Tuesday, 18 February 2003

Album Review: Hits

Greatest hits collections always divide opinion amongst fans, and surely no two Wu fans will agree on the final track listing. Where for example is the awesome Glaciers Of Ice from Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx LP or Labels from Liquid Swords or Daytona 500 from Ironman? The release of Hits serves a dual purpose. Firstly and most importantly, it reminds long-time fans how good the Wu used to be. An unfortunate by-product of this is that it is a constant reminder of how bad they have become.

The first two tracks, Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit and Protect Ya Neck are two of the most essential hip hop tracks ever released. Both are lifted from the Wu's debut LP Enter The 36 Chambers, which is held up to be one of the finest hip hop LPs ever released. The other group track lifted from Enter The 36 Chambers is unsurprisingly, C.R.E.A.M. These three tracks more than any others highlight the pass the mic urgency that has been missing ever since their debut release.

Elsewhere, each of the mainstay Wu members get two album tracks included, except for some strange reason, the Gza, who's first major LP Liquid Swords is regarded as perhaps the finest solo Wu release. It would've made sense to give two tracks from each album. It also seems odd that Cappadonna and Killah Priest's albums don't get a look in. One Step by Killah Priest was one of the Wu's more commercially successful singles in the UK so it seems odd that it has been omitted. What is left on the collection, however, is pure quality.

ODB's two tracks hold no surprises. The first, Shimmy Shimmy Ya was for a long time the essential ODB track, it's probably safe to say that Got Your Money has now surpassed it in the public conscience. His other addition is Brooklyn Zoo another of the stand out tracks from his wild LP 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. Compared to his later work ODB sounds very sober on these tracks, and he now slurs incoherently, his work on these two tracks is highly impressive.

The Raekwon tracks Incarcerated Scarfaces and Ice Cream hold no major surprises. Wu Gambinos aside, Incarcerated Scarfaces is probably the essential Raekwon track, and is a great demonstration of his rap / Mafioso patter. Ice Cream, meanwhile is Raekwon's salute to women. The Wu don't do romantic, this is about as close as it gets.

Method Man's signature track Method Man is the fourth track lifted from Enter The 36 Chambers. His other two tracks come from his solo debut Tical. The inclusion of both Bring The Pain and All I Need should surprise nobody. It is perhaps Method Man whose style has deteriorated the most over the years - these tracks remind fans of the talent he once held.

Ghostface Killah's included tracks may cause the most controversy. Daytona 500 is widely regarded to be the standout track from Ironman; its exclusion seems strange, certainly when the fairly bland Winter Warz is included instead. All That I Got Is You(featuring Mary J Blige) remains a touching record.

The new track Wu Wear is essentially an advert for the Wu's fashion label and contains the almost subliminal chorus, "Ain't what you want baby / it's what you need baby." It isn't a very good track anyway, but it stands out as particularly poor when in such illustrious company. The notion of the Wu Tang prostituting their clothing label is a million miles away from the days when they sold CDs out of car boots to try to get a deal.

Rza's narrations serve almost as a director's commentary from a DVD, new comers to the Wu might not appreciate them, but I found some insight could be gleaned from his comments. He more than justifies each track's inclusion as well. Particularly interesting is the fact that Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit was originally recorded by Ghostface and Method Man and called Who The F' Are You?

The lack of any tracks from Forever doesn't go unnoticed, although it could simply be that a second Hits collection will eventually be released containing tracks from the second round of albums. It is certain that volume two won't be anywhere near this standard. It's one of the most essential hip hop collections ever. Wu completists will want it for the unreleased track Wu Wear: The Garment Renaissance which sadly is pretty poor. Anyone unfamiliar with the Wu will find Hits an essential starting point for their collection. Every track on this collection (bar the last one) is as essential now as the day it was originally released.

No comments: