Meanwhile, the undisputed greatest rap group of-all time, The "Motherfucking" Wu-Tang Clan has complained, bitched at, and bickered with each other more than any "Will They Or Won't They" obnoxious T.V. couple on some cute detective show drama. For a long-suffering Wu-Tang stan like myself, it's been hell. As much as I loved those Ghostface records, liked those GZA/DJ Muggs and Masta Killa records, tolerated that Raekwon record, and out right loathed those fucking Method Man records, all I really wanted was for Wu-Tang to get their act together, stop bitching about royalties that long ago got spent on RZA's invention of the Serato and dust habits and just make a fucking album and save hip hop from its inevitable horrific "infant-being tossed-into-some-spinning -lawnmower-blades-style" demise. Was that too much to ask? Apparently so, since the Wu couldn't even get it together for three years after Ol' Dirty Bastard's tragic overdose on everything that can be found in a CVS pharmacy plus Cristal.
However, all that has passed us and finally, The "Motherfucking" Wu-Tang Clan has come back to the faithful and their new album, 8 Diagrams, is finally upon us. Because the Wu-Tang can't do anything without somebody acting like my younger brother throwing a tantrum when he was four years old over me not letting play with my toys, their have been grumblings all through out the process to make this album. Earlier this summer, Ghostface was apparently refusing to grace the album with his presence because he disliked RZA's new shoes or something. Soon after, Raekwon apparently felt the need to bitch Miss Info on her website that RZA's beats were ruining the new album as if Mr. Immobilarity had a leg to stand on these days. Things weren't looking too good for the new album.
Well now, the record is here so what's the verdict. Is it the "shit sandwich" as the esteemed Byron Crawford suggested or is the classic that the nuthouse over at SOHH.com's message boards have been suggesting. Well....honestly...8 Diagrams is...a really, really confusing record. I'm truly and deeply at loss to make of it. It's at once wildly and totally disappointing and at the same time, somewhat oddly brilliant despite of it. It's as if RZA threw away everything that made the Wu-Tang sound great in the first place and said to himself "36 Chambers was under-produced. Nobody likes hard drums and finger snaps! What people want is orchestra strings, lots of bass and guitars! You know, I'm gonna produce this record as if I'm Kanye West and fly over everyone's head. Rock Critics Will Love Me! And more U-God! Definitely, more U-God!" Needless to say, that is gonna disappoint their core audience but at the same time, RZA's creating something new and kind of extraordinary. I just can't tell if I like it.
Lyrically, the Clan is on point (or as close to on point they'll ever be again) as usual. Meth sounds more inspired than he has been in years even if he on occasion still kicks a line as Papoosian as "I'm tryna bring the sexy back like Timbaland and Timberlake." Ghost, the Best Rapper Alive if we are going by the retarded Weezian "Let's Pretend Rakim isn't alive" standard, easily kicks the verse of the year (with all due respects to Dre 3000 on "International Player's Anthem") on "The Heart Gently Weeps" and anytime, his voice is heard on the song it instantly makes the song one hundred times better. GZA, Deck, MK, and Raekwon all do their thing even if they aren't quite the rappers that they used to be. They are still head and shoulders above the Short Bus Brigade that populates modern lyricism today. Surprisingly though, the rapper who turns in this albums most surprising performace is U-God (of all people!!!) on this album. U-God sounds like a man possessed and turns in the verse of his life on the George Clinton featuring "Wolves", the album's far and away best track. U-God is all over this album. If 36 Chambers was Meth and ODB's album, Wu-Tang Forever was Raekwon's and Deck's album, and The W was Ghostface's and RZA's, (and Iron Flag is....um, Masta Killa's or possibly the Contract Fulfillment Clause's album) than 8 Diagrams is U-God's. And honestly, while U-God turns in the best work of his life, that's part of the problem. U-God is just not the emcee that the others are in the group and if he is on the lionshare of the album than you are
going to have a problem. The album severely lacks from Ghost's lack of participation as he only shows up on about four songs and then disappears completely from the second half of the disc where it starts to lag. Ghost doesn't even bother to lend a verse to the somewhat underwhelming ODB tribute "Life Changes." Some of these songs scream out for a Ghostface verse as in some respects, he is the only member of the Clan that can channel ODB's chaotic comedy that helped soften the blow of the raw lyricism and death threats of the other. It's no suprise that the best songs on the album ("The Heart Gently Weeps", "Campfire" & "Get Em Out Your Way, Pa") are songs that Ghost is involved in. He's the best emcee in the Clan these days and if RZA was smart, he should've paid all the royalties he allegedly bilked from Ghost plus interest plus given him the patent to the Serato in order to get him on the lionshare of this album.
Ultimately, the album's biggest problem is the production. The problem is that it's not bad per se but it's just not Wu-Tang. Raekwon is right in the sense that the Wu-Tang sound isn't violins and guitars (no matter how dark and menacing they might be) but gutteral soul samples and drums that beat the shit out of you. RZA's production sounds too polished for a Wu-Tang record. It misses that crunch and hiss of 36 Chambers and the first run of solo LPs and honestly, that's what people love about the Wu-Tang. The harder than hell production. The production, however, un-Wu-Tang it actually is - is actually pretty damn good if you completely strip it off its context. It has a very dark and cinematic quality to it as it sounds like the musical cousin to RZA's work on the Kill Bill soundtrack. It kind of sounds like the weirder parts of The W and
Wu-Tang Forever first disc but it's not exactly the Wu-Tang sound and it leaves you feeling disappointed considering some of the verses these guys are spitting on.
I'm not sure where I would rank 8 Diagrams in terms of Wu-Tang albums. Obviously, its not better than 36 Chambers or the second disc of Forever, but I don't know if I would place it over Iron Flag or The W. Here's my prediction on the critical reception this album will recieve. Hip Hop fans and critics are gonna pan it, while rock critics and the Tom Briehan's of the world are gonna hail it, and it's gonna be a failure commericially even if it does do a big first week. However, I feel this album is a grower and eventually will be seen in a more positive light. It's just too weird to be completely written off as a "shit sandwich." I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Wu-Tang just ain't the same as they were but part of me still thinks they ain't nothing to fuck wit. Hopefully, they'll come back to smash the world. Just get RZA off the dust.