Review: Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams

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I’ve been bumping Wu’s new LP, 8 Diagrams, since about Friday and after about 7 or 8 listens, I’m ready to share my thoughts.

This is an extremely promising piece of work. I’m impressed. Mind you, this is coming from someone who does not own their sophomore LP Wu-Tang Forever. I’m not sure what more I can do to prove my Wu-hating credentials. Other than Ghostface’s last two LPs, I haven’t enjoyed a Wu-Tang album or a solo project since that 1999 Inspectah Deck album.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know about this project until I heard about Raekwon’s beef with RZA over the beats on 8 Diagrams (he said they sound like some “hippie shit”). As I mentioned to Pete earlier today, something in me said, “If Rae hates the beats, they must be good, cause dude hasn’t picked a good beat in like 32 years.”

This new CD bangs–and it does it with style. The beats are crisp. There’s a tempo to the album–that snowballing, gangstyle-beatdown type of momentum that only a group with 8 solid emcees can bring to a track. All of the emcees come correct, and show no sign of age–from what I can tell. I’ve been shaking my head at Method Man’s career for years now, but it’s like the Right-Guard commercials never happened. He kills tracks on this album.

I know the joke in some circles is, “yo, the white kid, Wu-Tang stans are going to go nuts for that RZA hippie shit.” But I don’t care if Wu has lost its street cred, I’m not afraid to say that this is some dope isht.

The album starts out fierce with “Campfire.” The main melody for this brooding track is provided by what sounds like an old black spiritual. The drums are crisp. There some changes. Method Man and Ghost deliver the first verses in classic fashion. As the tracks fades you you are left with this overwhelming sense that hip-hop has returned to a state of equilibrium, and the Wu-Tang of old is back on scene.

You should also check for “Get Them Out Ya Way Pa.” It’s a relatively bare-bones track with what sounds like a live bass, and some funky drums. But that’s what makes it an excellent canvas to reintroduce you to the Wu-Tang emcees–even Masta Killa sounds smooth here.

“Windmill” is a definitely a high point for the album. Classic Raekwon verse here. Note that there’s really no hook, just a subdued and sped-up soul singer sample over what is probably the album’s most uptempo track. U-God brings that fire too, I should add. This could have been left off of Cuban Linx.

I also recommend “Wolves” and “Unpredictable.” I take back what I said before, “Unpredictable” is the definitive track from this album. Some guy named Dexter Wiggle provides eerie, distorted vocals on the hook, which adds to the Hitchcock-esque staccato strings that RZA has trademarked. This ain’t no Gravediggaz track–no offense to their work–it’s more subtle than that, and less cheesy as a result. The screaming guitar, the power bass, and the eery vocals just work so well over that trademarked RZA sound. I really can’t do this any justice in writing. You have hear to believe it (I know if I read “screaming guitars” I probably would not check for the track–so you gotta just trust me here).

The “hippie shit” really comes to the fore on “While My Heart Gently Weeps,” a collabo with Erykah Badu and others. As you might expect, it is a cover of the Beatles track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It’s one of those “Can It Be All So Simple” themed songs, but it’s arranged in a way that keeps your attention. And Badu’s inclusion lends some legitimacy to what could otherwise be considered a stretch musically for the RZA. I probably won’t go back to specifically listen to this track. Not a good response to what I think is the first single, but not a bad song.

The lyrical high-point is “Stick Me For My Riches.” Check that, everything is well done here–even the sing-song hook (though it may turn off some, I suspect). It sounds authentic to me though, and doesn’t get in the way of the absolute fire that is spit on this particular track.

On “Sunlight” RZA takes over the studio and provides a theological sermon in that cryptic, stream-of-consciousness way that only he seems to understand. If you find the RZA’s idiosyncrasies as entertaining as I do, you’ll dig this one.

Track 4, “Rushing Elephants” is certainly a weak point. The generic symphonic sample sounds like that Pete Rock Soul Survivor track with Raekwon, and drowns out the otherwise quality lyrics. I’m also not crazy about Track 11, “Starter,” an ode to their respective “starter chicks.” Musically, there are some interesting things occurring on this track, but the theme, and primarily the hook, really kill this track for me. It’s somewhat cheesy.

The album ends on a fun note, with a track called “The 16th Chamber” that appears to be an unreleased track from way back in the day. You’ll hear elements of familiar verses from the various emcees. The track kind of brings the group full-circle, and for those of us who have been fans since 1993, it serves as a reminder of sorts as to why we liked these guys in the first place.

It may not make your top 10 list for 2007–like it will for me–but I think most hip-hop heads will have a hard time arguing that this is not a solid effort from a group who, save for Ghost, really needed it. Bravo.

NOTE: For further analysis, check out Ivan’s snazzy chart on his excellent blog Hip Hop Is Read. It breaks down which emcees have the most appearances on 8 Diagrams. Ghostface is quite low, and Cappadonna characteristically keeps his fans wanting more. Props to Ivan for keeping it original as always, and going Microsoft Office on that ass.

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4 Responses to “Review: Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams”

  1. Ivan Says:

    Thanks for the shoutout homie!

    “Props to Ivan for keeping it original as always, and going Microsoft Office on that ass.”

    ^ That brightened up my day! ;-D

  2. Peter Squire Says:

    I did have all intentions of checking the new Wu out…eventually; Kyle, your (p)review moved “8 Diagrams” up in my queue about 5 or 6 spots…well done…I’ve listened to it 1x in full so will reserve judgment until I get a chance to really get into the tracks/concepts & production…I’ve always respected RZA knowledge of music, although at times he’s has a unique way of putting sounds together…

  3. Peter Squire Says:

    RE “Campfire,” that beat is resonates from beyond the grave; it has some secret, ritualistic sound to it…

  4. Anonymous Says:

    the of all time

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