Review Summary: Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang is both a celebration and an innovation; a thrilling synthesis of fresh production techniques and enticing street narratives.
Out of the numerous Wu-Tang solo albums, Raekwon's releases have always been the most thematically ambitious. While other front runners of the Wu such as GZA and Ghostface Killah would craft expansive albums that revolved around their signature imagery and huge personalities, no one has been able to so cohesively revolve around a concept as well as Rae. With his debut Only Built For Cuban Linx
, he introduced Mafioso terminology and organized crime related themes to hip hop. Not only was the album well-structured in lyrical content, but the entire production fell in sync, with rich, cinematic strings and samples of mafia films found gracefully layered throughout the album. For the following decade, a few duds lacked this stylistic approach, but in 2009 Raekwon came roaring back with his superior sequel Only Built For Cuban Linx 2
. This LP reflected all of the drug business scheming and crime found in the first one, but boosted them up with a 21st century confidence and maximized everything that was so great about it.
Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
, much like Ghostface's Apollo Kids
, is a modernized Wu-Tang release that reflects on the respective member's older works, with street narratives and dark string loops defining the atmosphere of the album. However while Apollo Kids
came off as mostly regressive and didn't match to his previous material, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
manages to expand Raekwon's classic sound and competes with some of his best albums. On the forefront, the album is reminiscent of Rae's Cuban Linx work, with amped-up, classic Wu-beats and frequent appearances from Ghostface and Method Man. On each track Raekwon sets cohesive lyrical scenarios, such as his humorous interacting with the kung-fu samples on "Butter Knives: "Who gives a fuck
if he's a swordsman, I'm a gun man, I run from nothing". However this time around Raekwon is backed by some of the hugest beats to grace a Wu-Tang record yet. Pummeling drum sounds and dense orchestral soundscapes lay on the forefront, but the producing line-up manages to throw in bigger-than-life samples and powerful synths that retain an organic sound. The way Raekwon manages to perfectly synthesize his lovable old techniques with huge production and a refined, confident flow puts Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
up there with his best work yet.
Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
delves back into Raekwon's growing up in Staten Island, the lyrics revolving around his personal experiences on the streets and dealing with crime(much like the lyrical content found in Wu-Tang classic "C.R.E.A.M."). His glamorous illustration of a possibly dark pre-Wu era gives the album a sense of individualism, less of general Wu-Tang representation and more of a definitive Raekwon album. The album's best moments have Raekwon on his own, enthralling the listener with his signature story-telling over detailed, dark instrumentals. The albums only poor moments lay in a few poorly selected guest spots and the album's ambitious length manages to null these performances. Furthering both his knack for elaborate album concepts and making old qualities seem fresh, the "Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang" shows in the juxtaposition between Rae's down-to-earth hood ramblings(Shaolin) and the huge budgets and reoccurring cinema themes(Wu-Tang). This is best exemplified by the album's magnificent closer "Masters of Our Fate", displaying Rae's most intense narration yet over a string loop reminiscent of his debut. As Raekwon described in an Entertainment Weekly interview, the album shows his "street side challenging the great Wu-Tang" and this conflict gives the album an enticing, fiery element, constantly fusing aspects of the Wu-Empire with a heavier emphasis on a time before there was such thing.
Perhaps the essential question of this album is whether it is a continuation of the Wu-Tang legacy or a contrasting statement to the RZA's famous assertion "Wu-Tang is forever." Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
shows a further progression from the territory marked by Only Built For Cuban Linx 2
and shows Raekwon constantly perfecting and elaborating on old concepts, while bringing in newer and untold elements to his sound. In the long run, Raekwon's new LP once again revive's the Wu Spirit and further pushes his solo artistry, giving more than fan's could ever want or expect.