Wu-Tang Clan – Chamber Music [Review]

With love comes jealousy. And a strong rise always leaves room for a rough fall. However, I never understood why Wu-Tang caught such strong hate after Wu-Tang Forever. It may have been over saturation of the market between the highly successful classic 36 Chambers; with the addition of successful solo efforts from the members as well. The concept of a group of strong rappers and producers creating superb group work then boosting their own singles cred was a huge success; a formula still flawed to this day due to ego.

As mentioned though, over saturation led to Wu-Tang only holding to a loyal fanbase; the climate of music and new artists taking the place of the Shaolin street sweepers. But why do people talk about the Wu like they can’t spit or something? 5 albums deep and quality material along the way. But if a good album happens and nobody listens…did it really happen?

There’s your philosophical question for the day, in the spirit of the Shaolin monk.

But it now leads us to Chamber Music, a compilation album endorsed by the Clan, featuring 5 [Inspectah Deck, Ghkostface Killah(!!!), U-God, Raekwon, and RZA] of the standing 8 members of Wu-Tang [We miss you ODB. I like it raaaaaaw too.] with two interesting concepts introduced by lead producer RZA, naturally. The first are features by a who’s who of NY spitters from Havoc of Mobb Deep to M.O.P; adding a fresh sound to the familiar Wu-Tang rhymes and beats we know and love. The second, a very welcome decision, is the use of LIVE instruments from soul band, The Revelations.

Despite the hate they catch, I was quite excited to hear about this release. Does this look to be another quality offering from a group not given enough credit for releasing them, or does this look to be a cash-in on a recognized standard in Hip-Hop? No subtitles for this one, but I’ll make my words clear and true on this.

1. Redemption (Intro)
Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
The excerpt for this song makes complete sense when you think about it, featuring a old-time cinema intro for that feel of something epic. Military style drums and strings help set the tone of a disgraced warrior taking his last shot at redeeming the glory of his clan’s name. Beautiful way to set the tone of this album, the intro quite fitting. For those who know the Clan’s history, it resonates.

2. Kill Too Hard
Featuring Inspectah Deck, U-God, & Masta Ace; Produced by Gintas Junusonis & Fizzy Womack
Definitely feeling the beat. Sounds like one that Camp Lo would have hopped on with no question with the old school swag to it. Fortunately, the trio of rhymers know exactly what to do with this. All three move with a pretty brisk pace to the short track, but it’s a great way to start the album on an energized note. This is good ol’ fashioned NY street spit and there isn’t a thing wrong with that. Only gripe would be length, but that’s just nitpicking. Thumbs up.

3. The Abbot (Skit)
Featuring RZA; Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
RZA kicks some knowledge in the form of an old Kung-Fu adage about an Abbot. The background music is ominous, another taste of what The Revelations can do. I’m ready to hear them on an actual song at this point. Worth listening to for the message.

4. Harbor Masters
Featuring Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, & AZ; Produced by Andrew Kelley, Noah Rubin, & Fizzy Womack
Enjoying the old school feel of the beats thus far. Nothing terribly complicated, just good drum patterns with the right elements added to keep them moving. Ghostface brings the bravado and wild metaphors, describing a level of lavishness on a Jay-Z level. Deck and AZ also tell tales of rocking the show and all the spoils that come with it. Nice cruising song or just something to vibe to. I can appreciate a track like this, with “swag” tracks that try to do too much. They express that point without all the fat. Frank Lucas style, ya dig?

5. Sheep State
Featuring RZA; Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, Noah Rubin
More proverbs from The RZA. Another ominous overlay by the talented Revelations. I wish he’d space these things out though. Especially at the start of the album! Can we hit them over the head with some heat first before all the window dressing? It’s not that he doesn’t have a point to what he’s saying…just very ill-placed.

