hen fans discuss who the best MC is, why is it that the GZA, long the head of the Wu-Tang clan, never comes up? He’s inventive, distinctive, distinguished and clever. Maybe part of it is that he is a part of a group, and therefore is hard to perceive as a credible threat on his own. Or it may be because Liquid Swords is nearing the ten year mark as far as age, and this is only his third release, including 1999’s subpar, at least by his standards, Beneath the Surface. Perhaps the long wait between releases just makes people forget how exceptional the Genius has been.
He certainly hasn’t done much to make us remember, though. Between albums, the GZA barely kept busy. Besides his stellar guest appearance on Afu-Ra’s “Big Acts, Little Acts”, we scarcely heard from him. In an interview last year in XXL, it was revealed that he got behind the camera, directing videos and taking footage for a Wu-Tang documentary he has been working on. Why is this relevant? It’s simple... Legend of the Liquid Sword sounds like the score to a movie. And that is both a help and a hindrance throughout this piece.
Honestly, lyrically, to the uneducated, the album does sound like it took a few years to produce. Real Wu-Tang fans know this is just what we expect from our savior. Constantly throughout the whole album, the songs are multifaceted and deep, and every lyric seems planned, edited, and reedited like each shot in a movie. “Under circumstances label advances / Ample opportunity, infinite chances / The rhyme, the unrelated beef I don't stress / I seen many killed for infinitely less / Ya raps need a clips that packed with lies / Cowardlessly ya shot up those innocently wise” on the Asian influenced “Knock Knock” is a good place to start. This isn’t even including his concept tracks. In the tradition of classics like “Publicity” and “Labels”, the GZA tells a whole story on “Fame”, using last names as verbs (like “Chris Tucker to a show, Ted Turner to a hoe / Robert Diggs the beat, but ain't feelin the flow “) to weave an intricate tale. The man simply is brilliant, and although these aren’t the lyrics that will appeal to most, they are certainly some of the best. It’s just like why simple books appeal to the masses – most people can’t comprehend this much depth.
It is, typically, the hooks that start to tear at the albums greatness. Did Ya Say That” is good filler, a cautionary track designed to make young MCs (no, not Young MC) keep their mouths shut, is kinda fun until the whiny hook, where GZA tries to sound in disbelief but just comes out sounding like he’s in pain. This is the only example where it is blatant, but overall, it makes a huge difference in the flow of the record, compared to, say, Liquid Swords, which featured subtle and interesting hooks on the tracks that featured them at all.
Once again, though, it’s the production that drags the album down. “Animal Planet”, a concept track where GZA rhymes using animal names (think “You see the chimps they grow hips they hustle and sling in trees / Elephants for security that move tons of leaves “), is the only place where the production outstrips the lyrical content. The beat is slow, intricate and very broad, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. On other tracks, though, this is not the case. The title track, for instance, is an interesting narrative, but is completely ruined by tone-deaf Anthony Allen, who tries to make it sound like something out of “Shaft”, when it should be more “Rashoman”. “Sparring Minds” is the worst example. The lyrics, provided by GZA and Inspectah Deck, are borderline classic, but the beat sounds keyboard produced, looped over and over again. Almost like a bad Swizz Beatz track- but somehow worse.
The overriding problem with the GZA is that most fans don’t want to wait for the big payoff that the songs provide. Most fans do not want to sit through “Did Ya Say That” and the lone RZA track, “Rough Cut”, appealing to Wu-Tang fans but not the majority of all fans, to get to “Auto-Bio”, the GZA’s ‘book’, a story of his life growing up and becoming the man he is. Most fans cannot appreciate songs like “Luminal”, DJ Muggs’ latest masterpiece, a story about a killing in a small town. Not to turn this into a rant, but this is exactly the type of album that hip-hop needs, grand in scope and near-perfect in lyrics. And the sad part is, most of the masses due to some subpar production won’t even bother with it. Instead, as the RZA states in “Did Ya Say That?”, they’ll just “keep banging my first joint” and not worry about the new one.
Reviewed by: Brett Berliner
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01