Review Summary: I got mo mils than ho bitches got birth control pills
Being an arrogant jerk with an inflated sense of my own intelligence, I entertain the silly pretension that I enjoy every genre of music. However, at heart, I am a metalhead. Not only am I a metalhead - I'm a metalhead who loves ***ty metal. For god's sake, I consider Tool (that's right, Tool, the ignorant stoner's version of post-metal) to be my favorite band. What I'm trying to say is this - I can enjoy and appreciate hip hop and alternative rock albums, but it takes some effort on my part. I have to focus hard on what the musician is trying to accomplish, break down the music into its individual components, analyze these components, and then try to understand and appreciate the whole. This may seem like a hopelessly mechanical way to appreciate something as abstract as music, but sometimes this method allows me to deeply understand and appreciate an album I would otherwise not have understood, and this is a pretty profound experience for me. However, sometimes I have difficulty distinguishing whether or not I am listening to an album because I enjoy it, or because I'm trying to understand it. Oftentimes I force myself to listen to hip hop albums over and over because I get the frustrating feeling that I'm simply missing something. This is how my relationship to Liquid Swords began. But gradually, I began to realize that I wasn't listening to Liquid Swords because I didn't get it - rather, I was listening to Liquid Swords because I loved the bizarre, hilarious metaphors that GZA dropped, the cheesy kung-fu movie samples that were spread throughout the album, and the dark, ninja/battlefield/dungeon beats that RZA crafted. This led to another realization, one that was probably more important than any other that I have had concerning music; I realized that I was simply trying too hard. This realization caused the true beauty of music to unfold before me - I realized that I was wasting my time trying to analyze and quantify something so inherently unquantifiable. It's kind of odd that an album such as Liquid Swords caused me to have this minor revelation, but anyway, there you go, that's my personal connection to Liquid Swords. On to the album.
In my opinion, Liquid Swords is, by a long shot, the best solo album released by a Wu member. GZA didn't really stand out on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) because his style is workmanlike and efficient. He doesn't possess the quirky rhymes and bizarre persona of Ol' Dirty Bastard or the distinctive vocal delivery of RZA, but this fact does not diminish the enormity of his talents. In fact, I would go as far as to call GZA my favorite MC of all time - his rhymes are unbelievably complex and intricate, and his signature gruff raconteur style is lovable and addictive. But GZA really stands out in my eyes because of the crazy metaphors he drops - lines such as "I'm unbalanced like elephants and ants on seesaws" and "the dope prices dropped like the crash in the Dow Jones Stock" are ridiculously creative and unique.
Liquid Swords is a pretty sparse album in terms of beats and production, but this technique is effective because it puts the listener's focus squarely where it should be - on GZA's lyrics. RZA produced all of the beats on Liquid Swords, and his signature style of mixing keyboard based beats with unobtrusive samples and low-key percussion is wonderfully effective. RZA's excessive sampling of the film Shogun Assassin
at first seems cheesy and ridiculous, but effectively sets up GZA's numerous allusions to ninjas, swordplay and assassins. Although many have criticized RZA's beats as being repetitive and tedious, I feel that they set up the GZA's chessboard perfectly - The Genius weaves and darts through RZA's beats with cunning. RZA returns the favor by choosing odd and sometimes obviously incorrect words to emphasize, which only adds to GZA's offbeat craziness. GZA's rambling storytelling sometimes causes him to overstep his meter - he leaves rhymes half finished and completes his thoughts in the next bar. The listener thinks this is a mistake until GZA completes the rhyme, and you realize that he is juggling two or three rhyme schemes at once. Genius. GZA utilizes some techniques that are so complex that you pretty much need to look at a lyrics sheet to recognize them. Take, for example, the line he drops on I Gotcha Back - "What is the meaning of CRIME (what?)/Is it Criminals Robbin Innocent Mother***ers Everytime?" As you probably noticed, the second line is an acrostic for the word crime. What's spectacular is that this is no throwaway line - no, GZA is questioning the nature of crime and trying to justify the crimes he commits. So visionary.
There is a discordant theme that runs through this album - on tracks such as Gold, GZA and his Wu cronies glorify the drug dealing lifestyle, but on tracks such as Cold World the Genius laments the evils that have come from his actions. How does GZA account for this contradiction? The man's not giving you any easy outs, but he at least acknowledges his hypocrisy: "I'm not caught up in politics/I'm no black activist on a so-called scholar's dick/I come through with the Wu and drop math/versatile freestyle bombs on a phonograph." Many rappers today simply rap about killing on one track and lament the violent death of their friend in the next, and are too stupid to realize their obvious hypocrisy. You get the feeling that GZA is keenly aware of this contradiction, and yet he's not arrogant enough to think that he has a solution - rather, he his merely a storyteller divulging his experiences. It's a wonderful breath of fresh air.
Every track on here is unbelievably good, but two stand out - Gold and 4th Chamber. Gold has a dense, foggy beat, which serves as a backdrop to GZA's claustrophobic, paranoia-fueled rhymes concerning coke dealing. In the hook, GZA growls "The fiends aint coming fast enough/there is no clip that's full enough/ I can't fold, I need gold," an imposing line that shows that GZA is more addicted to selling coke then the fiends are to snorting it. 4th Chamber is four and a half minutes of dope verses dropped by Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest, RZA and GZA. RZA's verse is the one that really stands out - his almost singsongy vocal delivery accentuates his attacks, making already devastating rhymes such as "Camouflaged chameleons/ninjas scaling ya' buildin/no time to grab ya' gun they already got ya' wife and children" all the more destructive. But really, every track on here is a highlight and eminently quotable, so I'll limit myself to these two standouts.
Basically, Liquid Swords is a transcendent album that exemplifies everything that is good about the rap genre. If you're looking for lighthearted rhymes and catchy hooks - look elsewhere. But if you're looking for dark, honest rhymes, creative wordplay, and ninjas, look no further.