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A First Listen: Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams

by Travis on November 28, 2007

Once again an album that has the whole net buzzing has leaked. This isn’t just any album by any joe blow group out there. This is an album by one of the most important groups in the history of hip hop, the almighty Wu-Tang Clan. The long awaited “8 Diagrams” album has graced the internet with it’s presence. The super groups of all super groups. When the Wu come together to release an album as a collective force, its reason enough to get all hip hop heads something to clamor about. If you don’t remember how this worked last time I attempted this kind of thing with the Jay-Z album, “American Gangsters”, the premonition is simple: I listen to the album for the first time and while I’m listening, I jot my thoughts down. One time through each song, no rewinding (unless the joint is dope and requires another listen, which I’ll surely mention). Simple enough. Yeah, not the best way to review an album by any means, but you’ll get more than your fair share of “proper” reviews from the masses soon enough. This is just me, thinking out loud for every one to read and snicker at. Seemed to go over well last time.

The Wu have been one of the most respected groups on the scene since the Wu released “Protect Your Neck b/w Method Man” back in ’93. They then blessed the world with “Enter the 36 Chambers”, easily a classic in most any rap fan’s opinion. In ’97, the double album, “Wu-Tang Forever”, came blessed the hip hop nation with its arrival. While not as memorable as “…36 Chambers”, the Wu came just as hard and dropped arguably one of the best double albums in hip hop history. People, such as myself were initially disappointed in the effort, but when I look back it now, it has what I call the “Nas Syndrome”. Because of nearly a perfect debut release, just about anything that follows it up was going to be a tad bit disappointing. Looking back on the album now, it’s a great album when compared to other things coming out during that time period. In 2000, the Wu released their third album “The W”, a joint that in some circles, started spelling the end of their rule. Some of their solo ventures had already tarnished some of the shine of the Wu family by this time with lackluster efforts coming from Method Man, Raekwon and Inspector Deck. The Wu would turn around a year later and drop “Iron Flag”, an album which I won’t lie, I didn’t pick up until a year later just because I was not impressed in the least with it. Neither were the majority of hip hop fans. The album, which is their last studio effort, left fans with a bitter taste in their collective mouths and wondering where the Wu would go from there.

It’s been six long years since we last heard from Wu-Tang as a collective effort. Some wondered if they would ever release another album as a group ever again. Myself, I’m sort of shocked that all the rumors became actual reality, that a group effort has came together once again. In my lack of a lot of time to troll the internet like I have in the past, I have not read any opinions of the album as of yet, so I’m opinion has not been swayed either way as of yet. The only opinions I have heard as of yet were within minutes apart from each other. Saturday morning, while still trying to shake the cob webs from the night before, Eric from When They Reminisce text me and said something to the effect that “the new Wu album is great!”. Only minutes later, my long time confidant and fellow hip hop head, Dino text me with a message that paraphrased said something like “The new Wu album sucks!” and something to the effect its the worst album he’s heard all year. Harsh. This is all I have to go on so far. Well, that and the three songs I’ve heard so far like most any other internet junkie, “Watch Your Mouth”, “My Heart Gently Weeps” and “Life Changes”.

My personal opinions of the Wu are like many of the hip hop junkies out there that are close to my age. I feel they are one of the most important groups in the history of the music. I love a good Wu joint, so my first impulse is to want to like this project. I was excited to hear when they announced a release date(s). The time is here, and one has to ask the question: Is the Wu-Tang Clan still relevant in this time and age? Let’s see, shall we….?

Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams 1. Campfire (Produced by RZA)

The movie intro creeps in to start shit off. More than likely a Kung-Fu flick, talking about honesty, patience and mastering anything. I guess that’s the message to start shit off. This leads into some singing. My boy Dino told me to beware of the singing. Method Man (my favorite Wu member) leads it off on the mic over an ill Wu beat that reminds me of why RZA is considered one of the greats (I kind of forgot why). Meth sounds like the Meth I grew to love on “36 Chambers” and not the deodorant slangin’ pop star we’ve gotten lately. Ghost comes next, which is good to hear after rumors of him not being on this project. The violins are always a welcome sound on a Wu album. Looks like they got Cappadonna out of the cab and into the studio for a short verse. Nice effort to lead off the album, although its kind of short.

