November 30, 2000

Re-entry of the Wu

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After years of diluting their potency with substandard Wu-Affiliates (Killah Priest, Sunz of Man, etc.) and unspectacular solo efforts, The W marks the almost complete reunion of the Clan, as they reclaim their status as hip-hop’s premiere collective. For the first time since Ghostface Killah’s solo debut in 1996, Wu-Tang returns to what it was that captured hip-hop’s imagination in the first place: trademark RZA production and the complex lyrical wordplay of the group’s nine gifted MC’s.

Not just a rehash of past glories, this album also finds the group moving in new directions. For the first time, outside guest stars are included in the festivities, with Redman and Busta Rhymes among those dropping in to rhyme. Also, tracks like “Gravel Pit,” and the bonus track “Clap, Clap” represent their first attempts at crafting uptempo music for the clubs.

Sadly, The W doesn’t represent a true Wu-reunion. The group’s most charismatic/psychotic character, Old Dirty Bastard appears on only one track. The song, “Conditioner,” while lyrically making no sense, represents the interesting juxtaposition of ODB’s haphazard ramblings with the smooth eloquence of guest rapper Snoop Dogg.

These senseless lyrics have, for better or worse, been just as much of a trademark of the Wu-Tang Clan as kung-fu vocal samples. Incredibly dense and weighted down with obscure references, the group strays from the usual story-telling formula of rap. Invigorating and novel at times, it also manages to frustrate listeners who can’t find a tangible concept among the group’s lyrical complexity.

Whatever reservations existed regarding the Wu’s ability to come back are quickly set aside on the foreboding “Careful (Click, Click).” The song manages to be threatening without being overtly graphic. Instead, Ghostface Killah and RZA establish underpinnings of impending violence through lyrical allusion. And as any horror movie fan can attest, nothing is quite as scary as that which remains unseen.

From that point on, The W takes listeners on an intriguing journey through the modern landscape of African-American music, from soul to reggae. Wavering between the tortured soul of Ghostface Killah to the blunted humor of Method Man combines to give a complete picture of life the way Wu-Tang have lived it.

Archived article by Mike Giusto