Raekwon returns with his fifth solo album Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. Shaolin represents Staten Island and Wu-Tang represents the clan. This is supposed to be challenge between the street side of Raekwon against his Wu-Tang side.
The biggest news coming from the album is no production by RZA. There was much controversy after Wu-Tang’s last album 8 Diagrams. Supposedly, RZA went in and changed a few beats last minute. This disappointed a few members to the point where their next group album would feature no RZA production. It was intended to be named Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, but Raekwon decided to make it his own solo album. Raekwon stated “RZA doesn’t have to be on every album. I wanted to give some other producers a chance. It’s not about beef”. That said, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang contains more guest features from non Wu-Tang members. Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and GZA (Via a bonus track) are the clan member’s that made the album. Three Wu-Tang affiliates are featured on the production list: Cilvaringz, Bronze Nazareth, and Allah Mathematics.
When everyone doubted Rae on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, he came through and released one of the best albums of 2009. Many didn’t think it could be done with the numerous delays year after year. Now people are saying he can’t get it done without RZA. Will Chef prove critics wrong again or do we have another Lex Diamonds Story on our hands?
1. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang Produced by Scram Jones
The album starts off with a sample from the kung fu flick Shaolin & Wu-Tang. This film inspired the name of the Wu-Tang Clan, and had several audio clip samples used for their debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Scram Jones does a good job finding that early Wu sound that many producers have been struggling to recreate. Chef quickly brings the heat with his street mentality flow. The final sample and two bars show that Rae may be taking jabs at RZA, “We love it, can’t stand you, you hid the wu-manual, we found it”, and from the sample, “You two traitors, you mixed the Shaolin and Wu-Tang, (no, we have not, it’s just that they’re the same), that’s right my lord, you misunderstand how kung fu works, it doesn’t belong to anyone, it evolves”.
The battle begins…
2. Every Soldier In The Hood Featuring Method Man; Produced by Oh No? Erick Sermon? Who knows?
This beat was supposedly produced by Erick Sermon until Alchemist noted differently on Twitter … as if Oh No couldn’t get any less recognition. The beat is good, orchestral tones repeat throughout the track giving it a dark feel. Rae & Mef go in and spit a few a decent bars. This is one of the more average tracks on the record.
3. Silver Rings Featuring Ghostface Killah; Produced by Cilvaringz
Wu-affiliate Cilvaringz produces a song that Rae and Ghost body in less than two minutes. I love how Cilvaringz uses the guitar strings throughout the track and how he threw in that Ol’ Dirty sample (“As High As Wu-Tang Gets”) for the bridge. I can’t believe Method Man passed on this beat a few years ago. Oh and if you didn’t hear, “Cuban Linx 3 coming, don’t know when, but the time is running”.
4. Chop Chop Ninja Featuring Inspectah Deck & Estelle; Produced by Bluerocks
Estelle starts off the track perfectly with some soulful singing about Shaolin. The beat builds and Rae gets on the mic first and gives us a narrative about getting in a duel at the projects. Rebel INS gets on next and absolutely murders the beat,
“Broad day even with Jake there, serious, last time you saw me, I was rocking the same stare, do or die, you or I, cause that I pray for you, forgive me for my sins father, this is what they made me do, nonsense caused me to slay the fool, rather than play the fool, I resort to waving the gage at you”.
The beat sounds heavily RZA influenced, and I think the chops could’ve been sampled better. It wouldn’t have hurt to have RZA co-produced this one… the chops were probably from his catalog anyways. Wasn’t feeling it the first time I heard it, but it’s growing on me now.
5. Butter Knives Produced by Bronze Nazareth
The second consecutive Wu-affiliate beat goes as hard as the last. I’ve always thought Bronze Nazareth was a superb producer, and this shows how talented he is by how well the drums are mixed. Now on a lyrical point of view, Chef definitely brings his “Criminology” flow right here. I prefer bar written choruses compared to the usual two liners. This sound like it could’ve been on the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,
“I got butter knives, like you got butter knives
Come through huddling, run through the spot thirty times
All my niggas old school robbers, do what it do
I got a sixty-two, a black pair of goggles
Fila approachers, the Bee Hives, the vultures and the roasters
Can’t come through with cedar toasters
It’s going down, only in the town
Your heart get tested, and gunplay is only an investment”
6. Snake Pond Produced by Selasi
I’ve never heard of producer Selasi, but this is one of my favorite beats on the album. This too has a sound reminiscent to those early Wu days. Selasi mixes in the perfect amount of strings with bass. Chef gets on the mic and drops a narrative with three different settings. It ends with Rae chasing down someone who eventually commits suicide before Chef can get his revenge. Chef proves that he is still one of the best storytelling emcees in the game.
