Monday, 15 December 2014

Wu Tang Clan - A better tomorrow album review

In late 1993 The Wu-Tang Clan unleashed their debut 12", "Protect Ya Neck" Bw "Method Man" on an unsuspecting Hip-Hop world and with the help of Nas brought back hardcore Hip Hop to New York after its long hiatus on the West Coast.  From there the Wu Tang Clan went onto own the 90s as far as Hip Hop was concerned with two group albums (One of them a double and it really was a double, not a single with a shitload of filler), more than fourteen solo albums, countless guest spots, soundtrack appearances and also side projects like Gravediggaz and The Redman and Method Man collaboration Blackout.  It is easy to forget how powerful the Wu-Tang Clan were in the nineties; artists never game themselves Mafioso pseudonyms until the Wu Tang came along, everyone was scrabbling to get a guest spot from anyone even closely associated to the Wu-Tang, they were independent before it was cool to be independent and that dusty distorted production was frowned upon until it was Rza behind the boards 
Then came the noughties and thing slowed down with only Ghostface consistently releasing strong projects.  Meth was off acting and Rza was more concerned with scoring films than producing Wu-Bangas.  When albums did drop they didn't have enough Rza production and too many tracks produced by Rza's acolytes and non Clan guest spots.  Yes one or two of them still went gold and even platinum in the case of The W.  However by the time we got to 8 Diagrams they weren't even going gold.  Compare this to Wu-Tang Forever which went 8XPlatinum.  I understand that sales is not an indication of a good album but it is an indication of however interested the fanbase is in the group.  As the late noughties arrived so did a resurgence in the Wu-Tang lead by Ghostface and Raekwon.  Ghost had not stopped releasing interesting projects all along using outside production from the likes of MF Doom, Jay-Dee, No ID, K-Def, Nottz, Just Blaze, Pete Rock, Adrian Younge,m Scram Jones and Jake One amongst others to ensure his sound stayed fresh and relevant.  Raekwon came back with a nice dose of nostalgia that took quite some time to deliuver but was awesome when it did drop, Only Built for Cuban Linx part 2.  That was swiftly followed up by Wu-Massacre which had Method Man joining Rae and Ghost, which was a very dope album.
Soon after this talk began of a new Wu-Tang Clan album.  There were disputes and arguments along the way but it appears they have been laid to rest and the group has managed to produce a full album (I'm not going to discuss the other ridiculously priced one of a kind album).  So this is my review of that album.  I will go over each song individually, all fifteen of them.
The album starts off with "Ruckus in B Minor" which is produced by The Rza and Rick Rubin and comes in at five minutes and twenty five second.  It begins with a Raekwon samples followed by and ODB sample telling us that we're "Going to love this".  This is a great track featuring all nine members and although its not a "Triumph" or "Protect Ya Neck" it is a step in the right direction.  It has a hard hitting beat that changes tempo a number of times throughout.  It has Rza's fingerprints all over it but some of the hard guitar and cymbals sound like Rubin's ideas.   There are some lovely strings and scratches throughout that add character to the track.  Meth throws in some nice ad libs and once again sounds like he did before he changed his style back when he did that Riddler track.  However lyrically all of the Clan sound hungry on this one, even Rae and Gza who have the parts of the song where the beat slows down.  But it still works despite the complexity of the music and the different styles of the lyricists.
The second track is called "Felt" and is almost the exact opposite of the first.  It starts off with a terrible Rza monologue over a double time beat.  there is a nice guitar sample that may it may have been possible to turn into a good track but this isn't it.  Rather than allow the lyricists to shine someone (namely The Rza) asked some low rent lyricists to get on board as if things weren't bad enough.  Skip this track.
The third track is called "40th Street Black / We Fight" and is an interesting upbeat track produced by Mathematics with The Rza taking a co production credit.  The beat sounds like it was made on an old dusty 808 and is totally stripped down with a nice vocal sample.  The track features INS, Deck, Meth, Gza, Cappadonna, someone who's name I cant place and The Rza all rapping with their foot on the accelerator.  It works and it sounds like it was made in a basement on a very tight budget and because of that it works.
Track four is "Mistaken Identity" which starts off with some anonymous crooner singing about going home.  Fortunately the singing dies and the end of the introduction and a nice off kilter piano sample comes in over some crisp snares. The lyricists spin tales of Mistaken Identity and the consequences.  Good old fashioned Wu storytelling.  Theres also a nice bass guitar sample in there somewhere that works well along with the occasional cymbal. This is a decent track not a major banga' but an album track off one of the better solo Wu albums.
As we reach the end of the first third of the album we get to "Hold the Heater" a mid tempo track with a shouty chorus.  The beat features a nice guitar loop that is somewhat under utilised and by that I mean its a good loop but would sound better on a Mobb Deep track rather than this one.  Meth continues to have somewhat of a renaissance returning to his older style that he used on the original 36 Chambers and Tical. 
The sixth track is a short one called "Crushed Egos" but its a real nice one featuring Raekwon over an ominous beat that could have easily been on one of his more successful solo joints.  In fact he is the only one rapping on this two and half minute track apart from The Rza who drops the third verse.  I like this mid tempo track that appears to be some sort of reconciliation to show Rae and Rza are in fact friends, perhaps the titles alludes to this.  Its a good track albeit kinda short but it works.  It's produced by The Rza and Adrian Younge who produced that Ghostface album last year, "12 reasons to die".  It has some nice tight snares and a good strings sample that sounds like it may have been lifted from a Western soundtrack.  This is a good but short track that I enjoyed.