6. Radiant Jewels
Featuring Raekwon, Cormega, & Sean Price; Produced by Andrew Kelley, Noah Rubin, & Fizzy Womack

This makes up for that ill-placed skit. In a big way.

Raekwon bursts out the gate with a wonderfully gutter verse. It’s almost impossible for Cormega and Price to catch up, but they show no lack of trying. I cannot express the simple beauty of this beat. Drum pattern and a well placed string set. Classy. A stark contrast to the venomous words laid over it, but it all blends together perfectly.

Easily the best of this album thus far. The song lives up to the title and all parties involved should be proud. Why Raekwon doesn’t get more respect, I’ll never know. His verse alone could stand against the current heavy-hitters.

7. Supreme Architecture
Featuring RZA; Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
Another RZA proverb. Another ill-placed time for it. Again, no problem with what he’s saying or what is backgrounding it. It just throws the flow all off. Moving on.

8. Evil Deeds
Featuring Ghostface Killah, RZA, & Havoc of Mobb Deep; Andrew Kelley, Noah Rubin, & Fizzy Womack
This team of Kelley, Rubin, and Womack is a blessing. They have yet to falter on the production and this is another standout. There production is the level of class that Rick Ross was going for in Deeper Than Rap; this team making it seem effortless track after track.

A seductively played piano backs a ominous drum pattern; Killah, RZA, and Havoc digging into a dark place to pull their rhymes, reveling in the sins they’ve committed while reminding you they’d gladly commit more. The piano breakdown mixed with RZA’s hook is also delightful. The track is engrossing and I’m simply amazed at how well they’ve brought this together. This trio of producers need more work and when they get it, they need rappers as skilled as the three that murdered this track. We have another standout.

Props to Havoc for dropping the first GOOD Twitter punch I’ve heard. “I ain’t wit that Twitter shit, nigga’s try to follow me.” Love it.

9. Wise Man
Featuring RZA; Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
Copy and paste what I’ve said about these and keep it moving. Geez. We get it. Num-Yo-Ho-Renge-Kyo and all that jazz. More FIYAH please.

10. I Wish You Were Here
Featuring Ghostface Killah & Tre Williams; Produced by Bob Perry & Fizzy Womack
Warning you now, this beat is going to sound like an unfinished version of “I’d Rather Be With You” by Bootsy Collins. That is NOT a bad thing. Tre Williams belts a soulful hook to cater to this throwback; Ghostface’s stream of consciousness flow aiding to tell of a story of love lost. Tre takes the brunt work of the track, but Ghost simply NAILS it for the time he gets. I was NOT expecting a track like this from this album, but I am so pleasantly surprised.

I’m also impressed that rappers try tracks like this and get it ALL wrong. Meanwhile, Starky Love [Ghostface ya’ll, keep up!], Tre, and their producers make this such an easy exercise in spitting your feelings. This album is hitting a block of hot tracks ever since Radiant Jewels and I’m hoping it continues. Another keeper and a go-to for how to do love profession in Hip-Hop RIGHT.

11. Fatal Hesitation
Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
The same as the RZA “proverbs” just without RZA and an extended Kung-Fu movie quote. I get the sudden urge to see the Adult Swim blurbs after so many of these. Moving on…

12. Ill Figures
Featuring Raekown, M.O.P., & Kool G Rap; Produced by Fizzy Womack & Josh Werner
Minimalist drums that compound harder where the hook should be. It’s intense, focused, and so are the rappers. It’s a stripped down hustle anthem, but done very well. No hooks from anyone and it backhands you with sudden metaphors and earnest real talk from all three. In a world of over-production, this is definitely refreshing to hear and I only wish it was longer. I definitely wouldn’t skip this and I am enjoying that the album is bucking a lot of hip-hop conventions in everything from layout to production. Another winner as the hot block continues for this album.

13. Free Like ODB
Featuring RZA; Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
RZA’s earnest thoughts about ODB set to a crazy drum solo. Of all of these skits like this, this definitely would be the most touching.