2. Take It Back (Produced by Easy Moe Bee & RZA)

I’ll admit, hearing Easy Moe Bee was going to be on this album was good news to my ears. I always thought he was kind of a father to RZA’s style or at least related. When the track started, the sample is familiar as fuck, but I’m horrible at naming shit or where I’ve heard it before. The beat is kind of simple and somewhat disappointing in the first few seconds. Maybe it’s the familiarity of the whole thing, like I’ve heard it before. Rae drops the first verse and then the MC Ren (read: most underrated of the group) of the crew comes second, which is Inspectah Deck and drops a nice verse. The chorus is kind of simple and uninspired (or maybe thats just U-God) like the beat. Ghost gets mean with his verse then U-God comes and doesn’t dis RZA…..Not a bad song, but nothing great eith

3. Get Them Out Ya Way Pa (Produced by RZA)

Hmm, a bassline, a cymbal, some claps. Yawn. Method Man again, not that I’m bitching. I’m not feeling this at all right now. Rae & Ghost grace the chorus which doesn’t do anything to change my mind at all. U God again? Wow, I figured he’d be in RZA’s doghouse. I could see this joint maybe growing on me in the future although I’m starting to wonder if my expectations were a little to high going into this listening session. The chorus continues to be kind of annoying but the beat does have a nice little “mood enhancer” to it that makes me bob my head a bit by the end of the joint.

4. Rushing Elephants (Produced by RZA)

This sounds more like something I want to hear. I’m digging this right off the bat and its got me pumped. RZA loops a short 16 bar sample, but damn its dope! Rae sounds golden on this shit. FINALLY, GZA comes next. By far the best song so far. I’m not writing much because I’m to entranced with the song. RZA comes on third. Not the most lyrical, but I always enjoy hearing him on a track, I guess it’s his voice. The change up a bit for Masta Killa’s verse, which is nice, you don’t want too much of a good thing. A higher pitch, not much of a difference, but enough not to grow bored with it. No chorus’, just straight up dope beats and lyrics. Good shit.

5. Unpredictable (Produced by RZA)

After the high of the last song, I hope the momentum continues. At first listen, hmmm…Yeah, I kind of like this. Some stabbing strings and horns are the highlight of the track and Deck sounds good. Lots of sounds going on on the track, which I kind of like. Reminds my of some calmer Bomb Squad type of stuff. Some different dude on the chorus, Dexter Wiggins? Nice touch. The song is chaotic in nature, so of course RZA sounds good on it. Cool shit, I like it.

6. The Heart Gently Weeps feat Erykah Badu, Dhani Harrison & John Frusciante (Produced by RZA)

Ah yes, the infamous Beatles sample. While I like the Beatles and I think there is some cool stuff to sample in their catalog, this isn’t necessarily something I’d put first on a list of Beatles tunes to sample. It’s not much different from Ghost’s “My Guitar Gently Weeps” track he did awhile ago. Of course of heard this song a few times by now and I’ll admit, I’m not much of a fan of this track. To pop-ish in my mind, I guess it is the use of the sample that gives it that feeling. None the less I’m not overly impressed with it and I’m not about to call it “genius in nature” like I’ve been seen the song being heralded as in some other sites. This listen does nothing really to change my mind, but listening to Ghost sing is kind of fun.

7. Wolves feat George Clinton (Produced by RZA)

I see the “Feat George Clinton” and automatically have flashbacks to the mediocre track that was on “The W”. Of course we have George speaking about dogs right off the bat and that leads into U-God. Kind of a cool vocal sample in this track. I’m not sure if hearing Clinton on this is what I want to hear. It just doesn’t fit. Method comes in after another chorus. Meth sounds up to par so far on this album. Good to hear. No your typical Wu beat and I’m not sure it’ll sound good in a few more listens but right now I’m kind of digging this. We’ll just have to wait and see what kind of replay value the track holds. Once again, they switch shit up when Masta Killa drops his shit. Wonder why that is? He is rhyming over a simple bassline for the first few seconds before it switches into the same vocal sample and some flutes or some shit. Again, the beat isn’t very “Wu-like”, which is starting to become something of a pattern. Almost has a “mariachi” feeling to it. Different, but kind of cool.

8. Gun Will Go (Produced by RZA)

Starts kind of cool, like an old funk sample that I’ve heard before, but then it slows down a bunch. Rae is rhyming slow flow style over a simplistic beat…..then the singing my boy Dino warned me about rears its ugly head on the chorus. Not my thing. Meth coooooommmmmesss zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, oops sorry, this track is causing narcoleptic seizures. I could do without this track. It started so promising. Again, maybe this is something I could get used to, but on the first listen, it kind of kills the flow of the album something serious. Next.

9. Sunlight (Produced by RZA)

A Kung-Fu sample discussing the chief, then low and behold RZA starts kicking it. Another slow as two slugs fucking track. I’m not feeling this either. These two tracks together just killed all the momentum the album had going, at least for me. On the positive side, the beat is better than the last one, but it just drags as well. I guess its the vocal sample used with it. RZA is still rambling about something. I guess this is going to be a RZA solo track as the Kung Fu sample comes back in toward the end. Good riddance.

