Anyone who heard the stellar “Biochemical Equation,” the collaboration single between the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (who did the soundtracks of both Kill Bill films) and indie-hop supervillain MF Doom last month had good reason to be excited for this project.
I was dusting off my liquid sword, getting ready to guillotine heads once more. RZA wails, “Strong as the base of a mountain, there’s no countin’, how many MC’s have sprung from our fountain!” in his best verse since his paranoid rant on “4th Chamber” ten years ago. MF Doom shows up, demolishes the mic, and promptly leaves. What could beat a whole album of such hip-hop transcendence?
But after hearing the follow-up full-length “Dreddy Kruger Presents Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture,” listeners may be forced to admit that despite momentarily flashes of brilliance, the Wu will never return. The compilation comes off as a soulless, unfocused mixtape, scraping the bottom of the underground rap barrel.
Why does this release deserve the Wu-Tang logo? It isn’t the flat, lifeless tracks. Could it be the absurd (not Ghostface-nonsensical, just incoherent) lyrics, or the half-hearted Nation of Islam references?
Other genuine Wu members GZA and U-God show up, but their contributions are forgettable. In fact, the only real Wu-Tang reference point is 1997’s “Forever,” the bloated, lifeless double album that marked the start of their slow demise.
The compilation’s beats, mostly produced by Wu satellite producer Bronze Nazareth, suck. They all chug along painfully at the same plodding tempo, with the same drums, the same string samples, the same disembodied voice.
They are neither funky, nor ominous, nor reminiscent of anything but the worst of Bobby Digital-era RZA, despite what the over-excited liner notes (“Bronze’s beats are all like Rza’s sound!!”) may claim. The beat to “Cars on the Interstate” is a complete rip-off of “Bring The Pain,” Method Man’s devastating classic from 1994, and serves only to rekindle nostalgia for Shaolin glory days.
Thrown on top of these comatose beats are performances by about a thousand other underground rappers, including decent verses from R.A. The Rugged Man, J-Live, and C-Rayz Walz.
But for every passable lyrical dart, there are ten embarrassing performances. Remember Vast Aire, from indie superduo Cannibal Ox? He delivers perhaps the most uninspiring, arrhythmic set of bars in recent hip-hop on “Slow Blues.”
What are the album’s strengths? Well, there’s the RZA joint. Also, there are two irrelevant (albeit awesome) tracks by Del Tha Funky Homosapien, who did his best work before the Wu even existed.
On “Fragments,” he sings off-key, raps conversationally, and generally acts bizarre, to great effect. “Preservation,” a duet with Aesop Rock, lyrically shines brighter than any other track.
The saddest part lies is in the brief “ODB Tribute” in the middle of the album. A shining example of the difference a good producer can make (DJ Noize in this case), the track mixes samples of the best of Dirt Dog with Ghostface, Nas, schoolchildren shouting “ODB!”, Richard Pryor, and “Four Weddings And A Funeral.” It has to be heard to be believed.
Dreddy Kruger, the Wu satellite member behind the whole venture, fails to really understand that classic Wu-Tang is the true source of the “indie culture” referred to in the album title. Every Wu-Tang record from 1993’s “36 Chambers” to 1996’s “Ironman” has profoundly affected the sound and image of underground rap.
This album, however, is about as well-conceived a collaboration as “The Flintstones Meet The Jetsons;” because the two components are so similar, such a hyped-up dualism comes off as both basely exploitative and shamefully derivative.
Those of us who were hoping for a Killa Bee resurrection will be sorely disappointed. After all the missteps, stabs at commercial success, and the absence of a unified production, present-day Wu-Tang sounds dilated, sluggish, and, worst of all, irrelevant. Regrettably, this album comes not to praise Wu-Tang, but to bury them.