Review Summary: No longer only a digital recording suite, ProTools now doubles as a GZA album.
The critically acclaimed Liquid Swords
was, and still is, the crown jewel of the Genius discography. Effectively blending the GZA’s lyrical mastery with the progressive, keyboard-laden production of the RZA, this seminal release had a sizeable role in the mid-90s hip-hop renaissance. An obvious, yet unfair benchmark was ultimately set, for which the critical universe could compare all future Wu-Works. Three albums and over a decade later, Gary Grice has graced the public with Pro Tools
. Age has not subdued the Genius and his art, but it has indeed affected his title-formulation skills. With his Pro-Tools manual in hand and supposedly curious Babygrande reps at the fore, the 42-year-old flaunted the laziness his age and profession would suggest.
An unfortunate side effect of being haphazardly named after a software package is the preconception that Pro Tools
beats are hastily made. An unfortunate truth about this statement is that the production is a glaring weak point of the album. While the always fresh RZA and Black Milk have a hand in some of the composition duties, it can’t help but be noted that a vast majority of the album just sounds tired. One can argue that this is quite customary; the focus here is obviously the GZA, and the beats definitely achieve this goal. On the other hand, whenever an artist has nearly three generations of fans, it almost comes off as a phoned-in performance when the music pervades an atmosphere of laziness, repetition, and normalcy. Perhaps this is too harsh. The far-and-few-between bright spots are indeed bright; RZA’s epic, soundtrack-influenced tracks are tight, Black Milk brings as much ingenuity as he’s able to the mix, and Arabian Knight puts on an impressive performance.
The twelve-year span after which Liquid Swords
was released has merely been twelve years for GZA to further refine his trademark style. That is, there is no fire-spitting to be had here. Instead, the listener is continuously barraged with thoughtful 5% musings, alliteration galore, and surprisingly intellectual storytelling. While presumably uncaring and too laid back at first listen (especially after some of the boring beats kick in), the Genius quickly hypnotizes with his incredible consistency. As is customary, many of his verses emphasize sage-like perspectives of life through his own definition of Islam (obviously, the version where you can smoke grips of green). Coupled with criticisms on pop-culture and even dissing G-Unit (which one could include in the category of “pop-culture”), this GZA-science is always refreshing and reflective.
The Genius will always be hip-hop royalty, and Pro Tools
proves that he isn’t an emeritus quite yet. This master of the mic more than makes up for his poor beat selections, but doesn’t really touch the level of his early works. Hopefully next time around, the RZA will realize that the novelty of Bobby Digital has worn off, give up, and produce most of his cousin’s next album.
The Best In Order:
Life is a Movie
(prod by the RZA)
(prod by Arabian Knight)
(prod by Black Milk)