck" throws all of that out of the goddamn window, and not in a pleasant manner. These guys do not sound very comfortable over a pop-trappy Pascal Zumaque / Code Red concoction (Hanz On only sticks around for hook duties), so bleh. At least it was short.
10. WATER (FEAT. CHEDDA BANG)
Chedda Bang's patience on "Worldwide" is rewarded with an opportunity to actually spit on "Water", a low-key Pascal Zumaque / Code Red instrumental that would have worked for nearly every rapper in the game but not our host, who is forced to slow himself waaaaaay down to fit. He doesn't sound bad, just unnatural. Chedda fares a little bit better, with a performance that embodies just enough swagger and confidence to warrant a further career, maybe just outside the scope of the Wu-Tang co-sign. In short, "Water" was okay, but not great.
11. LIFESTYLES (FEAT. CARDI, EAZY GET RITE, & FREAKY MARCIANO)
A Pascal-produced cit featuring verses from the apparently-incarcerated (which we know thanks to a shout-out at the end) Freaky Marciano (we've officially run out of nicknames, people) and Eazy Get Rite, with a hook from Cardi and no Method Man. Not even Hanz On wanted a part of "Lifestyles". The track was alright, though, even with the multiple references to Ace Hood's "Bugatti" dating the shit out of it. Afterwards, the artists scatter in favor of an extended interlude featuring Garden State's Method Man and company delivering playful insults to one another in a transparent attempt to mimic the feeling of classic skits such as "Torture" and "Killer Tape", which prominently featured Raekwon, as you'll remember. Speaking of...
12. THE PURPLE TAPE (FEAT. RAEKWON & INSPECTAH DECK)
Naming a song "The Purple Tape" to pay your respects to Chef Raekwon (that nickname is how hip hop heads refer to the cassette version of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., of course) is a nice thing to do. Naming your son Raekwon to pay your respects to Chef Raekwon is weird, but also kind of sweet. Method Man did both, and even included his son on the hook of "The Purple Tape". Strange backstory aside, Meth, Rae, and Deck all kill this J57-produced beat, with Deck in full-on Czarface mode stealing the track. Could have done without the hook, on which Meth's son feels the need to remind listeners that he's not related to the Chef constantly, but the rest of this shit banged, so.
13. INTELLIGENT METH (FEAT. MASTA KILLA, STREETLIFE, & INTELL)
A lower-budget "The Purple Tape", but one with an impressive (yeah, I said it) guest verse from U-God's son iNTeLL. (The hook also pays homage to Baby Uey's opening bar on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)'s "Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'", so that must have been a good day in the Lucky Hands household.) Masta Killa, who was most likely pissed that he didn't get to appear on "The Purple Tape", and Streetlife both do a pretty good job overall, as does our host. I wish the 4th DIsciple beat were better, but as it stands, this wasn't bad, so here we are.
14. SYMPHONY (FEAT. HANZ ON, STREETLIFE, KASH VERRAZANO, CARLTON FISK, & KILLA SIN)
A lower-budget version of "Intelligent Meth"... nah,, I'm just fucking with you. I actually liked the Daez beat on "Symphony" better than the previous track's. That song title obviously owes a debt to the Marley Marl-produced posse cut, and none of these guys line up with the talent present on that Juice Crew classic, except maybe Meth, I suppose, but it is quite an exercise in efficiency in how he was able to fit six different artists onto a song that lasts less than three-and-a-half minutes. Everyone still sounds pretty entertaining, too, even Hanz On. Carlton Fisk sounds more in his element, and Killarmy's Killa Sin swoops in from out of nowhere to take the cash prize he believes he was promised. I do like how Meth sat all three Wu-related (relatively speaking, of course) collaborations together at the same table, though.
15. WHAT YOU GETTING INTO (FEAT. STREETLIFE & DONNY CACSH)
Meh. That's what.
16. ANOTHER WINTER (FEAT. HANZ ON, STREETLIFE, & CARLTON FISK)
Anyone who read that guest list and hoped for another "P.L.O. Style" or "Mr. Sandman", even with the Hanz On appearance, will most likely be disappointed, but "Another Winter", while not sounding anywhere near as cold and unforgiving as that title would seemingly demand, is actually pretty entertaining. 4th Disciple's instrumental, with drums lifted from breakbeats, helps tremendously: it lends the track en energy that all four participants try their best to match. Not bad, seriously.
17. RAIN ALL DAY (FEAT. HANZ ON & DRO PESCI)
Didn't do it for me. Sorry. Also, "Dro Pesci" is either the best or worst rap name I've heard in a while, I haven't decided which.
18. SO STATEN (FEAT.. HANZ ON & HUE HEF)
For an album ostensibly celebrating untapped talent from Staten Island, The Meth Lab took its fucking time getting to a song about Staten. The Zarco Krstic / Pascal Zumaque beat goes the overly-dramatic route, forcing the participants to not see the fun in a job as inherently silly as rapping, and that depressing outlook reflects ion the song's general dullness. At least Meth didn't feel the need to include every Staten Island rapper ever on this motherfucker, I guess. Little miracles.
And he's finally finished.
Digital copies of The Meth Lab, available through this Amazon link or on Method Man's Bandcamp page (yep, he has one of those now), also include the instrumentals of every actual song presented above, which was an awfully nice gesture from our host.
THE LAST WORD: The Meth Lab isn't really what anyone would call a "good" album, but there's enough entertaining moments to not make this a complete waste of time, and it's still leagues better than Tical 0: The Prequel. The insistence of Hanz On to participate on ten of the seventeen songs (because the other two tracks are interludes) harms the project as a whole: he isn't polished enough as a rapper to warrant that level of attention, and the average listener is bound to have their eyes glaze over whenever he takes to the microphone. However, Method Man himself sounds as energetic as he ever has, trying his best to overcome any instrumental obstacle thrown his way (because, while some of the beats on here are pretty good, most of them are bland as fuck) with clever turns of phrase and the genial shit-talking that he's perfected his entire career. A handful of the guests turn in some excellent verses, as well: Raekwon (the Chef, not Meth's kid) and Inspectah Deck outclass everyone on here like the professionals they are, while Streetlife turns in a few great stanzas. The Meth Lab manages to be just okay enough to not chuck into the street, which, honestly, we should be striving for more, you two. By the way, I've always felt that Method Man's album titles have missed the obvious choice: how cool would it be if he released a project, maybe with all RZA production, maybe not, and called it The Methodical Man? Just let that sink in. It's out there in the universe now. That was a freebie. You're welcome, Clifford.