[Review] A Better Tomorrow :: Wu-Tang Clan

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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).

Album Reaction:

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Execution In Autumn :: Wu-Tang Clan

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The Wu-Tang Clan is clearly not trying to come up off of any freebies.  Though this is touted as a “customer appreciation” offering, it’s listed on Bandcamp as a “pay-what-you-feel” purchase and not on Soundcloud or anything as a free download.  In addition, I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts regarding this limited-edition upcoming Wu-Tang album that RZA claims he’s been receiving offers in the millions for.  This is saddening.  Wu-Tang, to me, is supposed to be of the people and fans have been trusting in the Wu to bring back the initial excitement for quite some time.  Most fans don’t have millions or even hundreds to spend on a CD, so who is the Wu catering to here?  It seems to me that the Wu is falling for the okey-doke and placing business tactics and publicity stunts ahead of the art and giving back to the fans.  Why not simply release an album out of nowhere like Beyonce did and crush the Internet?  Though it will be available digitally on iTunes, only one physical copy available to those who can pay for it seems a little bit elitist.  Here’s to hoping that the album, once it’s made available to “regular people”, is actually good.

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Iyanla: Fix My Wu-Tang

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So I recently purchased a Wu-Tang hoodie online and I regret to say that I had to just sit it down in a corner and just kind of glare at it for about a week before finally putting it on today.  Had to put the Wu-Tang hoodie on punishment.  This was brought about by Ghostface Killah’s recent appearance on VH1’s Couples Therapy.  Now you’ve heard me discuss before how I feel about rappers on reality shows, but there’s a big difference between watching Consequence fall victim to the trappings of reality TV “stardom” and watching the special place that the Wu holds in my heart be diminished by having to watch key members acting a donkey on reality television.  This, mind you, is after a string of disappointments…moments I felt were obvious reaches for mainstream (read: the yute’dem) relevance years after the classic Wu-Tang Forever was released.

If you’re a regular reader of Front-Free, you don’t even have to ask me how I felt about Drake’s so-called ode to the Wu-Tang Clan, which to me seemed like a ploy to attract the ire of fans of the Wu who would naturally be averse to Aubrey’s style of rap-singering.  What was worse than that was the Wu’s support of the song, an obvious attempt to remain relevant and diplomatic within the current rap game, where most fans are too young to remember the significance of the classic purple tape, let alone “Protect Ya Neck”.  Nobody wants to be that old rapper who seems unreceptive to the new crop of rappers, but it’s admirable when you feel the authenticity in it, as opposed to Raekwon acting as if he plays Justin Beiber music in the whip when asked about his working with the pop star.  There aren’t enough woo blunts in the world to make me believe that was genuine props and not Rae trying to avoid burning any potentially lucrative bridges.

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It’s a common misconception that one cannot or should not knock the hustle.  I think it’s very important to knock the hustle when it conflicts with who a person or entity represents.  Keeps things honest.  Naturally, Wu-Tang’s first LP was a long, long time ago in hip-hop years and a group that large is certain to grow apart and begin to have their own individual goals and ways of thinking after years and years of success and experience.  Method Man, for example, has been his own separate brand apart from the Wu for years, to the point his caricature-of-himself persona exists almost completely independent of his contributions to the whole.  But Ghostface joining the ranks of Joe Budden, Consequence, Li’l Scrappy and Benzino on the washed-up-rapper cavalcade that is currently VH1’s prime-time programming is just the last straw…and a wake-up call to fans that the Wu will never be the same…and not in the “oh they’re evolving” sense.  It could have all been so simple: build an amazing brand in hip-hop (check).  Release classic group albums that are true to said brand (check).  Release classic solo efforts that are also true to said brand (check).  Continue on in your careers remaining true to the brand and staying true to the core fans who got you this far and other fans will come (now this is where it gets iffy).

In closing, the Wu-Tang Clan have a catalog so impressive collectively that I could never totally give up my Wu-fan roots.  Raekwon and Ghostface are still both in my top five MCs list, even if one is going the VH1 route and the other may do some questionable features here and there.  At the end of the day, though, a true fan doesn’t just eat up anything an artists serves them with a smile on their face.  As with hip-hop itself, you’ve got to be in love with the art-form/culture enough to want better for it.  I just want better for the Wu.

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Drake And Wu-Tang Collaboration?

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I knew the Wu had changed up when Raekwon was featuring on Justin Beiber songs, but this takes the cake.  Wu-Tang has recently been confirmed to have a collaboration in the works with one of the rappers who personifies the kind of rappers RZA was railing against on the intro skit to the epic Wu-Tang Forever.  Drake appears to be paying homage to the title and group (the song from his forthcoming album samples “It’s Yourz”) without actually having listened to the message behind it…meanwhile, what remains of the Wu-Tang is clearly willing to sacrifice its own principles for an opportunity to appeal to the “rap & bullshit” set.  Inspectah Deck took to Twitter to disagree with the original song, which Wu-Tang is expected to remix:

A dark day in hip-hop, my friends. 

“…Knahmsayin I want to give y’all a little announcement man
For the last year there’s been a lot of music comin out
The shit been weak, knowhatI’msayin?
A lot of niggas trying to take hip-hop
And make that shit R&B, rap and bullshit yaknowhatI’msayin?
Or make that shit funk
Fuck that, this is MCin right here, this is hip-hop
Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang gonna bring it to you in the purest form…”

– RZA

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[Vintage Goods] Drunken Master Freestyles x Ol’ Dirty Bastard

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It’s hard to describe to the uninitiated what the draw is when it comes to the one-man army Ason Unique, also known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard of the Wu-Tang Clan.  Why try?  If you can dig it, you probably pressed play before you read any of this anyway.  The man really did manage to introduce an inimitable drunken master flow that could never be copied and still hasn’t successfully been imitated to this day.  Originality.  Rest in power, ODB.

BONUS: Rare Freestyle (1995)  I believe this was a freestyle along with Buddha Monk and the Brooklyn Zoo team (ODB starts at about 7 minutes in), with Pete Rock on the boards.

BONUS: Hot 97 Funkmaster Flex Show “Broken Language” Freestyle (1995)

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[Vintage Goods] Run x Cappadonna

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People seem to either hate or love Cappadonna.  Personally, I’ve always thought his boisterous, emotional delivery was a nice touch of added energy to the Wu dynamic and in particular to the Raekwon and Ghostface chemistry.  “Run” remains one of my favorite joints by him and probably one of my favorite songs from the Wu umbrella (joints by Wu-Tang as a group, solo members, and all affiliated acts) in general.  Peep how enthusiastic Cap gets on this one…he really doesn’t want you getting arrested.  Classic material and a damn good piece of advice.

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