Review Summary: Wu Mysterio
Masta Killa is perhaps best known in the Wu-Tang Clan for being the most unknown. Born Elgin Turner, his self-perpetuated persona of mystery, plus a lack of track time on the iconic 36 chambers, has forever placed him quite a way away from the mainstream hip-hop consciousness. For instance, I wonder if the most diehard of Wu fans know his nickname is Noodles. I did – well, after I saw it on Wikipedia, as I also cannot plead innocence; frequently was I unable to discern Masta among the Wu’s lesser known members and affiliates throughout my early clan worship. However, seeing the fellas live was a total shift in my perspective, as to my astonishment, Masta interacted with the crowd more than any other member. No wonder I couldn’t pick him out on-stage, the sheer confidence and pluck he exhibited was quite unlike the silent demeanour we associate him with – he even dropped a dialogue about NY DJ spinning with a delivery akin to some sort of hip-hop thespian. My interest was piqued, but the question of whether Masta could master (haha) his explicit passion for hip-hop on record still remained.
Enter No Said Date
, the Masta’s defining work as an solo artist. Throughout its 16 tracks, Masta voyages through themes of spirituality, existence and black empowerment – with a few witty brag statements thrown in there for good measure. The albums muddy production sound and Masta’s gruff voice (owing to his GZA tuition) gel into a sombre and contemplative aesthetic that greatly accentuate his lyrical sentiments. This reigns oh-so-true on the stunning title track, where the emotion of each individual word is stretched to the point of tears by sustained strings and further powered by a pacey beat that pumps like a ventricle. Although, no matter how heady things get, Masta’s rapping is very calm and restrained, making him sound like a humble disciple as much as he does learned scholar. This cool and collected approach also aids him when he plays the loverman on the albums handful of R&B smoothies, however, there is nothing in this plane of existence that could mask the crass crime of – “Your hormones pound, you moan with passion, Uterus contracting, time for some action”. Yuck.
Aside from the Masta Killa’s core motifs, the usual Wu tricks of the trade are all here: kung-fu movie soundbites, gritty east coast beats, a couple skits and phone-a-friend verses from the other clan members (managing to get all 9 on the record during a time of division, impressive). But occasionally, Masta goes his own way, resulting in some more vibrant moments. “School” features the album’s only beat switch-up, which doesn’t sound too radical, but given the no-nonsense approach Masta applies to his song-writing, the raunchy 1-2 beat switch-up is quite the head-turner. On “Digi Warfare”, Masta plunges into the depths of hip-hop origins with robotic voices and cheddar cheese synths that reek of the now disgraced Afrika Bambaataa. Although, it’s on “Old Man” where Masta strays most from his sense of control and restraint – provoked by none other than the Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The track is quite wacky, featuring a highway rock instrumental stabbed by ODB’s garbled rants about dogs and his ideal burger construction.
It’s a shame that Masta’s self-imposed exile from the flashing lights have this project breathing in the fertile soils of the underground, as although clearly not the best Wu project around, it is undoubtedly a strong contender. Who can blame the guy though, I for one can’t coexist in the same house with more than 4 of my friends without becoming a neurotic asshole – the prospect of any sort of fame-based attention chills me (not prophesising anything of course). But maybe it’s the mystery that makes this album just that more attractive, giving it a sense of exclusivity and intimacy that allows it to stand out from any other clan venture; considering that moments on here I would usually consider filler strike a chord with me. This album came to be because Masta wanted it to share with us, and not, at the hands of a record label’s schedule. Hence the name, “No Said Date”.