Tuesday, 21 January 2003

Album Review: Liquid Swords

Seeing as the Wu Tang seem to be doing all that they can to tarnish their reputation, it's worth looking back at some of the albums that helped them forge their near-mythical stature. Liquid Swords is my favourite Wu Tang release - superceeding even, their debut The 36 Chambers.

Genius is often overlooked in favour of more visible members of The Wu such as Method Man and Ol Dirty Bastard - but when it comes to word play there are few better MCs around than the Genius. The LP begins with the title track, and to this day, there are few better examples of an MC at the top of his game. The track hops along to the sound of Willie Mitchell's soul classic Groovin, while Gza's rapping is so laid back and cool that the listener almost fails to acknowledge Gza's braggadocio ("I don't waste ink, nigger I think / I drop mega-ton bombs more faster than you blink.") It isn't the last time Gza is caught bragging; the album buzzes with bravado ("Check these non-visual niggers with tapes and a portrait / trying to orbit this corporate industry / but what them niggers can't see / must break through like the Wu unexpectedly." - Shadowboxin) but for once, this arrogance is not misplaced. On'Liquid Swords Gza is every bit as good as he thinks he is.

Another example of Gza's superior skill comes on the track Labels. Gza incorporates the name of almost every record label into his rhyme with absolute success. He tried a similar trick later in his career with the track Fame (from his most recent album Legend Of The Liquid Sword), it works better here however. Rza should also be congratulated on this track in particular for some innovative production.

Gza also proves he's a master storyteller on Killah Hills 10304, positioning himself as a rap Johnny Cash. Once again the subject is nothing new (a tale of organised crime), but Gza's delivery is superb, he spits, "The sharpshooters hit the prosecutors / Judges are sent photographs of their wives taking baths / along with briefcase filled with 1.5 / that's the bribe, take it or commit suicide."

The album is interspersed with snippets from samurai b-movie classic Shogun Assassin. Nowadays, the use of movie samples is nothing out of the ordinary - but it was revolutionary in 1995, and it helps to give the album a mythic quality. Credit should also go to Rza for his typically sparse production.

It truly is a landmark album, and as good a hip hop album as you will ever hear. It's real shame that the follow up Beneath The Surface was so woefully subpar. His latest release Legend Of The Liquid Sword is a step back in the right direction, but Gza will have to go someway to topping this.

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