No Said Date
hile some members of the Wu-Tang Clan are now four albums deep into their solo careers, Masta Killa has emerged with his first, eleven years after the Wu’s debut rocketed them into Hip-Hop and mainstream culture. Never the highest profile member, having only one verse on 36 Chambers (“Da Mystery of Chessboxin'"), Masta Killa has seemed content with his position as their most enigmatic member. Addressing his early years of rhyming on “School” he sounds humble:
Bangin' on the lunchroom table, I used to spectate
And watch some of the MC greats throw verses back and forth
I didn't have the heart to step forth
I used to take it home to write some of my own
But still I wasn't ready to touch the microphone
It has been fait accompli for many years that this long awaited album was going to complete the broken circle of the Wu—to bring the group back to basics. Because, while members had sworn to keep it real from day one, many reneged on their word or didn’t have the skills to survive out of the spotlight and shadows of the Clan’s wings. It’s a toll that’s been felt financially, as well as artistically: fans have long felt they’ve been getting a rough deal from the Clan, with few of its members still ploughing individual and imaginative paths (at the cost of big dollar commerciality) and the rest lagging behind in varying states of “could do better”. Having watched much of this from the sidelines, Masta Killa has learnt well from the many mistakes of his associates (as the saying goes “Patience is the companion of wisdom”). And his debut album is aimed directly at Wu fans—taking into account what they’ve been missing for a long time.
As such, there are no lead single bangers and no guest appearances by the latest hottest names / labelmates of the day. This is a return to the Wu sound; in-house production, more Clan cameos and less material dictated by current trends commercial. In fact, all of the Clan show up (U-God is credited with additional vocals on “Dig Warfare” but I’ll be damned if I can hear him) with only the heavyweight members matching Masta line for line (GZA’s on “Silverbacks”, RZA on “School” and, of course, Ghostface).
Admittedly Masta Killa’s flows are reasonably simplistic (though his rhymes are anything but) when compared to the aforementioned wild and free approaches of artists like Ghostface. Because of this, he may appear to be an unexceptional MC. But No Said Date has enough energy, switches in cadence, speed and stress to prove the opposite. Lyrically he mixes up the styles of the premier Wu membership (the urban / science combinations and nasal inflections of RZA, Ghost’s narratives and the metaphorical depths of GZA) into lines packed with thoughts and images that never sound crammed in, jam-packed or rushed. Many MCs might have more exhilarating hyper-exaggerated flows that Masta’s almost-drawl can’t hope to emulate, but a lot of shit gets talked between many a Hip-Hop anthem’s mnemonic hooks.
The beats move from the roughly edited revolving analogue loops of Wu yore to the backwards-looking futurism of “Digi Warfare” (add live drums and it’s an outtake from Two Lone Swordsmen’s From the Double Gone Chapel). It’s all Wu-affiliated producers here and they liberally sprinkle their tracks with the early 90s trademarks: Kung Fu samples, rough edits and awkward/subdued beats. And, like those halcyon days of the early Wu, the key to the beats and Masta’s rhymes is patience. Trading in the easy punchlines for considered, involved rhymes sounds like career suicide. And, yes, it probably won’t sell shit. But it wasn’t built to do that. Lessons need to be to be learnt. Listen up, in true Wu-Tang fashion, Masta Killa is teaching them.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2004-06-09