Review Summary: A solid effort by RZA & friends that rises above your average soundtrack.
While I haven’t seen it, I’m sure that The Man with the Iron Fists, rapper and famed producer RZA’s directorial début, is a bad movie. However, there is an important distinction between bad and enjoyably bad, and my guess is the movie is the latter. Happily, the soundtrack, which was executively produced RZA, is in no way bad, and is perhaps better than the film itself. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of rapping talent, featuring Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, RZA, Danny Brown, Pusha T, Kanye West and others while still retaining a distinctive Wu-Tang “feel.”
The album opens on high note with the track The Baddest Man Alive, a collaboration between RZA and The Black Keys. Over heavily distorted guitars and a simple drum beat, the two artists trade off verses about what makes this baddest man, well, just so bad. RZA seems to having fun here, dropping goofy lines like “snatch food from the mouth of a tiger/take a gasoline bath and I walk through fire,” and overall it’s one of the better songs on the album, thanks to its lighthearted feel. Up next is Black Out, another one of the best tracks, though one with a decidedly different feel due to its more serious tone. With a somewhat oriental beat, the song opens with an explosive verse from Ghostface, and remains solid throughout. It, like much of the album, is nothing revolutionary, but still pretty enjoyable. Rivers of Blood is another of the choice cuts, with two good verses by Raekwon and Ghostface. In addition, it opens somewhat hilariously, with RZA quoting a Chinese proverb of dubious origins: “Dangerous men will meet in narrow streets.” It’s followed up by Built for This, with Method Man and Freddie Gibbs, which rounds out the better songs, along with Tick, Tock, which has Pusha T, Raekwon, Joell Ortiz and Danny Brown on it. On the three previously mentioned songs, the rapping is consistently good, and while the production wasn’t personally handled by the RZA, the beats are all great. Rivers of Blood is bombastic, with pounding bass and a huge trombones and Built for This is driven by a heavy bass line and live drums. Tick, Tock has a more contemplative sound, with a slowly picked, vaguely middle-eastern guitar, a ticking clock sound and occasionally, some piano and strings. One thing to note is while Danny Brown is never a bad thing, his distinctive voice and unhinged manner of rapping clashes a bit with the smooth beat of Tick, Tock, but it still remains a great song.
Not to be overlooked are the two R&B/soulish songs, I Forgot To Be Your Lover and Your Good Thing (Is About To End), by The Revelations featuring Tre Williams and Marble John, respectively. Despite this album being largely dominated by rap, the two fit in quite well. A bit out of place is Green is the Mountain by Frances Yip, which is entirely in Chinese, and while it's a perfectly fine track, it will likely be skipped by most who buy the album. Far and away the worst song is I Go Hard, which with cheesy production and a hook by Wiz Khalifa, can’t even be salvaged by Ghostface. The track also features someone called Boy John who drops a truly cringe-worthy line, saying “I go hard like Listerine on bacteria.” Thankfully, one can simply turn the album off when it comes on, as it is mercifully the last song. Another misstep is Kanye West’s track, White Dress, which is about a girlfriend who left him. It’s not really bad song, but just doesn’t mesh with the rest of album, nor does it seem like it has anything to do with the movie.
On the whole, The Man with the Iron Fists Soundtrack elevates itself above the word “soundtrack”, a term which often presages a listen filled with a number of dissimilar songs randomly thrown together as an easy cash grab. This album truly feels like a cohesive work that had some real thought and effort put into it. While it’s no 36 Chambers or Liquid Swords, it also has no business being a classic. It simply gets by being largely solid, sometimes great and overall a strong effort by Wu-Tang and co., an actual soundtrack worth returning to.