7. Crane Style Featuring Busta Rhymes; Produced by Scram Jones
Scram Jones lays down his second beat for the album. Crane Style has a very ancient theme to it. The sounds of a soft flute rise in the background as Rae spits about his distinctiveness from other emcees. Busta brings back his high paced flow, and rips it,
“Cuz once I finish dudes, it’s unfortunate for them yappers, throw in ’em the trash, there ain’t no recycle bin for rappers, I microphone control, it’s the current dominant factor, the records been bodied, I personally request the pastor, gone!”
I wish this track had another guest feature or two with it being under two minutes.
8. Rock ‘N Roll Featuring Ghostface Killah, Jim Jones & Kobe; Produced by DJ Khalil
“Rock ‘N Roll” is the track you’re either going to love or hate. DJ Khalil drops an amped beat that goes in for thirty seconds before hearing the auto-tuned singing by Kobe. The beat goes hard, but the auto-tune sounds played out, and the singing gets repetitive. However, you can’t deny Raekwon & Ghost’s skills behind the mic. On the other hand, Jim Jones probably has the worst verse on the album (Still better than his verse on “Handcuffin Them Hoes”). This track can grow on you. Nevertheless, it brings down the album by how “left-field” it is compared to the rest of the record.
9. Rick & Black
Featuring Na; Produced by Sean C & LV
Sean C & LV start the track with a powerful sample, “And regardless to how much power you have, when God sends prophets and messengers, they don’t care nothing about your power, because they come from the power!” The beat drops and Nas lays down one of the record’s finest 16 bars,
“Rare nigga, I’m a wonder
Your best success is my worst blunder, feds tap the number
Jury Jacklyn on acid could appreciate, we to alleviate the pain
Eddie Kane, Richard Pryor pinky ring
Watching “Conduct” nigga, throw parties for my niggas that’s living
You guessed it, models, ya’ll keep them if they anorexic
Love ’em, but can’t trust ’em, hate ’em, but won’t bust ’em
Caked-it-in savings, spending, wasting, it’s like a custom
Tats of horror-glyphics, lipstick on the collar
I got more to lose than you do, but I’m a rider
When did the rules change, ya’ll living trendy on pennies
Meeting deadlines with ease, no gain
You fire, I’m butane, gave the timbs ostrich belts
These be the times that I surprise myself
My niggas looking like black crows at packed shows
The don voice stay pristine, like I’m still seventeen”
Raekwon does work on his first verse, but really shines on his second, “A’yo, I’m rich, black, umbrella calico captain, Wes Craven with a blade and a black, I’m hood ornaments, junkies win awards in my tournaments”. The only missing link is Ghostface. Maybe we can get “Verbal Intercourse 2” for Supreme Clientele 2 or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 3.
10. From The Hills Featuring Method Man & Raheem DeVaughn; Produced by Kenny Dope
This really sounds like a throwback track. Kenny Dope laces a laid-back beat that soars with a striking trumpet. Rae takes it back to growing up in Shaolin. Meth goes in and drops a more memorable verse compared to “Every Soldier In The Hood”,
“Reunited, another LP, we’re all excited, that reckless eyeballing will get your girl indicted, my touch like Midas, I cramp your style, arthritis, these niggas is food, I eat they food, nigga-ritis”
11. Last Trip To Scotland Featuring Lloyd Bank; Produced by Scram Jones
Scram Jones produces his last and arguably best track for Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. The mystifying beat compliments the storytelling by Raekwon and Lloyd Banks. Chef shows why is known as the slang master,
“He had an Idi Amin approach, hitting the roach, had a hunger face, he drove his mom Seven in the ocean, it’s a wild cowboy sling heroin, who rock the dead arm, knocked the DEA agent out his Cheron”.
Banks brings a mafioso-type flow on his verse,
“Apartment full of party powder, outside a steak out for hours, click batch from big gats and rags, soon as the door squeaks, they running up on the grass, bang flash, shots ride on paths of broken glass, comedy laughs, while they haul ass with the bags, legends in my hood play bat, Twin Benzes whipping in black, connect was like the old Maybach”.