The seventh track is called "Keep Watch" and is reminiscent of classic Wu joint; a off key piano loop, with some nice crisp drums and a haunting soul vocal sample.  Meth kicks of the track continuing his trend of traditional Meth rhymes.  As Meth finishes the first verse the song suddenly goes from being a possible banga to a disappointment with the inclusion of some rubbish soul singing for the chorus provided by Nathaniel.  It adds absolutely nothing to the song and only detracts from being a good Hip Hop track into a sad play for radio air time which it will not get because of the rhymes.  Deck, Gza and some other members of the Wu rhyme but they are overshadowed by the wack singing. Mathematics produces this one. Underwhelming at best.
At just past the half way mark of this album things are not looking good and the eighth track "Miracle" only send the album further into a dismal abyss of mediocrity. It starts off with some second rate JoJo or K-Ci telling us that we need a miracle via the medium of poorly sung lyrics.  Then the beat starts and its a decent orchestral beat with strings and cymbals.  Lyrically it works as various members of the Wu tell tales of street life in their own style.  However the JoJo rip off from the intro returns in between each verse reminding us of the poor choices made by the songs producer or even the group as a whole.  The producer by the way is that serial offender of Wu mediocrity, 4th Disciple with a Rza co production credit.
Up until this point the album was at it's worst mediocre but with track nine the album goes beyond that into cheap, offensive rip offs.  Track nine is called "Preacher's daughter" and it rips off the Dusty Springfield classic, "Son of a Preacher man" completely.  It really makes no difference how good the lyricists are on this track because the track itself is terrible.  The Rza takes full responsibility for this aberration.  If you were to take the rhymes out and drop them over a nice Doom beat or some Pete Rock track it would be fine probably even good but the underlying beat detracts from the skilled emcees.  It has a guitar sample with some horns directly replayed following the style of the original.  As if the poor use of sampling wasn't bad enough they have decided to have members of the Wu singing a terrible chorus.  Avoid at all costs.
Track ten is called "Pioneer the Frontier" and is produced by The Rza.  It starts off with some nice marches drums and a nice horns sample with cuts from various Wu joints over the year.  Rza starts off with some softly spoken rhymes with some simple but nice scratches in the background.  The horns sample is reminiscent of a Godzilla sound track sample.  INS and Deck follow The Rza on the mic.  All round the track sounds ominous and suspicious due mainly to the horns sample and the various Wu samples in the background.  Its a nice Wu track, not a major attention grabber but a good album track which has some nice ODB sample scratches towards the end of it.  One of the better tracks on the album.
Track eleven is called "Necklace" and is produced by 4th Disciple.  A slow track with a dark double bass sample with what sounds like a g├╝iro loop (one of those pieces of wood with notches on it that you run a stick along to create a ratchet like sound) dropping in sporadically.  Its a dark track with Cappadonna, Raekwon, Ghostface and Gza dropping dark rhymes over a track inter cut with a vocal sample saying "Brother I think that necklace is causing you trouble" that sounds like it was taken from a James Cagney gangster movie.  I really like this track its dark and gritty with a nice use of samples and loops by 4Th Disciple.
"Ron O'Neal" is the 12th track on a "A Better Tomorrow" and again is entirely produced by The Rza. The beat has a nice bass sample over what sounds like live drums.  Meth starts things off with a nice verse and is followed quickly by Deck who also shows he still has skills.  But then the hook comes in and yes its another wack soul singer crooning again before Ghostface grabs the mic.  One more chance to hear the boring hook before The Rza grabs the mic.  A fairly decent track ruined by another weak hook sung by some soul singer.  Do they think that putting a singer on it will get them radio play?  I really don't see how putting that soul singer on track helps either them or the singer.
"A Better Tomorrow" is the thirteenth track of the album and it is The Rza behind the boards again.  The beat is faster than most of the album and is uplifting featuring a nice piano loop and some lovely strings.  Lyrically the emcees are in a brighter place than the rest of the album.  Yes there is singing on this joint but it adds to the track and does not detract from it like the previous tracks on the album. I like this track.  I'm not sure who the male vocalist is but the female is Tekhitha who has been on a number of Wu tracks over the years.  Its a nice uplifting track with some decent singing for the hook.
The penultimate track of this album is another one produced by The Rza called "Never let go".  Again the drums on this sound live rather than sampled, not a bad thing as they work well with the horns samples.  All emcees resent nicely although Rza's verse sounded somewhat unenthusiastic as if it was being read rather than rhymed.  Again there is some singing for the hook, its not that bad is probably the best I can say about it but it would put me off listening to it again.
Onto the final track of the album, "Wu Tang reunion" which is produced by The Rza.  Its an upbeat joint with a fun xylophone sample and some nice 808 drums.  Again they insist on someone singing the chorus but this time it practically takes over the whole track leaving only space for three verses.  The track had promise and being called "Wu Tang Reunion" gave me hope it was going to be another nine emcee bang instead we get three of them and a whole lot of singing.
I had such high hopes for this album, I honestly thought that having The Rza back behind the boards would solve a lot of the issues their previous group albums had.  I was wrong the worst tracks on this album had The Rza's name down as producer.  Lyrically They all still showed considerable skills, although at times some of them seemed a little disinterested.  However what was so damming about this was the unnecessary singing and that terrible track "Preacher's daughter".  The inclusion of weak sung choruses add absolutely nothing to the album and only served to put me off listening to it again. Out of the fifteen tracks on the album I only gave six of them four or more stars and only one of them got a five.  Ultimately disappointing, in fact it doesn't even come close to my least favourite  Ghostface solo album.  In fact theres a new Ghostface album I will be reviewing a next and I'd almost bet money that will be a better album.

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