I wanted to like this album. I wanted to love this album. I wanted it to be the most important record of 2014. Needless to say, judging by the intro to this review you just read, none of these things happened. It was clear from the early turmoil that fans were made aware of, with Raekwon and RZA sparring in the press about creative differences. Even judging from the singles that have dropped, it’s clear that RZA is more interested in giving Wu-Tang fans what he thinks they want as opposed to what we need, which is vintage Wu. We live in a time where the rap game is positioned squarely in the lobby of a W hotel and what we need to see again is rap living in the pissy stairwell depicted in ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo” visual. That darkness and edge is missing for most of A Better Tomorrow, with zen master RZA presiding over the boards.
Surprisingly, it’s Cappadonna who, to me, comes with some of the most consistent verses, displaying the same kind of energy he did on his first few appearances with the Clan. Similarly, Method Man, GFK and a noticeably absent Raekwon put in decent work. Even U-God holds his own alongside Deck and GZA, but it isn’t the rhymes that are a problem here, aside from having to endure hearing Method Man mention being “turnt up“, which made me nauseous. The problem is the realization that RZA’s vision for the album got in the way of what could have been a solid album. What Raekwon described as RZA wanting to do “a more humble album” led to Tomorrow being an album where tastemakers concede to trends set by upstarts, following a pattern designed to attract the young whippersnappers instead of making some authentic hip-hop and letting it feed whoever was willing to partake.
Unfortunately, more than half of the album has little to no replay value, even as a Wu fan. The better portion of the album are mostly tracks that aren’t even produced by RZA (Adrian Younge’s “Crushed Egos” and 4th Disciple’s “Necklace”). Other tracks are plagued with failed attempts at nuance. While awkwardly sung vocals are a Wu staple, the choruses they tried to shoehorn onto Tomorrow are amazingly bad, making me wonder where the hell Tekitha, Blue Raspberry or even Popa Wu were for the recording of this album. For example, the vocals on “Miracle” seem like a joke. It’s even worse on “Ron O’Neal”: “No matter what the weather, we be gettin’ that cheddar, so…” SERIOUSLY?!?! These rap vets really just gave us a hook rhyming weather and cheddar?!? I don’t know if I can also explain how awful the singer is in words, so I’ll just say that if it was a smell, it would closely mimic that of used earring backs.
It’s hard to admit that we may not ever see another Wu-Tang Forever, but it’s true; at this point, there’s just too much of a disconnect between the artists involved to expect a beneficial chemistry to occur. Despite the pre-release marketing ploys and the big talk, A Better Tomorrow is a forgettable album. Unfortunately, Wu-Tang may not be forever (but judging by 36 Seasons, Ghostface Killah is).