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The collective from Staten Island return after almost 8 years since their last effort, 8 Diagrams, and bring in some excellent material in their new album that confirms them as the lyrical martial artists of hip-hop. The long gestation of the album justifies the end product.
The album begins with one of the most powerful opening tracks in recent hip-hop memory, ‘Ruckus in B Minor’, co-produced by Rick Rubin. Through this track listeners already get an idea of the musical variety that is enclosed within; the aggressive drums, the orchestral-sounding arrangements introduce us to the album. In this respect RZA is at his best, as the productions here vary from rock, classical and jazz arrangements, from piano keys like in ‘Keep Watch’ to strings to horns in ‘Preacher’s Daughter’. For once there is real instrumentation present in a hip-hop album, and not computer-generated sounds, which is ideal for fans who are disillusioned with the ‘clubbing’ sounding music that is popular these days. On top of this RZA’s beats give plenty of room to all Wu-Tang members to express themselves freely. This is the case for ‘Mistaken Identity’, ‘Hold the Heater’ and ‘Crushed Egos’, where the beats for these songs are deduced to have been tailored to make each rapper stand-out. From the more well-established such as Method Man and Ghostface Killah, to the lesser known U-God and Cappadonna, all performers of this album deliver with such intensity that it’s as if their charisma was flowing out of the speakers.
Unfortunately, a few tracks are bound to leave listeners a bit perplexed. ‘40th Street Black/We Will Fight’, despite having potential, thanks to the co-production of long-time collaborator Mathematics, there is the impression that the rappers are going to a different tempo compared to the beat. ‘Miracle’, which could be best described as a mixture between a musical and a rap-opera in various movements also sounds a bit too odd for a band which is notable for their lyrical, aggressive, martial arts-like flows. For instance, Anthony Fantano squarely called it a mixture between the soundtrack of Frozen and a hip-hop track.
These small uncertainties are made up for thanks to the social commentary messages that appear on the second half of the album. On this occasion, time is taken to describe the presence of discrimination towards African-Americans in the U.S., and how this needs to change. ‘Necklace’ is there to remind us about the materialistic mind frame that pervades the American ‘ghettos’, while ‘Ron O’Neal’ sends out the message that violence can be overcome by music. The album’s title track along with ‘Never Let Go’ also points out the need for change, with passages and atmospheres that seem to come out of a rally; it should come to no surprise that fragments of ‘I Have A Dream’ are included. Lastly, ‘Wu-Tang Reunion’ is a celebratory song, where the collective take time to compliment each other for the hard work they put in the music scene in the last twenty-odd years.
Overall, this is an enjoyable album with very original sounds that are worthy to listen to. Musically and lyrically it engages with the listeners, creating a relationship where both the mind and the heart are nurtured. It is therefore bound to accommodate both die-hard fans of the group as well as newcomers who are interested in looking into the works of the veterans of the genre.