Review Summary: I mean it's not 36 Chambers, but
2011 was supposed to be a huge year for the Wu-Tang Clan; fans came into the year expecting sequels to both the remarkable Supreme Clientele
and the illustrious Liquid Swords
, only to have those plans postponed for Wu-Block
and a yet untitled alternate GZA album. Method Man divulged plans for a new album, and Raekwon released Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
in March, announcing another 2011 album shortly thereafter. It’s now nearly August, nothing has yet come to fruition, and ardent fans continue to wait in the murk, desperate for a single word from any of the Clan announcing some good news. Lately it seems like Wu projects just bust onto the scene unannounced, and the group relies on its name to make sales; to a lot of people it seemed like Apollo Kids
just sprung out of nowhere when “2getha Baby” was leaked late last year. And now Legendary Weapons
, the follow-up to 2009’s Chamber Music
, drops almost like the pin in an empty room. Legendary Weapons
received very little press, and nobody seemed to put in any advertising work whatsoever, although perhaps that could be attributed less to a secretive and clandestine RZA and more to the fact that Legendary Weapons
, like its antecedent, is a compilation album, rather than a full-fledged studio album. Unfortunately, in this case, though the compilation wasn’t exactly made haphazardly, there is a noticeable lack of direction, and that fact spells problems for the Shaolin mob, as it results in a few uninspired verses, and suffers greatly from the absence of both GZA, the group’s nonpareil, and Masta Killa, whose work on recent Wu releases has converted doubters and cemented his name as one of the group’s better rappers.
Musically, Legendary Weapons
is a bit of a departure from its predecessor, almost completely omitting the live band approach that Chamber Music
subsumed and thrived on. In fact, excluding the iTunes bonus track, The Revelations (the aforementioned live band) don’t seem to make an appearance, and the album’s production comprises most of the familiar Wu-Tang production components: spastic piano loops and drums, strong bass, and of course the ubiquitous kung fu movie sample. As was the case in Chamber Music
though, RZA only executive produces the record, leaving the brunt of the beatmaking to Wu-affiliates Noah Rubin, Andrew Kelley, and Fizzy Womack, who are able to capture the staple Wu-sound well. Womack, who had a hand in the production of about half of the tracks on Chamber Music
, returns with his compatriot Billy Danze on “Legendary Weapons,” joining Ghostface Killah and AZ as the four spit over a rather weak beat constituted of a simple drumbeat that we’ve all heard before on Wu-Tang joints and a soft, relaxed oriental melody. While Tony Starks and AZ boast smooth flows that both complement and redeem the beat, Fame and Billy, known for their vigorous, almost apocalyptic blazing back-and-forth delivery, unfortunately pull the short end of the stick, having to dilute the energy typically endemic to their rapping styles in favor of more forced and slurred verses, which fit the beat better than their typical fare, but sounds too forced; the result is a title track that is both uninspired and forgettable. Legendary Weapons
is a bit bipolar in that regard though, as the preceding track, “The Black Diamonds,” is the obvious highlight of the album, excelling in almost every place “Legendary Weapons” blunders. Its minimalist and eerie piano melody is sublime and indelible, augmenting the track immensely by serving as a perfect supplement to the performers’ flows, of which Killa Sin’s is extraordinary, rivaling the eminent flows of Nas and Meth in its surprising splendor. It’s one of the coolest moments on the album, and – perhaps a bit surprisingly – it doesn’t even come from a Clan member.
Actually, for the most part, the Clan members seem bored, offering lazy verses and often being outshined by the guest artists on the tracks, such as “Meteor Hammer”, in which both Ghostface-sound-a-like Action Bronson and Boston sensation Termanology sound determined to make names for themselves, attacking the beat ruthlessly and stealing the show. It’s not always the case, however, that the Gambinos are outperformed on the tracks; Ghostface, high off of the critical success of Apollo Kids
, is the most prominently featured rapper on the album, and with good reason. Starks’ style is a perfect fit with this production style, and the beats are easy for him to maneuver, allowing him to find a strong footing and deliver consummate bars each time he touches the mic. In fact, the Wu-Tang Clan members that one would expect to perform well don’t disappoint; the ever-reliable Raekwon opens the album emphatically, and Method Man’s sovereign swagger and frigid flow flourish in “Diesel Fluid,” his only verse on the compilation, one laden with impressive wordplay and grit. That’s the problem though; the best Clan members are underutilized, and the ones whose talent was questionable in ’93 and is even more unreliable nearly twenty years later (such as the capricious Inspectah Deck, who deceived us all when he wrote some of the best verses on 36 Chambers
and then forgot how to rap for a decade) contribute vapid verses that render a few of the tracks all but forgettable. The result is really a hot-and-cold record with just enough substance to warrant a few repeated listens, but not enough to appease avid listeners quite yet.
Perhaps if we hadn’t been inundated with lofty promises and fed the excellence of recent Wu-Tang solo projects, Legendary Weapons
would stand out a bit more as one of the better Clan releases of this millennium. The fact of the matter is, 8 Diagrams
was too long, and Iron Flag
was too hit-or-miss, so yes, Legendary Weapons
is one of the better releases featuring the entire group that we’ve seen in a while. Unfortunately, we’ve seen wave after wave of solo projects that seem to blow the group dynamic out of the water; Legendary Weapons
offers some certified Wu-bangers, and even the instant-classic “The Black Diamonds,” but sadly it really can’t compare to the recent Raekwon and Ghostface projects, and the dearth of verses from the Clan’s best members (and the absence altogether of the GZA) hurts badly. Ultimately, Legendary Weapons
is enough to momentarily quell the demands of Wu-heads worldwide, but the moment is fleeting, as lackluster performances on a couple tracks render them a bit too boring to spend time on, and the tracks that are good aren’t quite good enough to promise any real sort of longevity for the album. It leaves a bittersweet taste in the mouth, but thankfully where the performances aren’t effete, we find a refreshing tang. Legendary Weapons
is satisfying enough as a teaser for now, but anticipation can only be growing for the impending wave of solo albums.