Friday, November 30, 2007

Review: Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams

Rating: 3/5

Oh, Wu. While I am occasionally overcome by the musical bulldozer that is Nation of Millions, Enter the Wu-Tang is still my favorite rap record of all time, a timeless, one-of-a-kind, stylistically unmatched masterpiece. It spun off a series of individual classics during the mid-90s at a time when each Wu member was hungry for solo success and the RZA had an absurd (truly ridiculous), seemingly bottomless pit of raw, vivid beats. Then came Wu-Tang Forever, a nearly 30 track behemoth that drained the Clan of fresh, clever rhymes and drained the RZA of inventive backdrops.

The W is actually pretty good, though, but Iron Flag is not, from what I've heard from fans and from the few tracks I've heard off the record. Perhaps, just maybe, a six-year layoff and a new self-proclaimed motivation and focus could return the Clan to Enter the W--well, at least Wu-Tang Forever-level. Unfortunately, while the Wu do seem hungry, such hunger alone does translate to greatness.

A couple problems. First and foremost: not nearly enough Ghostface. Of course, it wasn't that the RZA thought it would be good to limit his involvement; rather, Ghost was pissed off due to the original release of Diagrams corresponding with his new album and, more importantly, Wu management never paid him for the summer tour. He only shows up for three verses, and given their high quality, he could have launched the Wu to great heights. He spits absolute fire on the "Daytona 500"-like "Take it Back," and then provides the album highlight (the supermarket story) on the "Heart Gently Weeps."

I mean, Ghost's superiority within the 21st cetury Wu-Tang is well-known, and the rest of the Clan don't do much to challenge him. There was a time when the GZA was the most creative lyricist on the planet (the two verses of "Liquid Swords" still epitomize cool), when Method Man's flow charged forward like a moving train, when Raekwon could rhyme "back" with "crack" and "gats" on like every other song and still light shit up with pure enthusiasm and detailed street tales.

Now: Raekwon utilizes that whole just-woke-up whisper often ("Gun Will Go," "Take It Back") and usually sounds apathetic. The GZA's brilliant rhyme schemes and varied vocabulary are a thing of the past, replaced by an enthusiastic yet simplistic, unremarkable flow. Meth actually offers a variety of good (if same-sounding) verses throughout the album, but he can't carry the thing by himself. The RZA, U-God, and Masta Killa are listenable, occassionally entertaining, as are the GZA and Raekwon, but just listenable isn't good enough for the Wu-Tang Clan.

8 Diagrams is in fact better than like 80 percent of modern rap music, so it's easy to get excited about it, especially considering the Wu holds a special place in the heart of so many fans. However, then I listen to early Wu or the new Ghostface record (complete with a couple excellent collabs with Raekwon, Meth, and and U-God) and remember what it really feels like when the Clan nails it. Diagrams could be sliced down by three or four tracks (the U-God/Streetlife/Cappadonna-rapped "Tar Pit," the RZA solo "Sunlight," among others), and even the best material (the aforementioned "Take It Back" and "Heart Gently Weeps") doesn't come close to elevating Wu to the top of the rap totem pole with Jay-Z, Kanye, and Lupe. The RZA almost feels too comfortable re-embracing his old ways, too afraid to experiemt with the soulful stylings that have helped to make Ghostface's post-Forever work so engaging.

Still, if you listen to the album, you will have heard a decent set of classic-sounding Wu tracks. It's good to see them back, even if they have little to say. "Life Changes" is a moving tribute to the beloved ODB, and hearing the unreleased "16th Chamber" (which includes an ODB verse) is a fitting closer on multiples levels. Though likely meant as a reminder of how cool Dirt McGirt was back in the day (in which it succeeds), it also showcases a Meth verse and Raekwon shouting "4th chamber!" in the middle, the most energetic and happy either one sounds on the 8 Diagrams. It provides final proof that the Golden Age of Wu is over. Oh well. We'll always have 36 Chambers.

Sorry, I'm not posting an mp3 for fear that Ghost and Rae may simply show up to my house and take me out, only to be later immortalized in "Shakey Dog 3."

Big Doe Rehab review tomorrow or Sunday.

1 comment:

D-Ford said...

I agree with you, this one was nowhere near classic Wu Tang, but really, what were you expecting? Bands/artisits hardly ever recreate their truly classic albums later down the road. Sure, they can come damn near close, but not everybody can be the Beatles...(or according to indiesnobs everywhere, Spencer Krug)