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Monday, December 22, 2014

[2014 Review] WU-TANG CLAN - "A Better Tomorrow"

Wu-Tang Clan and D.I.T.C. are my absolute favorite crews, or even artists,so a new group album from either is big news for me. While the Wu's seventh and probably final album has been the object of a lot of harsh critiscm from plenty of hip-hop fans, the press has been a lot kinder to it (jsut like with the shighly underrated "8 Diagrams"). Hip hop fans main complaint about the new project seems to be as simple as they don't think it sounds like a Wu album, mainly focusing on positivity in the lyrics, while complaining about RZA's production sounding "too soft" compared to earlier work. On a personal level I don't find that either of those complaints applies at all to the album for me. In fact, compared to "8 Diagrams" much of this sounds a whole lot more like vintage Wu-Tang music, yet it's also something totally different. A new chamber if you will... One thing that I really dig is that the majority of the Clan sound really on the same page here, unlike on their previous release where I got the impression that RZA had recorded lyrics, changed around beats and used their voices as another instrument without their "consent" if you will. The production is a lot more soulful, incorporating a lot of live instrumentation, but as always RZA refuses to repeat himself as every Clan album so far has sounded very different from one another.

Now don't get me wrong, this sure as hell ain't the perfection found on the first six Wu-Tang Clan solos, Ghost's "Supreme Clientele" and "The W" (not to mention "Wu Forever" and "36 Chambers"). But those are like some of the best albums ever recorded, so i don't know how you could expect them represing that feat again. But for me who grew up on The Wu, there words through the years almost working as a home education, I think it's nothing short of a blessing to hear a new Wu-Tang Clan album featuring (mostly) energized performances and certain displays of that classic chemistry over new RZA beats  21 years after their debut. Most of our beloved emcees does not sound as hungry here, but they bring a certain energy to the table and some well written verses that's right up there with some of their best in recent years. Especially GZA, who appears on six of the LP:s fifteen tracks stands out as absolutely captivating whenever he drops; check his verse on "Necklace" for something really astounding. Reminding us why he's considered The Genius, he often takes the approach of his announced "Dark Matters" projects where he writes from a perspective of hard science, and it's often very impressive. What's so great about The Wu is that nine talented rhymers with different styles and different approaches to writing come together like voltron which always makes for a fascinating listen. There's however a bunch of questionable, or straight up corny lyrics here and there ("Might not have nailed here/ but I can tell you how spooing felt" by Meth on the otherwise excellent 'Felt' might be the most mindblowing example). There's plenty of great verses from other generals as well, Raekwon who only appears on a handful of tracks straight up kills it, Inspectah Deck and Ghostface's performances on "Miracle" is unbelivable and Masta Killa and U-God rips whatever track they are put on. Another thing that's very welcome is the amount of members appearing on the majority of the songs, a step up from the many duo and trio tracks on the previous group effort.

As with any Wu album, the lyrical beastery is of course only half the story though. I'm a big fan of the group's three first albums as well as "8 Diagrams" so the majority of RZA's production steez for his Wu brethren has always been superb to me, yet always also different. It's like with the chambers they like to talk about - this is by far a very different approach from The RZA than what he utilized on "8D". Gone are the slow moving, dark psychadelically creeping atmosphere, in turn of an album that takes it back to a time in hip-hop when beats would have you amped without being too hardcore. Masta Killa compared the production to a New Birth record, and in a way "A Better Tomorrow" sees the group coming full circle. While on "Enter The Wu-Tang" RZA went hard with the Stax catalouge, creating some extremely memorable tracks from the classic Soul label. For "A Better Tomorrow" he actually invited some of the original artists to play and/or put their input on tracks, and much of it definitely has a murky '70s and '60s blaxploatation vibe to them. It's obvious that RZA's been heavily influenced by the "Chamber Music" and "Legendary Weapons" albums put out a couple of years back that was filled with live instrumentation played in such a way that it sounded like sampled records. One of RZA's strongest feats as an album producer (to me the best that ever was no matter how many wack albums he would end turning in) has always been his ear for sequencing and making sure you get a full listening experience. This one could works well both at an afterparty or experienced in a good set of headphones at home. And he isn't above letting other people contribute as long as it's dope. On "Iron Flag" they had outside producers like Nick Fury Loftin and The Trackmasters, both decent songs, but they didn't have anything to do on a Wu-Tang Clan album. The other producers invited to work on this are more in the line of what the Wu is about. The greatest suprise is the return of 4th Disciple, perhaps one of the most underrated producers of all time, who hasn't worked with the Wu since '99. His input here results in two of the albums best records, the heartfelt "Miracle" (one of my personal favorites along with "Never Let Go", two tracks which both seems to be real love it or hate it record) and the vintage grime of "Necklace". Let's hope this means 4th will be working on future solo projects from the Clan.

In conclusion, I need to stress that this is an album that has its fair share of flaws, yet at the time it is also my most played LP, and I pretty much always give it the front-to-back spin. When talking flaws there's some song concepts that just don't work for me; the most obvious example being "Preacher's Daughter", which despite great storytelling comes off as clichéd and uninteresting. The same can be said about "Wu-Tang Reunion" which is a decent song, but should be left as a B-side or promotional single - not to mention it's been out for over years, literally unchanged. Also while most of the beats are right up my alley I can't stand a large amounts of the R&B hooks. RZA's misconception seems to be that if you're a "real musician" you need to have a hook and a singer on there (read the "Wu-Manual" if you don't know what that "real musician" quote are about). Still I stongly recommend this album - I think it's one that will be a lot more apperciated once the smoke has settled. You can order your copy from and many other sites.

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