Hate all you want, but Banks brings one of the best verses to the album.
12. Ferry Boat Killaz Produced by The Alchemist
The Alchemist comes through with a nice beat on this one. He’s one of the few producers who can mix in so many numerous instrumentals without it ever feeling flawed. Rae brings it like he can’t be fucked with. He shows a little swagger behind his lyrics too, “One bling, two bling, no, only Boeings, and trips to Australia, yo, my niggas is smoke fiends”.
13. Dart School Produced by Allah Mathematics
Mathematics continues with another track featuring several different sounds. The beat is good, but I feel that it sounds slightly overproduced. Rae continues from “Ferry Boat Killaz” rhyming about his gangster ways, and don’t forget the slang about “hammers”, “phantoms”, and “slammers”.
14. Molasses Featuring Rick Ross & Ghostface Killah; Produced by Xtreme
A lot of people were scratching their heads when they heard Rick Ross was going to be on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. Ross shows us why he was given the spot. He drops a hot verse in the similar gambino style that we usually hear from Rae and Ghost. All three verses complement each other from the banging beat by Xtreme. Although, I believe Ross’ verse stands out the most,
“Still gritty, leave the pretty to the females
The watch mother pearl weather seashells
Pick of the litter, have this nigga picking paper up
Twitter thug, I’m the timeline strangler
Get ’em up, banging dangerous as angel dust
Cuban Linx smoking stink in the Brink’s trunk
I run with killas who snort powder, extort cowards
Ankle monitors under garments, so fuck showers
I give a fuck what you talking ’bout
Mob meetings, we them only niggas walking out
Sparking purple once a nigga done spaghetti slurping
Fly away in my new, Scabetti, surfing”
15. The Scroll Produced by Evidence
Evidence drops a beat that reminds me of “The Grand Duel (Parte Prima)” from Kill Bill. A haunting whistle mixed with great percussion gives the track a terrorizing sound. Chef gives us a narrative about the risks of getting C.R.E.A.M. and fulfilling his “American dream”. The dark lyrics fit the beat’s theme as if it’s the last stand (the final duel).
16. Masters Of Our Fate Featuring Black Thought; Produced by Tommy Nova
The track starts with a sample from Winston Churchill that informs “salvation will not be denied us”. Tommy Nova starts up the beat with heavy bass and victorious strings. Rae gets on the mic first, and drops a memorable verse about his redemption. Black Thought goes in next, and arguably has the best verse on the entire album,
“Ok, bridges I burn some, lessons I learn some
Money, I spent some, lend some, earn some
My eyes tell it, tell it, the hell I return from
Spark up an L from the homies I haven’t heard from
Burn when the herbs come, I’m living large
Never chillin’ on the curb, just a villain on the verge, son
My tenth shot is as efficient as the third one
Second one, first one, worse come to worse run
When I was pushed out the womb, the earth spun
The only way to describe this, is to inertia
Some rappers think they can try me, who the first up
I don’t guarantee no survivors, niggas, surf’s up
Yeah, soul on ice, courage is sacrifice
Hold on tight, and save your laughter for the afterlife
These chumps thinking they good, ain’t even half as nice
Your fate’ll be the one way, to get to paradise, what?”
17. Wu Chant (Outro) Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang comes to an end with the celebrated Wu chant over The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly theme. The outro gives the album that final touch like you just sat through a kung-fu flick and the credits are rolling. You can’t end this any better.
This is one of the best arranged albums I’ve heard in a long time (or maybe since Distant Relatives). The song sequencing is nearly perfect as Shallah Raekwon takes us through his version of Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. However, there is one flaw that dropped the album from a 4.5 to a 4.0 (I’d give it a 4.25 if I can). That is “Rock ‘N Roll”. I’m really starting to like the song, but it throws off the entire concept. When I compared Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 to Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, I feel that CL2 has more standouts, but it’s easier to listen to SvsWT. Nevertheless, they are both superior albums that prove Chef has returned to the top of his game since The Lex Diamonds Story.
Rae also proves that he can do it without RZA (not mentioning Immobilarity and Lex Diamonds Story). It would’ve been nice to hear RZA on at least a track or two, but Chef shows that he can put an album together without RZA. The problem I have with that is the beats on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang are heavily RZA influenced. It may not feature RZA, but it contains the same formula.
Finally, I can’t go without mentioning the impressive guest features. Everybody did their thing.