Saturday, 8 March 2003

Album Review: The W

It seems that whatever the quality of the solo albums and the many Wu-affiliated albums, when the Wu have a family get together at their hive, they seem to produce only the sweetest honey. Their debut, the hugely influential Enter The Wu Tang is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest hip hop albums ever, and its follow-up Forever, while perhaps a little long, was another classic hip hop LP. Unlike, the previous Wu Tang LPs though, The W, was released in the wake of some pretty shoddy solo albums from some of the Wu’s key players (Method Man, Gza and Raekwon). This time though the Wu have brought along a few friends (a first for a Wu group effort). Redman, Busta Rhymes, Junior Reid, Snoop Dogg, Isaac Hayes and Nas all lend their support.

After a kitsch kung-fu movie sample is dealt with, Method Man yells, “We’re Back!” at the start of Chamber Music. It’s a strangely cathartic moment, when the horror of his Tical 2000 album is washed away in an instant; and when Method Man (possibly the laziest member of the Wu around the release of The W) means business, you know the rest can’t be far behind. And indeed, they aren’t.

Perhaps due to the critical mauling most of their second solo albums took, or just because the pressure of rapping solo on every track is off, each MC is back to their best. It is Ghostface Killah, however, who most often stands out above his peers. On Protect Ya Neck, he spits, “taught y’all niggers how to rap / reimburse me.” Elsewhere, a pre-incarceration ODB is rambling more untidily than ever on, Conditioner. But for the most part this is a group effort.

Careful (Click Click) is, for me, the best Wu track since ‘CREAM’. It’s a very claustrophobic track; the eerie dungeon sounds, sleigh bells and the sound of an empty clip make it an uncomfortable listening. Those looking for something more commercial should turn their attention to Gravel Pit, the Wu’s first attempt at a truly commercial track. The 1920s swing-era opening is followed by a strangely hypnotic sample aided by Method Man’s constant, “back and forth” couplet.

The single, I Can’t Go To Sleep is horrific and beautiful at the same time and in equal measure. Again, it is Ghostface who makes the song – it is the story of black oppression over the centuries. It marks a much more mature Wu Tang we’re hearing here as Ghostface cries, “I can’t go to sleep / Feds jumping out their jeeps / I can’t go to sleep / babies with flies on their cheeks / it’s hard to go to sleep.” Rza’s string arrangement fits perfectly and he and Ghostface seem genuinely affected as they sing (yes sing, not just rap) the lyrics. The fact that neither Ghostface nor Rza’s voice can cope leaves Isaac Hayes the task of balancing the track. Hayes’ baritone is the perfect partner to Ghostface’s soprano rap and Rza’s hyperactive nonsense.

The running story of the album is the chaos, paranoia and sadness that lies at the heart of the American underbelly. Tracks such as Jah World, Let My Niggers Live and One Blood Under W highlight this perfectly. These tracks allow the Wu, more than ever, to become a cohesive unit as they paint lyrical pictures of inner-city life as an everlasting nightmare. The tracks featuring reggae singer Junior Reid, in particular, allow the Wu to become more pensive and observant than ever. Reid’s calming influence the perfect foil to the troubled rhymes of Ghostface, Gza et al.

After the lazy, uninspired works that have been emanating from the Wu hive recently, each member seems to have brought their best work to the table for The W. The Wu Tang Clan will never be the same group that released Enter The Wu Tang. How could they be? They’ve achieved their goals; they’ve become a legendary, multi-platinum selling rap act. There’s no going back from here. If this LP is the start of a new chapter for the Wu Tang Clan, let’s all hope they can continue in this form. For The W is potent reminder of just how good the Wu can be.

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