14. Sound The Horns
Featuring Inspectah Deck, U-God, & Sadat X; Produced by Andrew Kelley, Noah Rubin, Fizzy Womack, Gintas Janusonis, & Josh Werner
I want to like this beat. I like everything about it but the obnoxious set of horns at the beginning and peak up in the song. You’ll know em’ when you hear em’. Otherwise, we’ve got some good old fashioned up North bragging, boasting, and smack-talking. I can’t say there’s anything bad about the track aside from that horn selection. It’s just a good track.

The problem is, it is merely good compared to so much great before it. Tough listening to this after that nice block of heat prior. On its own merits, perfectly fine; but the placement creates a quick dip for the streak the album is on.

15. Enlightened Status
Featuring RZA; Produced by The Revelations, Bob Perry, & Noah Rubin
I’ll take this time to say, the Revelations should have been used on a track. I feel they’re wasted just doing these skits when I can already think of some awesome ways they could have contributed to the previous tracks. Hell, imagine what they could have crafted left to their own devices? Oh well…you know what happens here. Next.

16. NYC Crack
Featuring RZA & Thea Van Seijen; Produced by RZA, Fizzy Womack, & Andrew Kelley
This would be at home on the Afro Samurai soundtrack I love this track. RZA’s flow is driven and this beat sounds like it was made in another dimension in the best way possible. Van Seijen adds another other-worldly quality to this track, her Dutch wail making for a left field hook the likes of which would be tough to forget. Haunting and a mash of elements that create something worthy of listen after listen. You just need to hear it.

17. One Last Question…
Featuring RZA
10 seconds. Someone asks RZA what type of Buddah he’d be. I would have rather they closed with a song, but oh well.

Bottom Line:
I am simply blown away at the QUALITY of this album. The production is top shelf and layered to give it a sound unique to anything you’d hear out right now. The rappers all bring the heat. Even when one of them outshines everyone else on a track [i.e. Raekown in “Radiant Jewels”] the others still turn in worthy efforts that aren’t phoned in. I listen to this and wonder why Wu-Tang catches the hate they catch. If it weren’t for the average, compared to what else is on display, nature of “Sound The Horns” and the ill-advised placements of the skits, this would be a perfect album that I would defend to the death for a 5 star treatment.

This is an album that was crafted by rappers sure of their skill. No need for over-production, over the top features, or other gimmicks. Listening to it and thinking more about the intro…I wouldn’t be surprised if everybody involved challenges themselves to go above and beyond what everyone was used to. I’m talking for not just the Clan, but Hip-Hop as well. They’ve bent conventions and crafted something daring. For the Wu haters out there; I dare you to deny this offering. It’s a CD that can be learned from and appreciated on many levels and I encourage fans of HIP-HOP to listen it.

The production team of Kelley, Womack, and Rubin deserves major respect for a hell of a coming out party production-wise. RZA, Ghostface, and the like spit as if they were unsigned; hungry to prove themselves. It brings an energy level and mastery of their styles that helps craft something elevated from the usual. No one should be ashamed of their contributions to this album…well…maybe RZA. A SKIT AFTER EVERY SONG MAN?! Geez.

Cut the skits and get straight to the music and you have one of the best albums of this year. I expected good, I was not expecting this. Go out of your way to give this a listen, Wu-Tang fan or not and you will get a glimpse of what skill mixed with sheer creativity can get you. The score would be higher if not for the broken flow due to the skits.

With offerings this good, I hope Wu-Tang lives forever. Haters be damned.

nappyPicks: “Radiant Jewels”, “Evil Deeds”, “NYC Crack”, & “I Wish You Were Here”

Download: Wu-Tang Clan feat. Raekwon, Cormega, & Sean Price – “Radiant Jewels”
Download: Wu-Tang Clan feat. Inspectah Deck, U-God, & Masta Ace – “Kill Too Hard”