Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to f**k with. Truer words have never been spoken – go ahead and shout “Wu-Tang Clan sucks” around a group of hip-hop lovers and see what happens. I dare you. No one else in the game commands that level of respect: not Nas, not Jay-Z, not Ice Cube. What makes Staten Island’s chosen sons so untouchable? Ultimately it’s their strength in numbers; it’s absolutely insane for one group to have that many incredible MCs. From GZA’s mathematical concepts to Method Man’s blunted partying, nine (now eight) very different musicians managed to …
DJBooth Album Review
That’s exactly why Wu-Tang’s new album 8 Diagrams was one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Not only was 8 Diagrams shrouded in typical Wu-style mystery and legend, but everyone wondered if a group comprised of several successful solo artists could still hold together. The answer, in a word, is no. Reports have surfaced that there were intense disagreements over 8 Diagrams: a faction including Ghostface wanted a more hardcore sound, while a group lead by Rza pushed for a more experimental and spiritual vibe. A house divided cannot stand, and unfortunately the cracks in Wu Tang’s foundation leaves 8 Diagrams a very good, but ultimately disappointing album.
The split is not subtle. In fact the entire album divides relatively easily into tracks that fit the respective camps. The best example of the raw and rugged style that first made the crew legends is Take It Back, featuring production that mixes a pounding bass line with turntable style scratches and a heavenly backdrop, while Raekwon and Ghostface lead the lyrical charge with pavement pounding verses. It’s no C.R.E.A.M., but Take It Back is as close to classic Wu as you’re going to get. From a purely production standpoint Unpredictable is easily the toughest beat on the album, full of cinematic sound effects and violins that pierce like knife stabs in a horror flick. It’s a little strange then that Rza and Inspectah are the only MCs on the track, maybe a dream-like hook and a flat chorus had something to do with it. Apparently the best chorus they could come up with was “Wu-Tang Clan is unpredictable.” True, but the Wu is famous for their choruses (see the aforementioned “…ain’t nothing to f**k wit”) and that’s not exactly the kind of line that gets a crowd hyped.
For all the fans hoping for an album full of Take It Backs, that kind of straightforward joint is more the exception than the rule. The Wu brings in funk-founding father George Clinton for Wolves, a track that dares to combine Mexican mariachi horns, western cowboy movie samples, techo-percussion, and a Little Red Riding Hood inspired chorus. Sound insane? That’s because it is. It’s a tribute to Method Man’s versatility that he somehow makes his style fit the eclectic beat perfectly, and a sign of Rza’s production genius that he can create a cohesive track from such diverse elements. I don’t pretend to know the inner-workings of Wu (unbelievably they didn’t invite me into the studio), but indications are that Rza has largely taken control of the group, leaving some other members none too pleased. The fact that Rza has the only solo song on 8 Diagrams seems to confirm his influence, and what a strangely beautiful influence it is. Sunlight is a largely philosophical track that requires an encyclopedia and a Koran to even begin to understand: “I’ve been highly misunderstood by those who met us, they had ears of corn and heads of lettuce.” Let me know when you figure that one out.
The past decade may have stressed their artistic relationship, but it’s clear Wu Tang are still brothers when it matters most. Life Changes is a moving tribute to one of the most original MCs in hip-hop history, the departed O.D.B., that’s also the Clan’s most unified front on the album. Unfortunately truly collaborative moments like Life Changes are few and far between, meaning long time Wu fans will leave 8 Diagrams torn between a need to relive the past and desire to hear the future. Judging by 8 Diagrams shifting sound, the Clan is equally uncertain about what it means to be a Killa Bee in 2008. In the end the fractured nature of 8 Diagrams seems to sadly signal the group’s impending demise - not because they’ve fallen off, but because they’ve fallen apart.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 12/9/07
Stone Temple Music
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