10. Stick Me for My Riches (Produced by Mathamatics & RZA)

After a decent start, the last two tracks have caused the album to come to a screeching halt. This one starts off with singing…..dammit. The beat is kind of cool, but I can’t handle the singing. And we’re not talking about just a little singing, we’re talking about the first minute and twenty seconds. Just as Method Man comes on, my dinner is starting to move in my stomach, but with just someone spitting over the beat it’s kind of a cool joint. Even when the singing comes on with Meth still spitting it works. I just don’t want to dude go another minute singing. Cut off the first minute of the track and this is actually kind of a cool track. It’s a very cinematic track, I could see a video going with this track very easy.

11. Starter feat Streetlife (Produced by RZA)

OH DEAR GOD! The first twenty seconds of this are HORRID! Sounds like some crap I’d hear on the radio back in 1995 with more of the syrupy R&B singing crap. Once Streetlife comes on, it gets better and the beat is actually kind of nice. Cool litt
le sax sample going on that sounds liked it was swiped from a Doo-Wop record, which I have always kind of liked. Some other weird shit going on in the beat as well, but it works. Just don’t do the singing crap on the chorus….and fuck they do it. Wow, I really hate this chorus, but I really like the verses and the beat. I could probably get used to the chorus….then again, maybe not. Lots of conflicts on this track for me. The beat and the verses are great, the chorus and the singing suck.

12. Windmill (Produced by RZA)

Nice start to this. I notice RZA doesn’t get very deep with the beats on this, lots of short little loops that just play over and over. Nice sounds, but shit gets repetitive. This track is kind of that way, although, he throws different sounds in here and there. Still doesn’t sound very “Wu-like”, but I’m trying to keep an open mind concerning that. It’s a simple beat but it works. The verses are all pretty nice, from what I can tell. Seems like the most complete track when it comes to all the members showing up it. Deck’s verse seems to stand out the most to me, not particular reason, it just seems to be the one I like the most so far. It gets getting the head noddin’ so thats a good sign. I think I counted six or seven members on this one when its all said and done.

13. Weak Spot (Produced by RZA)

The trademark Kung-Fu sample leads off. At first, this sounds the most Wu like track so far. Deep drum track, some horns, yeah, I’m feeling this track. This is by far the most Wu sounding track that I’ve heard so far on this album. GZA bats clean up on the track. He needs to be on this project more than I’ve heard so far. Oooh, kettle drums, you don’t hear that used much in hip hop. Good track, I’m feeling it.

14. Life Changes (Produced by RZA)

Another track I’ve heard a few times in the past week. I think my homie Scholar over at Souled On hooked me up with the sample of this before in the past, or he put it up on the site before. This track also features the majority of the group and was my favorite out of the three tracks I had the pleasure of hearing before the album. Meth leads off like he does on most of the album, the Wu’s Rickey Henderson. This track is an example of something being slow, but still being dope and not taking away from the overall flow of the album. It’s a nice tribute track. RIP Ol’ Dirty.

15. Tar Pit feat George Clinton (Produced by RZA)

A horn sample, some weird ass sounds, some chanting, more trumpet, some old school shouting. Not a bad start. Then it kind of fizzles. Not bad, just kind of boring. Maybe more of the horn, maybe some more of the chanting, it just needs some spicing up. It’s like bland chili, it has the potential to be tasty, but it’s missing that one special ingredient. At least Uncle George isn’t talking about dogs, its monkeys now. Nothing special on this track.

16. 16th Chamber (ODB Special) (Produced by RZA)

This album is missing Dirty. We can’t blame that on Wu, but ODB was the comical and rawness that this album is lacking. He was the one that broke the seriousness. I’m excited to hear this track and as it starts off it sounds like its from ’93 and that’s definitely NOT a bad thing. Sounds like a demo cut and I notice Method uses some old verses or variations of old verses. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be something from back in the day (it’d have to be with ODB on it), but this shit is nice. Sounds like it was left off of “Return To The 36 Chambers”. Good to hear Ol’ Dirty one last time. Makes you really miss what he brought to the mic, because there was only one Ol’ Dirty. Nice way to end the album.

First Listen Opinion:
Of course with only one listen behind me, its hard to give a very serious opinion about the album, but one word comes to mind: inconsistent. There are a couple bomb ass tracks (Rushing Elephants, Unpredictable) some straight shitty tracks (Gun Will Go, Sunlight), one track that is both dope and shitty (Starter) and some tracks that could go either way in the future after a few more listens (Campfire, Tar Pit, Stick Me for My Riches, Wolves). Was it what I was expecting? I’m not sure. I had mixed feelings going into this, kind of like the two opinions I got from friends on Saturday. I wanted to have high hopes for this, but I new that I’d probably be lucky if I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not going to say I’m disappointed. In some ways, its better than what I expected. In other ways, its what I expected. One thing for certain, its earned the right to be heard a few more times and if nothing else, it’ll be stripped of its good songs, which will become regular spins on a mix cd of mine sometime in the future.

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