If you’re not a huge hip hop oldhead, it’s easy to overlook a lot of new releases from 90s rap groups these days. Most think that their music usually sounds pretty dated, and that many once ferocious MC’s have understandably lost a little bit of steam on the mic.
However, people skeptical about the reemergence of 90s hip hop have really been proved wrong over the last year or so, after the impressive 2016 releases of A Tribe Called Quest’s Thank u 4 Your Service and De La Soul’s And the Anonymous Nobody. While Tribe and De La Soul (two New York rap groups who are members of the hip hop collective the Native Tongues) have shown that they can still bring it in 2017, many oldheads have been itching for a similar resurgence from another New York hip hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan.
Wu-Tang’s most recent album release, The Saga Continues, is once again a reminder that not only does Wu-Tang’s saga continue, but so does the vintage 90s hip hop sound that has been so overshadowed in recent years.
Many applauded Tribe’s Thank u 4 Your Service by praising its ability to combine vintage 90s sounds with a more modern spin. Wu-Tang’s The Saga Continues at times achieves a similar balance between old and new. It definitely sounds like a modernization of classic, grimy, boom-bap hip hop, though perhaps relying on Wu-Tang’s old roots more so than Tribe did.
That isn’t to say that Wu-Tang’s album sounds completely outdated, but I don’t think it will be converting any new-age rap fans into oldheads. The album is definitely more of an opportunity for older Wu fans to rejoice at some new, classic Wu. Songs like “Pearl Harbor” sound like something straight out of the 90s, with signature production from Wu-Tang producer Mathematics, who does an extraordinary job on this album. That said, it’s hard to see songs like these getting remotely any mainstream attention or radio play today, and they really only have a more nostalgic value for oldheads.
Mathematics’ production on The Saga Continues is truly one of the album’s highlights; the beats are as smooth and grimy as ever. Many of the beats clearly draw inspiration from jazz elements, which is vital to Wu-Tang’s classic sound. While Mathematics generally sticks to 90s-esque production on the album, he shows his ability to incorporate new sounds into his production as well, especially on songs like “G’d Up.” Even the skits on this album are enjoyable, channeling somewhat of an MF DOOM vibe by sampling old superhero cartoons. The skit, “Famous Fighters” truly sounds like something straight off Madvillainy or Operation Doomsday, two of DOOM’s more well-known albums.
Perhaps my favorite song on the album is “Fast and Furious, ” featuring Hue Hef and Raekwon. As a fan of Raekwon’s solo work, it’s great to hear him get on such a smooth, soulful beat and remind us about his legendary flow and impressive lyricism. “Fast and Furious” plays on the title of the popular movie series, but dials it up a notch; it’s about Hue Hef and Raekwon’s stories of drug deals and run-ins with the feds gone wrong. Inspectah Deck and Redman also show off their talent on the track “Lesson Learn’d,” the second single off the album.
While it’s great to hear all of these familiar Wu-Tang voices once again, perhaps the one I was most looking forward to was Method Man’s. While Method Man has generally taken himself out of the rap scene the last few years and opted instead for movies (specifically starring in Key and Peele’s full-length comedy, Keanu), Method Man’s performance on this album is better than ever. On songs like “Frozen,” Method Man demonstrates his unmatched flow over one of Mathematics’ signature beats. Method Man raps, “Music is life I ain’t into fashion or ice/I ain’t into chain snatchin’, ain’t into smackin’ a wife.” He reminds listeners that rap should be about the music, and not about some stereotypical gangster lifestyle, an important message in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations levied against rapper XXXTentacion.
The Saga Continues is one of Wu-Tang’s best projects in nearly a decade. While it’s impossible to rival such classics as 36 Chambers or Wu-Tang Forever, it’s definitely worth a listen for all hip hop fans, something that can’t really be said of many of their recent albums. The overall sound of the album is much more akin to the sound of the 1990s than the 2010s, a fact that will surely divide listeners once again into the eternal old versus new rap debate. Regardless, in the midst of countless releases by new-age rappers, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black and more, it’s nice to hear to some vintage Wu-Tang.
Will Widmann is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].