"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Artistic Necrophilia Or Why We Don’t Need Liquid Swords 2

“Although, I do appreciate the sentiment.”

Yesterday, RZA announced through the divine magic of Twitter that he was working with GZA on a sequel to their 1995 masterpiece, “Liquid Swords”. While my inner Wu-Tang fanboy was struck with the giddiness of a thousand shrieking Drake fans, I was torn by a profound realization that one of my favorite rappers of all-time has ostensibly hit a wall of personal creativity. It seems that despite his own personal misgivings on the concept of making a sequel to the album, it seems that GZA is out of ideas. Unfortunately, he’s not the only artist reaching into the well of artistic rehashery as their seems to be rash of sequels for decade-old classic albums on the rise.

The success of Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Lix II” in both commercial and critical respects have lead to a string of desperate, aging rappers to believe they can return to the casino one last time and cash out on the respect and admiration their decade-old classic albums have earned. While this is not a new concept per se, the sheer volume of these half-baked ideas recently is startling. It seems that every, struggling veteran rap act from Capone-N-Noreaga (“The War Report 2”) to Sadat X (“Wild Cowboys 2”) have made plans to produce sequels to the records that made us love them in the first place in one last desperate grab for relevancy. GZA is the latest rapper to hitch his wagon to such an inherently limited concept.

It’s easy to understand why artists feel the need to make sequels to their classic records. It’s easy publicity. When an artist announces they are planning to make a sequel to a beloved album, fans get excited on the promise of a return-to-form for an artist. "Yo, GZA’s making Liquid Swords 2? Oh word? It’s about damn time he gets back to making that classic shit! "
The fan is already invested in on the record before a single line is recorded. From an economic standpoint, this makes complete sense. If you are a veteran artist struggling to maintain an audience, the idea of creating a sequel to your most enduring work is guaranteed to draw an audience out of curiosity. Even if the material has little to no relationship to the original work, the name alone is bound to draw interest. The economics of the music industry are rough enough as is so if your new work is going to be virtually ignored on it’s own merit then grafting a familiar title to an otherwise unremarkable new work is downright smart.

The problem with this practice is that at best it’s artistic necrophilia and at worst, it’s gross commercial exploitation. Raekwon’s “Cuban Linx II” was an excellent album but the practice of wantonly stealing concepts of your older work only leads down a path where neither the genre or the artist can’t grow. Stealing from your older material leads to an endless feedback loop of the same material being produced over and over again. It’s circular. You can’t grow because you are stealing from yourself and you are stealing from yourself because you can’t grow. When a significant portion of artists in the genre continue to try and remake their classic album, the inevitability of stagnancy in the genre becomes entirely manifest. This is a problem that rap music has been assuredly facing for years. While the mainstream market for hip hop has withered from major label artists continuing to compromise their art by making pandering artistic choices to appeal a wider audience, the indie market has been flooded with album after album that sounds virtually identical to each other. Hip Hop cannot sustain itself that way especially when so much of what forms hip hop’s musical identity is the recycling and reinvention of the ideas of other artists. People will simply lose interest if they listen to the same music produced over and over again.

As Raekwon proved with his album, none of this prevents GZA from making a really, really good album when it comes down to actually producing “Liquid Swords 2.” GZA might be able to successfully execute a sequel that is as darkly chilling and brooding as his original masterpiece but the simple fact remains that he will still be trading in on the promise of the original product. However, it will be comfort food designed to soothe the soul of the true school hip hop fan. As hip hop fan, I demand more of my favorite artists than to simply have my favorite album rehashed for me. Say what you want about the bubblegum pop rap of B.o.B or the emo space rap of Kid Cudi but it’s a step in a new direction. Innovation will save the genre from stagnation because liquid swords can’t carve out a new lane for hip hop to flow through. Besides does the world really need "The Hunger For More 2?" (Yes, that's happening.)Be warned.


The Beat Doctor said...

My question is: if they put out the exact same album, but called it something else, would this post still apply?

DocZeus said...

"My question is: if they put out the exact same album, but called it something else, would this post still apply?"

The question to ponder isn't that.

The question is would you make the same album if you weren't trying to remake the original album in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I see your point, but I think it's a bit of an overreaction. Just because you come out with a sequel of a previous album, doesn't mean you can't go into a completely different direction next time around which could potentially be classic itself. I'm looking forward to a Rza produced Gza album myself.

