Review Summary: Let’s drink wine from the purest grape vine in rhyme.
Interview on track “Can it All Be So Simple” from Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers
[Raekwon]: And the GZA, the G is just the Genius, he… He's the backbone of the whole ***
[RZA]: It's self explanatory, Genius
[Method Man]: He the head, let's put it that way
We form like Voltron, and GZA happen to be the head
This is the first time we get to see what the head of Voltron can do by itself, without being hindered or helped much by the other clan members. Before Beneath the Surface
, GZA released his masterpiece, Liquid Swords
, which is regarded by most to be one of the top ten hip hop albums of all time. Even though Liquid Swords
gets virtually all of the critical and commercial acclaim, it isn't necessarily a collection of “The best of GZA” as many believe. If you dive deeper into GZA’s discography you will find better lyricism, a dramatically matured perspective and deeper subject matter. If Liquid Swords
was GZA’s Dark Side of the Moon
, Beneath the Surface
is like GZA’s The Wall
: whereas Liquid Swords
was a more easily accessible album to casual fans, songs on Beneath the Surface
provide more poetic lyricism and deeper subject matter than virtually every track on Liquid Swords
What’s the key to liking this album? The simplest way to put it is if you liked “B.I.B.L.E” from Liquid Swords
you will love this album (Killah Priest is featured 4 times), but if not there is still hope as long as you are not turned away by the simple and repetitive production that hovers around above-average for this entire album. Liquid Swords
almost can't even be seen as a solo album: It featured every one of the other eight clan members at least once. So if you expect more of this type of Wu-Tang style you are going to be very disappointed. The only Wu-Tang member to be featured on a verse here is Masta Killa, the least talented member, who GZA taught to emcee himself. The features are the major problem here. The production is a far cry from the brilliant kung-fu sampling production of RZA, but lyrically it is much more focused, reasonable and coherent than previous Wu-Tang projects. You just need to be ready to appreciate a new style that’s very different from 36 chambers, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
, or Liquid Swords
, one that is less flashy and more substantive. This album is much more of GZA’s own work. It shows all at once what RZA meant to the sound of Liquid Swords
, but also how much more meaningful GZA’s music can be when he’s not held in any boundaries.
Unlike all of Wu-Tang members first solo releases, which were all produced by RZA, the production on Beneath the Surface
includes only one track produced by RZA (1112), one from Inspectah Deck (Beneath the Surface), and one from John the Baptist (Crash Your Crew). The rest of the beats are done by either Mathematics or Arabian Knight. As a result, this album is slow paced and has lackadaisical delivery throughout most of the album. This starts off a little boring (the first track, Amplified Sample) but it quickly picks up to an entertaining jazzy pace that fits GZA’s complex lyrics and punch lines perfectly. GZA's lyrics in this album are the poetic gold that more than makes up for the sound. They make this album on par with Liquid Swords
as a whole by constantly painting pictures with lines like [quote]On a man-made lake, there's a sheet of thin ice, where unskilled skaters cut figure eights twice.[quote] to tell stories that end with real moral lessons being learned, rather than a kung fu sample of someone being decapitated. The beats help compliment this new style by being much more spacey than anything Wu-Tang has experimented with. They give the songs a deep-introspective feel, sounding more like well crafted music whereas RZA’s production sounds more like cool samples he took from a movie and made into a catchy rhythm.
If this is your first time listening to this album and you are having trouble adapting to the new sound, try out songs like “Crash Your Crew” and “Hip Hop Fury”. But eventually you should try to get used to the new sound and you may start to consider songs like “Beneath the Surface” and “Mic Trippin” to be of the most impressive works in Wu-Tang history for pushing the boundaries of hip hop with visual poetry while still being great sounding music. Give this album another full listen if you wrote it off in the past, and don’t be ashamed that you were wrong. Remember: To check fault in oneself is pure loveliness, you break the mirror that remind you of your ugliness.