Review Summary: The RZArecta mans the mixing board as well as ever, but can't pull off his fourth soundtrack without a fair share of samurai poop.
What do Afro Samurai, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Kill Bill Vol. 1 have in common? If it isn’t obvious, they all have samurais in them, and they make up most of the soundtrack work by the RZA. So if anyone’s expecting any movies that aren’t for violent nerds to be scored by the RZA any time soon, well, they’d have no knack for noticing predictability. Of course, there’s no predictability in what a Wu-Tang release will be like in terms of quality these days. Far from the days of their classic 1993 debut, which changed the face of rap with its manic and raw production along with surreally violent and boastful lyrics, and subsequent solo releases, each of which expanded in different directions to critical acclaim, as the 90s went into their latter days, the Wu-Tang Clan became something ta fuck
wit. Onslaughts of mediocre or redundant albums, lack of unity in the clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
’s hilarious run-ins with the law, all of these made putting faith in the Wu risky business. Of course there’s always been redeeming releases since the “Golden” Wu era, but the only thing I could predict for the Afro Samurai Soundtrack is that it’d have a wacky mix of samurais and rap music. Don’t confuse that with the wacky mix of ninjas and rap music that the Wu pioneered... because there’s a big difference.
Like The RZA’s scoring debut on Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, this afrolicious soundtrack features a mix of his scores and guest rap jamborees with him behind the mixing deck. The RZA’s scoring features his trademark hollow, eerie, yet rhythmic sound, apt for the show itself, which bases itself upon revenge. But RZA also breaks new ground on his composing skills, incorporating a heavy funk sound to many of the instrumentals, claiming that the mix of the East and West cultures that’s shown in the series was an inspiration to get funky. This is shown in full fledge in the instrumental Afro’s Father Fight
, which ditches any orchestral sound for a smooth funk jaunt, complete with a wah guitar and a warm, chunky bassline. Scores like Ninjaman
and The Empty 7 Theme
show off a mix of symphonic sounds and funk influence, and RZA’s eagerness to continue innovating his sound. However, like some of his previous score work, most of the instrumentals (and there’s a lot of them) fall flat without the visuals to go along, and the minimal approach to many of them end up making sitting through the album boring. Not even the quotes from Afro Samurai himself voiced by Samuel L. Jackson included in many of the scores can save them, and I thought Sam could do no wrong after Snakes on a Plane.
With rappers like Talib Kweli, Wu’s GZA, Big Daddy Kane, and Q-Tip, skipping the instrumentals to go straight to these seems enticing, and they indeed prove to be the highlights of the album. Songs like Just a Lil Dude
featuring Q-Tip and Wu-Tang underling Free Murda features the boys rapping under the Samurai persona to an ominous, fading synth, while Certified Samurai
with Talib Kweli (among more Wu affiliates) and Cameo Afro
with legends the GZA and Big Daddy Kane feature more triumphant beats, with an artificial sheen that shows the album’s materialization was done almost entirely on keyboards. These songs keep the album somewhat strung together, keeping the ass-kicking theme of the album present and showcasing RZA’s diverse production. Who is tha Man
features the unknown Reverend William Burk, but shines as one of the best on the album, sonically and conceptually, as he earnestly raps about honour, respect, humility and all that other stuff our generation abandoned long ago to a simply smooth beat. Three R&B tracks are also found on the soundtrack, the stylish Oh
and The Walk
sung by Stone Mecca are richly produced and pulled off surprisingly well by the hip hop producer, enough to find themselves on Samuel L. Jackson’s lovemaking playlist, while Maurice’s sappy Baby
comes off as a throwaway Usher outtake.
The RZA himself steps up to the mic several times, like the other rappers under a samurai persona, and also under his hedonistic alter ego Bobby Digital (who is bound to return with a third album pronto,) a futuristic “super hero” who loves guns, ganja, and treating all women like hoes (he somehow was the basis for an entire concept album with this enthralling back story of every pimp in Staten Island.) Revenge/Fury in my Eyes
is easily his best as an MC on the album, remorsefully rapping about being a samurai killer to an almost Baroque sounding backing track. Out of the Bobby Digital tracks, the sleep deprivation driven, contemplative Insomnia
and the hilarious razor sharp rap about how much freaky poon Bobby gets, So Fly
, are surprise highlights out of the usually lyrically stale Bobby Digital persona. The Afro Samurai OST
is a mixed bag, with 25 tracks there’s a lot of bulk with the Blackanese album, and isn’t worth a full listen through. When the RZA and company get good on here, they get really good, but when they don’t they might as well be one of the suckas that’s going to inevitably get chopped to bits by the Afro Samurai.