Anonymous said...

A valid point. However, it does depend on what you are looking for. I'm fine with some comfort food from one of my favourite emcees, potentially in his career twighlight.

As you yourself mentioned, new schoolers are doing different things and flipping their own styles despite popular belief. Of course, no idea is original and it provokes debate on whether anyone is saying anything new or not.It is a bit foolhardy to expect an artistic revolution from new emcees, particularly if they have done their history and old skool hip hop is their primary influence.

An example of a good balance between the old and the new was Hell Hath No Fury from the clipse. A crack rap album, but the whole demeanor of it was fresh.

Personally, im eating up the range of hip hop via the internets. From J.Cole and Wale, to Skyzoo or Outasight. It's dope right now, people are sleeping more than anything.

Anonymous said...

The Gods never intended to allow the prophet to be used to lead by example. I have FAR too large an audience for that to be allowed and, conisistant with the advanced state of deterioration of the disfavored, now the Gods can blame me for its failure, when all along they were never going to allow it.
They claim I would have no choice but to work on my problems if I am to function in the corporate enviornment. Ironically, the probelms they created at the REASON behind what's happened.

He who will Lead By Example is to come later, with a scaled down audience, for disfavored like my family is not entitled to witness the long, arduous path to Salvation.
Keep in mind the Gods along the way would have created oppositing evidence to dump them into, perhaps killed me/change me and claimed "clone host", selling them on this lie, likely since it would have encompassed a far larger audience and would have reinforced the lie they already sold to them for decades.

Everybody changes as they get older, becomes more conservative. As do I.
Perhaps I see the wisdom of the Gods. People like those who exploited me, those like my family who hurt me are not entitled to observe someone on the path, for it will provide an opportuinity to escape Damnation.
Perhaps I don't want that either. There are too many preditors out there who still think "earning" is the way.
I would be killed, the'd sell them I ascended into heaven and I'd be punished. What's happened placed a limit on how much progress they will tolerate, and once I reached that point they would finish me.
Normally this would be a good thing, because people wrapped up in this enviornment fall for its temptations, and the result is they are better off dead. Living my life as normal places me square into this category::
1. I curse the Gods whne they abuse me
2. I will eat apples/fruit out of spite.
3. Thinking of eating clam chowder/shellfish. "What's next? Sex?"
4. I drive, pollute, waste resourses American-style, enjoy poison in society/media, eat meat, etc etc etc. Ironically, sometimes death is a good thing.
As a result I am better off dead. Working on my problems as the One Who Leads By Example is a different matter, but because of what's happened they will only tolerate so much.

The Beat Doctor said...

Wha... tha... fa... just happened to this comment thread...? Is there something about apples and The Gods that somehow relates to the new Genius record...? Maybe Killa Priest wrote that comment...

DocZeus said...

@The Beat Doctor

Clearly, that was written by Papa Wu.

Anonymous said...

"Say what you want about the bubblegum pop rap of B.o.B or the emo space rap of Kid Cudi but it’s a step in a new direction."

Just because it's new, doesn't mean it's good. Crunk music and Lil' Jon were, at one point, considered new. I don't understand why Liquid Swords 2 would be so egregious. Personally, I find no reason why a midlife crisis'd Nas and Jay-Z can not live in the same musical landscape as say The Cool Kids or the Knux.

Also, what if you're wrong? What if throwing back to the old school is hip-hop's way of moving forward?

DocZeus said...

"Also, what if you're wrong? What if throwing back to the old school is hip-hop's way of moving forward?"

Well if it was consciously going back to the old school then it paradoxically can't be moving forward, right?

I'm not saying that "Liquid Swords 2" CAN'T be any good. I just don't like the idea of all these older artists going back to their decades old classics and half-assing a sequel for marketing purposes. It just seems cheap.

tray said...

GZA can still write but he raps like a mummified corpse. And Liquid Swords came out a really, really long time ago. I mean, it's one thing to make the Blueprint 3. But a 15 year old album? I mean, if Biggie were alive today, could you see him putting out I'm Still Ready To Die? Perhaps Will Smith should make another Big Willie Style? Way too much time has elapsed.